The role of the software developer goes way beyond just fixing ‘bugs’. Developers need to interact more with users and major companies ought to be empowering them to break out of their silos.

The developer “is going to be increasingly involved in business issues”

Complementing a Survey published on 25 July entitled ‘How can France foster and encourage software developers?’, L’Atelier interviewed Emmanuel Gueidan, ideas person and developer, ergonomics expert and designer, who co-founded FocusMatic, a startup specialising in solutions to help clients manage Big Data analysis.

L’Atelier: What does a developer actually do on a daily basis?

Emmanuel Gueidan: When we talk about developers, we of course think about writing code, their primary job. Writing code means fixing ‘bugs’, developing new functionality or simply improving a tool you’ve already created. But the work isn’t limited to coding. We don’t rate a developer on the basis of the amount of code s/he can write, but rather on the quality of the functionality delivered. As a software developer, you make it a point of honour to take the time to move through the design stage before launching into the programming stage, because the code you end up with must really be the outcome of an entire process. However, developers in a startup environment are also likely to have a lot of day-to-day interaction with users or their representatives so as to gain a better understanding of the required functionality. Interaction and teamwork are equally important here, especially when it’s a matter of blending complementary skills.  In addition, a developer has to read a lot, keep up to date on how new technologies are progressing, what’s working or not working, browsing case studies, and so on. This is useful to help assess whether given techniques can be transposed to different contexts, etc.

How do you see the developer’s job going forward?

At startups, the developer’s job will be less and less restricted in future. S/he’Il be increasingly involved in business issues, which the hierarchical structure of R&D teams at larger firms just doesn’t allow. The developer is going to get closer to users and to the final goal. The future is also going to bring greater technological variety, and hence greater agility will be needed. So developers will need more than ever to keep up to date with the new technologies, both to keep improving their own work on a daily basis and also to boost their job opportunities. We talk increasingly about developers because of the role of IT in our society. Computer programming seems to be very much in fashion today, but I think this is basically because startups are very much ‘in vogue’ and the general public usually becomes aware of startup creativity through websites, mobile apps, etc. The consequence of this media attention for startups is that the general public is very much on the lookout for new ideas and so cannot but notice the role of the website designer and app developer in the creation of these tools.

In the light of your experience, what’s your view of the differences between a startup and a larger firm when it comes to making the most of developers’ skills?

At a startup the job description is often much fuller than in a large company. This is logical, given the smaller number of staff, which encourages people not to just stick within the confines of their job title. At a startup you’re less restricted, you come into contact with a wider range of areas, you can give free rein to your creativity and talents. At larger firms, development activities run up against more bureaucracy and restrictions and a developer’s responsibilities are sometimes fairly limited and restricted to the here and now, leaving little room for creativity or interaction with end users. Having said that, large companies are now trying to draw inspiration from startups in this area. Google’s ’Developer Days’ allow developers to do what they want and make the most of their creativity.

Do you think media events such as ‘Le Meilleur Dev de France’ (The Best Developer in France) will lead in the long term to greater understanding among the general public of the ‘artistic’ dimension of programming?

These initiatives do indeed turn the spotlight on the programmer’s job, as do hackathons – those contests where programmers and designers are locked away in the same venue for twenty-four hours, at the end of which the best concepts are selected. If the follow-up to these events is done well they can demonstrate the value of these people, who are capable of coming up with brilliant ideas and translating them very fast into something useful. I think that they do help to raise the profile of the job. But whether that helps the public to see the artistic quality of the work is a moot point. We’ve all come across an app which prompted us to say: ‘Wow, the folks who invented this are very, very good. This app is brilliant!’ But it’s not all that easy to get from that point to actually understanding the art of programming. For many people, the job of software developer is still rather esoteric, something that happens on computers and is rather difficult to learn.” But it’s also perhaps a generational thing. In the age of the Internet, these tools seem increasingly necessary, and in an environment where the expectations are becoming ever higher they need to be properly developed. If the designers and programmers are good, their work can have a positive impact on day-to-day use of the technologies.

Talking about raising general public awareness to the art of programming, what do you think of the idea of teaching computer programming in schools?

Well, programming is a good learning tool because it teaches logic, helps you to structure your thoughts and has proved to be a good channel for expressing creativity. In addition, the developer’s job has a very gratifying side to it because you can obtain an immediate return on your efforts. You write a line of code and you see a button appear on the screen. But actually I just don’t think that everyone needs to learn to code, in the same way that not everyone has to be good at maths. It’s still more important to be able to speak English!

See L'Atelier Survey ‘How can France foster and encourage software developers?’

By Lucie Frontière