In a world being eaten alive by software, you need to hire more developers. A lot more.

Perhaps more importantly, according to former Netflix cloud chief and current Battery Ventures Technology fellow Adrian Cockroft, you need to help to make them productive. Which mostly means you need to get the heck out of their way.

Here’s how.

Why Developers Matter

Software increasingly sets the pace for competitive differentiation, and developers write that software. Cockroft, speaking at Monktoberfest 2014, suggests that organizations need to reorganize themselves around DevOps principles and practices to give developers the space they need to succeed. 

See also: Developers, Not VCs, Help Us See The Future Of Technology

Developers, after all, point to the future. While many make a fetish of revenue, Cockroft insists that developers, not revenue, are the best indication of where the market is moving:

If we were looking for billion-dollar revenue streams, after all, we would miss the widespread adoption of container technology like Docker, the embrace of NoSQL databases and Hadoop, the shift to cloud computing and more. None of these has yet generated the kind of revenue that yesterday’s license-based software models have, which is why companies like Oracle have been so lethargic about adopting them. 

But make no mistake: They are the future of computing, a future being written by developers, not IT.

Shut Up And Code

According to Cockroft, “speed wins in the market.” Therefore, enterprises that want to be competitive must find ways to unleash developer productivity. Often this simply means letting them work in the ways that they wish to, which can be discerned from an analysis of so-called Shadow IT. According to Gartner, 38% of corporate spending on servers, software and the like is no longer controlled by the IT department. That number that is projected to jump to 50% by 2017.

A significant percentage of that is being driven by developers and the lines of business they serve.

Motivated by the need to get things done quickly, developers have for years turned to open source and cloud technologies to unshackle themselves from bureaucratic software licensing and hardware provisioning policies. Even slow-moving governments have caught on, as Gartner analyst Lydia Leong highlights

Those companies that want to compete effectively, says Cockroft, must take this traditional development process:

Source: Adrian Cockroft

And squeeze out the inefficiencies. To wit (quoting Cockroft):

  • Hardware provisioning (“approval process and hardware purchase”) is undifferentiated heavy lifting—replace it with a cloud-based “infrastructure as a service” alternative;
  • Software provisioning (“deployment and testing”) is undifferentiated heavy lifting—replace it with a cloud-based “platform as a service” alternative; and
  • Building your own business apps (“software development”) is undifferentiated heavy lifting—use a cloud-based “software as a service” alternative.

This leaves organizations with a tight, iterative process whereby developers take business needs and rapidly prototype, build and deploy microservices (loosely coupled services that together comprise an application) in the cloud, with constant customer feedback to help tweak the application. The new process looks like this:

Source: Adrian Cockroft

Such a process is built on immutable microservice deployment, whereby a company keeps old code in service, unchanged, until traffic routing changes, at which point the new code/service group is rolled into production. According to Cockroft, this approach is faster and “scales with large teams and diverse platform components.” 

It also tends to make developers happy. Yes, even your developers. As Cockroft humorously pointed out, one Fortune 100 CTO told him that “Netflix has a superstar development team, we don’t!” To which Cockroft responded:

Netflix hired them from you, and got out of their way.

Making Developers Happy

Which is, of course, the key to enabling developer productivity. Yes, all those perks that Facebook, Google et al. provide their employees must be nice, as are the outsized salaries and equity grants that Leo Polovets captures in his analysis of AngelList data. 

See also: How To Code Like A Startup

But they’re not ultimately what a developer wants. Or, rather, they’re insufficient in themselves to help you hire and retain great engineering talent.

The best developers want to work on things that matter in a way that allows them to express their creativity. Developers want the speed, flexibility and convenience of the cloud. They also don’t want to be mired in silly software licensing discussions, which is why open source has boomed (and why your company needs to write more open-source software). 

They want to use modern programming languages like Go. (Cockroft noted that 75% of the interesting projects he sees are written in Go.) They want to use modern data infrastructure like Hadoop.

In short, they want you to get out of their way.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock