What is the mission of a software developer

Nowadays, there is a great demand for software development out there. The world needs software solutions just about anything. From planning and running complex business and industrial services to planning and running your day. From execution of mission critical operations to playing for fun, almost everything is backed by a software. There are millions of software developers out there and yet the global need for them is not about to be met. The world needs a lot more software developers, but seriously, why do we need them, what is the mission of a software developer that is so important to the world economy?

Let us analyse first how a software developer grows. Basically, there are two major paths one may follow to be a software developer. One is to have a formal education (be it a university degree, or a formal training program) and acquire the necessary skills to develop software, and the other is to be an autodidact and teach yourself using plenty of available resources (books, online courses, articles, tutorials, etc.) about software development.

The self learning approach is very personal and it is hard to generalize the way one teaches himself therefore it is hard to draw conclusions that what process is followed or what the outcomes may be. Also, compared to the numbers, I am sure this group is the minority, and the majority of developers come from a more formal path.

The formal path, however, has a visible indicator how one is being trained in the field of software development. We can have a look at the curricula of many universities and analyze them. We can get a subset of subjects that are covered from most universities, or so to say core subjects,  and they are programming languages, databases, data security, algorithms, maths, web development, etc. (I am not focusing here on training programs as usually they tend to have a narrower focus on one technology or one aspect of it, and rarely on a complete process as universities do). Some universities offer also non computer science complementary courses such as on entrepreneurship, preparing business plans, biology, etc., but only as elective courses that are left on the will of the student if he or she wants to take it.

From the university curricula I have seen, I can draw the conclusion that most of the universities prepare the software developers as pure technical persons who are supposed to solve technical problems related to software development. But is this the reason world needs the software developers that much? Personally, I do not agree with this, and I keep asking myself the question:

What is the mission of a software developer?

Let us try to answer this by trying to find the answer to this question: What does a software developer do after the graduation? I can think of several answers to this:

1. Industry path: He or she is employed by a company who needs software solutions for their business needs (be it a software developer company, a bank, an engineering company, a distribution business, whatever…) and he/she works there trying to create software solutions for the needs of the company.

2. Academic path: He or she may decide to pursue further studies and be a researcher who continues to contribute to academia by teaching and to the knowledge by researching unknown solutions for existing technical, real life or business problems.

3. Entrepreneur path: He or she creates a solution for a real life problem or a business problem, makes a business out of it, and creates an enterprise which runs a business by providing a software solution for a business problem.

Of course it is not easy to sum up all available paths to follow, but in my opinion these three cover the major available paths to follow for a computer science graduate.

Now what can I see from these choices is that, none of them are about solving technical problems purely. What I can also conclude is that, solving a real life or business problem is what turns out to be the real reason why we need so many software developers today. From this, I can confidently say that

The mission of a software developer is to solve real life and business problems.

You may say that is something we know and it is obvious, what is the problem about this? Well, I have a lot of contacts with different developers, experienced ones and want to be ones, university trained and autodidacts. I am teaching programming courses myself on a university level and professional level for over 6 years now, and I have had the opportunity to deal with over 1000 students up to now. What I can see is that, software developers see themselves as technical persons who are there to solve technical problems and they do not care about the business world. All they are interested is that how a technology or a framework works and how they can use or advance it. That is it. They care about code quality, they care about unit testing, they care about code reuse, and lots of other technical characteristics of the software, but rarely they discuss about how usable their applications are, or how efficiently they optimize a business problem their software is addressing or what business value they have delivered with the software they have built. I am not saying that technical characteristics are unimportant, far from it, we should always strive to write the best quality code we can, according to best industry standards, using best practices, and best patterns we know. I am just stating that the most important thing is we deliver value with software. If there is no value, there is no point having unit tests, most clearly written code, or bug free code, as it will not be used.

But perhaps this is not their fault as the education system they are following is not preparing them to think in that way, and that is where our duty as computer science teachers come to a focus. It is us, everybody who teaches a computer science related subject, be it a university course, an online course, or tutorial series, we should communicate the idea that technology is there to solve real life and business problems. I do think that we should not grow technical persons who write code, but we should teach them to be problem solvers who provide value with their solutions.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let’s discuss about it. If you agree with my opinion and think this is a valuable point, please share it so it reaches a broader audience.

A beginners’ guide to web development

If you are reading this post, most probably you have some sort of interest in web development, or even you think about starting to learn about web development. In this post, I would like to show you what path you can follow to be a web developer. This is a beginners’ guide to web development from the perspective of what to learn and how to specialize. This is not a post in which you will learn coding. I just want to point out the what you need to consider before you start learning to code. So, welcome to our dynamic and ever changing world. One of those fast-pace professions with lot of challenges and excitement. So let us define some basic concepts first.

