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Developer Value Goes Far Beyond Coding

While coding cutting-edge tech in Visual Studio is cool, it's not enough in today's environment of communication, collaboration, agile methodologies, DevOps and so on, said experts in a panel discussion at the Live! 360 conference in Orlando.

Four developer/IT pros -- now all at the executive level -- provided advice on industry, technology and career trends in an ever-more-connected world, where developers must up their game to continue providing value to customers both in the end-user world and within their own organizations.

For example, Francois Charette, senior vice president of engineering at OptumInsight, explained how his company moved from the concept of developer leads to engineering leads. Audience members were in turn asked to raise their hands if they were responsible for app development, testing and follow-on monitoring to ensure the apps work like they should.

With hands rising all over the audience of hundreds for each question, Charette afterward said everybody should have raised their hands for all three questions. Engineering leads, he said, are responsible for the entire end-to-end process. Responsibilities are increasing in the new order, Charette said, noting that "You've got to make that cultural shift."

Martin Leifker, vice president of digital innovation and solutions at Texas Mutual Insurance Company, said developers have to work with product people and infrastructure folks, attacking silos and getting teams to work together.

Rockford Lhotka, CTO of Magenic, shared his personal story to bring the point home, explaining how he just wanted to write code when he started in the business, but was prodded by his boss -- who became his mentor -- to increase his value by pushing into areas that made him uncomfortable.

"It was painful, for me at least, because I love the technology," he said. For example, he said he was told to gather requirements from the inventory people, which was uncomfortable because "I don't like inventory, and I don't like talking to people," drawing laughter from the crowd. Along with increasing his value to a manufacturing company at the time, his branching out obviously made him overcome his dislike of talking to people, as he presents at different shows and was helping out at the Orlando conference, taking the stage to introduce other speakers and constantly engaging with attendees.

Afterward, Lhotka told Visual Studio Magazine more about his personal journey and other thoughts that can help today's developers, whether they're just starting out or looking to advance their careers.

"Well, I got very lucky in that I ended up with a mentor that was my boss, so that's pretty synergistic," Lhotka said. Later in his career, he followed other mentors, and he encouraged other developers to do the same, whether such mentors are in a dev's chain of command, so to speak, or outside the team. "Or people outside your organization, friends, colleagues, people you meet at a conference, like Live! 360, and I've done that, too. Of course, they have to be willing to be a mentor, but it's really irreplaceable to do that."

"The real value for most organizations is the ability to translate business requirements and talk to people, your end users and so forth, and translate what they need into software."

Rockford Lhotka, CTO of Magenic

Other things developers can do, he said, "are building up your communication skills, so using things like Toastmasters. Most cities have various things, meetups or whatever, for people to learn communications skills to break out of that kind of stereotypical developer shell. And part of it is choosing yourself to express interest -- or force yourself to become interested -- in things that are not just sheer tech."

Echoing the panel discussion, he explained how this is a necessity in today's world.

"Heads-down coding has become a commodity, which I think everybody's probably aware of, but heads-down coding is a commodity," Lhotka said. "You can find heads-down coders in China, in India, in the Philippines, wherever. And just from a career protection and self-defense perspective you need to provide more value than just typing in code. And you can provide that value by being both deep and broad in technology and being able to be a leader within a technology space.

"But the real value for most organizations is the ability to translate business requirements and talk to people, your end users and so forth and translate what they need into software. That's where the true value is and that's irreplaceable. I think it's hard, or impossible, to offshore that or remote that because nothing replaces looking somebody in the eye and having that direct conversation -- and they understand that you understand."

While such career evolvement and improvement truths have always existed, they're even more important in today's world where agile has almost become the de-facto development methodology -- along with DevOps, which of course requires intense, regimented communication and collaboration among teams of different ilks.

Matt Lockhart, executive vice president, Magenic, who moderated the panel discussion, also noted the need for individual developers to think about how they can bring more value to internal team members and a company's users. "You're increasing your own personal value," he said.

The Live! 360 conference hosted several individual shows for developer, IT and administrator communities, including the Visual Studio Live! event. The next Visual Studio Live! show will be in Las Vegas March 11-16.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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