Most IoT developers aren’t in it for the money

Developers aren’t necessarily like you and me. You may choose to spend your free time making bird houses or watching Friends reruns. Developers, meanwhile, are trying to get Windows 95 to run on an Apple Watch (and succeeding).

This need to tinker is especially pronounced within the IoT developer set. According to new research from VisionMobile, analyzing survey data from over 4,400 IoT developers, there are eight segments of IoT developers, and just a third of these developers are professionally involved in IoT projects, compared to 50 to 70% in other markets. What this means, in practice, is that most IoT developers are just in it for fun and learning, and don’t have any interest in making you money.

This seems like bitter medicine for those IoT platform companies that hope to corral a body of developers to extend their hardware or service. Indeed, as Stijn Schuermans notes, “Key players in every IoT market build their strategy around developers who can extend the product beyond what it was when it left the factory.”

Just because IoT developers aren’t overwhelmingly motivated by cash doesn’t mean they can’t deliver huge benefits to those that are. It’s just a matter of harnessing different motivations to build up value that makes a platform enticing.

Fun-loving hobbyists

Just like the prince in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, some developers just want to sing. According to VisionMobile’s recently released IoT Developer Segmentation report, many, indeed most, IoT developers are in it for fun, learning, and personal development. A full 22% of IoT developers have zero interest in making money, either for you or for them, and another 21% of IoT developers are “simply exploring the technology without any specific use case in mind.”

Interestingly, “Fun-loving Hobbyists (~1/3 of IoT developers) and Explorers looking for opportunities and learning (~1/3) form the overwhelming majority of IoT developers in 2016, a much higher number than in other sectors like mobile or cloud development.” IoT, it seems, is heavily driven by developers looking to take Raspberry Pi and other hardware into insanely cool new ground. The percentage of IoT developers that are hoping to collect a paycheck has remained static, and relatively small, for some time.

Even for the money grubbers among the IoT developer set, creativity and a sense of belonging to a developer community weigh more heavily in their motivations than simply cash.

IoT-dog millionaire?

Which is not to say that there is no money to be made in IoT, or that its fun-loving developers can’t be helpful to those seeking to build businesses. Attracting these developers early turns out to be very important, too: though roughly a third of IoT developers start out unaffiliated with any particular vertical, after three years of experience writing IoT code, that number plummets to under 10%. That same population starts off with limited understanding of how to profit from IoT (29% of developers) to just 10% within three years.

As VisionMobile’s report uncovers, though nearly two-thirds of IoT developers are Hobbyists and Explorers – developers not focused on cash but rather personal exploration – these same developers will “influenc[e] the evolution of IoT technology going forward, by making certain technologies more popular than others, and by taking those technologies into their professional lives at a later stage.” Not surprisingly, the report continues, “the Internet of Things is still a young, emerging market, where the excitement and fun of new technology is more important than money or business success in a not yet fully developed market.”

In sum, there is a land grab for IoT developers today, or should be, but it’s not about delivering developer cash. The cash will come, but today platform providers need to be thinking about how to provide opportunities for developers to explore this still nascent market.

In practice, those platforms that want to entice IoT developers must make their tooling approachable and the documentation clear enough to allow casual development. Raspberry Pi is a classic example of a developer platform that hits all the right notes in terms of giving developers an easy, cheap-to-use playground to experiment upon.

Those that can appeal to the fun side of IoT developers today will find it should translate into their business motivations tomorrow.

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