Front End vs. Back End

The initial separation you will feel here is Front End vs. Back End. Let us clarify first what is Frond End and what is Back End.

Front End

Web applications are categorized as distributed applications with a client-server architecture. So, we have a part of code which runs in the client and another part in server. The part of application which is run and rendered in client (most of the time, the client is our web browser) is called the Front End. The most usual technology combination which is used to develop for Front End is HTML+CSS+JavaScript. Front End specialists usually develop expertise in creating Front End of the web applications using these technologies. Another common skill Front End developers master is slicing Photoshop designs to HTML+CSS+JavaScript web pages.

Back End

Back End developers write code that runs on server. Usually, this part of the job entails communication with the DataBase for reading/writing data, reading/writing files, doing the business logic, etc. In some cases where the business logic resides in client side, then Back End is used to serve the data from the DataBase usually in the form of Web Services. Back End developers usually master one of web programming languages and a DataBase Management System.

 

You can master both, but from my experience, I have seen that all web developers tend to like one more than the other. Some even specialize on only one of them. Although there is a line of separation, there is no limit that which side should do what. Sometimes Front End is used only for visual representation and all the job is done in Back End. In some cases, Back End only serves the data and all the calculations and functions reside in Front End. It is a matter of design and architecture to define which side does what (although, depending on the architecture you choose, there are some guidelines about the responsibilities of each side).

Programming languages

There are a lot of available programming languages for web development. When we want to program on Front End, the defacto standard language is JavaScript. When it comes to Back End, we have plenty of choices. Let me list some of the popular choices:

  • PHP
  • JavaScript
  • Ruby on Rails (used with Ruby programming language)
  • ASP.NET (used with .net programming languages)
  • Java EE
  • Python

And this is not a definitive list, just those that came to my mind right now. So which one to choose. Well, your choice should be evaluated based on some factors like: the job market, hosting environment of the web application, available learning resources, available time to learn, the development community around you.

If you want to work as a web developer, in my opinion the most important factor is the job market. You should analyze the job market you are in (or you want to be in) and chose that language that has most job openings. Another important factor is the hosting environment. For example, PHP hosting is quite cheap compared to Java hosting. If you are going to develop an intranet application which is going to be hosted internally in an organization, perhaps Java EE could be a very good choice, but if you want to host your application online, Java EE could be rather expensive compared to other languages.

With the popularity of Node.js, JavaScript has started to become a popular choice of Back End programmers, however, this is still quite a new and immature technology compared to others, and I would not recommend it as a choice of beginner Web Developer.

In my opinion, PHP has the easiest learning curve, cheap hosting environment, plenty of learning resources and relatively easy development environment, so I would recommend to any beginner web developer start with PHP. ASP.NET is also a good choice. Microsoft offers a lot of learning resources, free development tools and a pretty rich environment. If you like the Microsoft ecosystem, ASP.NET is a very good choice.

Frameworks

If you are a beginner, give yourself some time before you start learning a framework. Frameworks are code libraries which make the life of a web developer easier. Frameworks give a structure to a web application, help web developer do some tasks a lot easier and faster then coding everything yourself. If you want to be a professional Web Developer, then it is a must you learn at least one framework, which boosts your speed of development.

You have a plenty of frameworks which try to be general solutions or specialist solutions. You must evaluate your needs. If you have chosen PHP, I would recommend Laravel as a framework of choice. It is a sound MVC framework which is quite trendy these days. If your choice is with ASP.NET, I would definitely recommend you learn ASP.NET MVC and EntityFramework at least.

Web development can be huge and you may want to focus on one type of applications, let’s say development of web sites with Content Management Systems (CMS). Again if you have chosen PHP, I would recommend you continue with WordPress. WordPress allows you to create web sites, blogs, but also it can be extended with ready plugins or custom themes and plugins to quite complex business applications.

You will find plenty of choices for frameworks for any language you choose, so based on your language of choice, you will have to work with different frameworks.

What next

As a first advice, even if you choose to specialize for Front End or Back End (I would strongly recommend you do), you should have a grasp of the other side, and if you do, your team’s performance will be better. If you have learned a programming language and mastered a framework, what I would recommend is you start with another one. Programming languages have their own philosophies and paradigms, and sometimes some differ quite a lot. Knowing two or more programming languages will allow you have a better picture and understanding how programming problems are tackled and will make you a more fluent developer. As I said earlier, you have to consider many factors when you choose your languages. My choices until today were: JavaScript, PHP, ASP.NET, and Java EE. I’m still looking forward to extend my list 🙂

Do you need to take developer certifications

Software development industry is one of the fastest progressing industries. New technologies, amazingly fast changing businesses, and advancement of requirements make learning a daily task of software developers. In a way, when we choose this profession, we kind of agree to lifelong learning, but there comes the question:

“Do you need to take developer certifications?”.

