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.