The Rise of the Citizen Developer

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles about this recently and I thought it was worth a post, since it’s something I have been noticing in my day job, too.

When I left University (granted, with an English Degree, but I think this applies to Computer Sciences too), and throughout the course of my education both at school and University, I was told how much value my degree would add to my job hunt. I was told employers wouldn’t look at my CV if I hadn’t got at least that 2:1 and I’d been to a red brick. Personally, I was always sceptical about the value my, almost entirely self-taught, literature degree was going to add to a career that wasn’t research or teaching, and that’s a concern I think was justified given the cost of a degree. What my degree (with its 4 contact hours a week) did allow me to do was broaden my extracurricular activities and actively make myself more employable. When I got into recruitment (a career, by the way, which doesn’t normally require a degree), I realised that a degree is often similarly irrelevant in software development job hunting.

When I screen a CV on a first glance I’ll look at most recent relevant experience and technical summary, and I won’t even notice education on a first look unless it’s something for which I’m specifically screening. I would rate an obviously strong github profile or a clearly passionate summary paragraph above a 2:1 in Computer Science where the person had not been coding outside of that. And that’s because from my experience I think employers do too.

I was reading that Google announced last year they were no longer looking at GPA scores when they select candidates, preferring portfolios as a better benchmark of future job performance. Thus rises the “citizen developer” (coined by tech company Gartner). There’s an argument to be made that all developers are in a sense citizen developers, because personal improvement is a continuous thing, even once you’ve secured a job, so I guess the crunch point centres around how you enter the market – as someone formally educated or as a freelancer turned full-time.

This doesn’t happen just on a junior level (i.e people getting into their first job), and I’m seeing an increasing number of people career switching around the age of 30 to pursue their true passion which had, up until that point, only been a recreational hobby. People are training themselves either by freelancing or through formal courses from Sales backgrounds, Teaching backgrounds, Linguistic backgrounds. Most people going for a complete career 180 in this way seem to go down the formal route – I’d speculate because it seems time efficient, structured, and because they can afford to. A career change of that nature is a serious decision and I guess a formal educational course seems like a decisive and serious action point to support that. For entry level roles however, I’m sceptical about the advantages a formal education provides. I think more value is added by coding courses (like Makers Academy, General Assembly, Coderwave etc) than traditional degrees, as they are cheaper, more targeted and more intensive in many cases, besides which they will almost guarantee finding strong performers a job afterwards (based on my experience of University careers services I feel they are weak at this kind of post-study support).

I would suggest that young development hopefuls think very carefully about their path into employment, and really do their research, particularly given the hike in University fees the year before last. University, in my opinion, gives the student more in life experience than in educational experience. Before you get stuck in, consider your options and remember there is more than one route to life experience!

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