Personally, I like developer certifications. You can see from my profile, I have taken 9 different industry certifications, mostly for Microsoft technologies. The biggest value I see in taking certifications is learning the details of some technologies. As the saying goes “The devil is hidden in the details”, I like learning some technologies in deep details. I do not claim that I do remember all those details from all the certifications I have gone through, but from the experience, I have had some “aha moments” when some of those details have spared me lots of time. Certifications have also helped me to establish my knowledge and credentials as knowledgeable person in those technologies and help me teach those technologies in various courses.

The effect of certifications on your career

I have read in many articles that certifications help you find a better job. I would not argue that you can look better or more prestigious with all those certifications but personally, I have not seen any case that certifications have been the ultimate factor for hiring someone. Perhaps I’m short of that kind of experience, but I put myself in the shoes of a hiring person, if I’d be choosing someone to hire, the certifications surely would be a benefit or a value added for the candidate, but not an important factor for my decision. The important factor is the knowledge one has, and industry certifications can only be a plus.

The effect of certifications on your professional development

If you have taken and passed an industry certification, most probably you have followed a learning plan to learn all the objectives tested in the exam, and that has pushed you to have some good understanding of that specific technology. Moreover, you have seen the latest developments in that technology and have become familiar with what is required to follow on further developments.

Development technologies advance every day, and if you follow the cutting edge technologies, this is an indications that you are also a productive developer as new technologies most of the time make the development process easier and faster. I have not seen a better illustration of this than this picture

are you too busy to improve

The effect of certifications on your personal brand

Branding is not something exclusive to corporates. We all have our brand, your name is a brand, and you should work to make it better and better. Taking certifications will have a positive impact on establishing a firm expertise in your industry and showing how seriously you take your career and personal development. Certifying your knowledge will have an added value towards the development of your personal brand as an industry expert.

Conclusions

As I stated from the beginning of this post, I am very much into certifications, not from the marketing benefits I get from them, but from the learning and self development benefits I get from the process of preparing to take the exams. Personally, I have had a lot of benefits from the knowledge I have gained during that process, therefore I would recommend taking industry certification exams to anyone who wants to advance in software development career.

Microsoft Certifications: Web development path

Microsoft Corporation offers a rich set of possibilities when it comes to education of new and existing software developers. Taking certification exams and certifying your knowledge is one of the best ways to build a solid knowledge base, improve your skills, and get ahead with your career in software development. In this post I will describe what it takes to follow Microsoft Certifications: Web development path.

In this wide range of certifications, where does one start from? Well, it depends on your current skills and work experience. If you are new to software development with less then one year of work experience or so, then my suggestion is you start with Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certifications.

You may start with  following MTA exams:

Software Development Fundamentals (Exam: 98-361)
Web Development Fundamentals (Exam: 98-363).
.NET Fundamentals (Exam: 98-372)
HTML5 App Development Fundamentals (Exam: 98-375)

For the complete list of MTA certifications please see MTA Certifications web page.

MTA certications are optional and are useful only if you do not have work experience developing these solutions.

What after that? The next part of the path is of professional certifications. The web development path leads to Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer: Web applications (MCSD). This title is awarded to anyone who passes these exams:

Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 (Exam: 70-480)
Developing ASP.NET MVC Web Applications (Exam: 70-486)
Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services (Exam: 70-487)

When you complete all of these exams, you will get the title of MCSD: Web Applications which will certify your knowledge in the field of developing web applications using HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, and ASP.NET MVC.

Certification 70-486: Developing ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Applications

Last week, I took the exam for Microsoft Certification 70-486: Developing ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Applications and passed successfully and scored 831. This was my first exam after almost two years. Although, the exam format and questions’ style did not differ, I certainly noticed some differences.

The number of questions were 45, and the questions were spread in proportion:

22 general questions
23 questions in 3 different scenarios

The test included 3 different scenarios to analyze, and it required a good amount of time to spend on reading code and business requirements of the scenarios in order to be able to answer the questions. Although the scenarios were quite different, it was very easy to mix the requirements, so a good focus had to be put to remember the requirements of each scenario.

The questions were practical, but not easy. They were focused on details of specific features. I was introduced with good amount of questions regarding session management, especially in distributed environments, security implementation, debugging, azure deployment, and related to controller implementation.

To anyone who is preparing to take the exam, my recommendation is to put a focus on the topics above mentioned.

I hope this helps.