The Changing Role of the Developer in HE
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The Changing Role of the Developer in HE



Presentation given to the joint Sakai-Jasig conference, Atlanta, 2012

Presentation given to the joint Sakai-Jasig conference, Atlanta, 2012



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  • thank you for this opportunity to speak\n
  • so, what is a developer\n
  • funnily enough, when I first did this slide I forgot ‘programmer’ as a term. \nAny others?\n
  • is what developers do engineering? Is it a craft? Does it matter....?\n
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  • an occasional developer such as a researcher\n
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  • articles of faith\n
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  • the developer community creates the programme and pretty much runs things on the ground\n
  • media-training - teaching developers to explain what they are doing to non-technical people\n
  • valuable source of good and cheap testing for data service providers\nsome of the people who have sponsored our events\n
  • if an HE institution employs a developer who is active in our community then the institution gets the benefit of that training and peer-support, not to mention collaborative opportunities\n
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  • this level of ‘joined upness’ is still surprisingly rare in UK HE institutions - it came about because of people who both knew what was possible and what needed doing at a strategic level.\n
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  • an increasingly common model of outsourcing services to SaaS offerings\nSoftware has all too often been sold to the institution without any authoritative technical input from the institution. SaaS makes this even more likely. There is a role for the strategic developer to intercede.\n
  • we have a rich source of raw talent coming in (our students)\nthen we lose people\nwhat’s the equivalent of the CTO in our HE institutions?\n
  • developers have skills which are potentially useful to researchers- e.g. ‘computational thinking’ - even more prosaic skills such as proper use of version control. Agile development methods encourage this KT\n\n
  • \n

The Changing Role of the Developer in HE The Changing Role of the Developer in HE Presentation Transcript

  • The Changing Role of the Developer in HE Paul Walk Director, Innovation Support Centre, UKOLN, University of Bath @paulwalk 1
  • what is a developer? 2
  • what’s in a name? 3
  • paradigms, approaches and pre-conceptions• these terms carry associations and create assumptions • programming • development • engineering • craftsmanship • hacking• for example, engineering implies working to documented specifications, where hacking does not• back in the day, we even talked about software ‘authors’! 4
  • some classes of local developer1. the opportunistic developer (hacker) • would not self-describe as a ‘developer’ • possibly a researcher, librarian, grad student....2. the classic engineer/analyst/developer • it’s a day job - probably works in a team - works to requirements3. the connected developer5. the strategic developer• these are not mutually exclusive - a particular developer might be reasonably described by several of these• this talk will concentrate on 3 and 4 - the connected developer and the strategic developer 5
  • a quick word on the opportunistic developer• web APIs• ever more user-friendly tools for manipulating data• friendlier scripting languages• data-centric research• librarians and researchers learning new technical skills• Greg Wilson’s Software Carpentry - “a few day’s training can save researchers a day a week for the rest of their professional lives” 6
  • community and the value of the connected local developer 7
  • DevCSI• JISC-funded project in the UK• managed by Mahendra Mahey of the Innovation Support Centre• 3 years of funding so far... 8
  • the perceived value of local developers• DevCSI conducted a stakeholder survey: • 495 respondents including developers, their managers, IT directors, vendors, funders, users (academics, librarians, researchers) • 75%+ agreement that local developers understand the local context and act as a bridge between remote service providers, open source communities, and local end users, and add value by integrating into local contexts • 75% agreement that local developers work closely with end users to deliver innovation (more work needed though) • 70% agreement that local developers are undervalued as evidenced by short term contracts, lack of professional development or career opportunities and poor management 9
  • innovation happens in a local contextlocal developers empower the institution toinnovate 10
  • DevCSI has fostered the connected developer• we are helping developers to network• our connected developers tend to: • be proactively and continually developing their skill-set • be comfortable working in collaborative environments • realise the value of a significant peer-network • share problems and solutions with peers outside their immediate place of work • be very likely actively involved in at least one open-source development project • have some level of engagement in consulting with non-developers 11
  • dev8D• major annual community event for developers, primarily working in HE in the UK (but does draw international developers)• 3-4 days• ~250 attendees this year• ‘lightening talks’, ‘code dojos’, demonstrations, challenges, ad hoc collaborations, development!• peer-peer training: • one year we valued this training - £80,000 worth of training delivered to the sector, by the sector (this was more than the entire cost of the event)• much of the organising done by volunteer developers• brings some brave users into a ‘developer-space’ 12
  • events for developers - building capacity • many smaller events • networking • co-development • hackdays • consultancy • training & learning• David Flanders’s Hierarchy of Developer Needs (with apologies to Abraham Maslow) 13
  • challenges and ‘bounties’• annual Developer Challenge at Open Repositories • this year in Edinburgh, sponsored by Microsoft Research• last year’s Open Repositories Developer Challenge: • I found it incredibly valuable. It enabled me to make interesting and valuable technical contacts that I wouldn’t have made otherwise, both directly (in the developer suite) and indirectly (as a result of my and others’ challenge presentations). I’m very much looking forward to next year’s.• developers benefit from networking, collaborating & testing ideas. Suppliers & sponsors benefit from having their APIs tested and developed against 14
  • the wider value of an HE developer community• it gives developers a presence - funders, vendors and other interested parties come to us when they want to reach developers• knowledge transfer to other, non-developer communities, especially librarians and researchers (so far)• a well connected community of developers is greater than the sum of its parts!• some managers and IT directors in institutions recognise the value in their developers being well connected and are now working with us to look at good practice in managing local development activity 15
  • the potential value of the local strategic developer 16
  • a personal reflection (2000-2005) Portal screenshot 3• I had the rare luxury, as a developer, of a place at the strategic decision- making table• my team and I set about revolutionising staff and student access to a major university’s library, e-learning, finance, security, estates LondonMet EII project (MetaMatrix) and student-records systems• the strategic goal was to improve student retention - the IT intervention was enterprise information integration, leading to business intelligence• with a uPortal front end :-) 17
  • the strategic developer• is experienced, both technically and in the ‘business’ of Higher Education • is probably disguised as a manager....• has good local (sometimes tacit) knowledge - such as the real business processes of the institution• has moved beyond ‘problem solving’ as the extent of their perspective• can align technical planning and interventions to strategic goals - has an institutional perspective• gives a technical-development dimension to strategic planning• offers leadership, beyond project-management and can identify new ICT- based opportunities to innovate• does not really exist as a role, yet, but if it did.... 18
  • example: a route to effective use of SaaS this is where the developer Local net works with peers Systems Peer Technical Developer Requirements this is where economies of Strategic scale and cost reduction are End User Organisational achievedRequirements Requirements Remote, User/ Strategic Remote (commercial) Domain Local System technical (SaaS) expert Developer contacts } } this is where local innovation happens local context this is where the cost of outsourcing is mitigated remote context 19
  • the case of the missing career path....Higher Education Institution ? Postgrad researcher/developer Academic Undergraduate Employed developer Manager ? 1 2 3 4 5}}} Spontaneous technical could happen here Spontaneous technical innovation does happens here Strategic leadership for technical innovation could happen here 20
  • to conclude• the role of the developer in HE has become more varied • it can involve more frequent contact with non-developers, including knowledge transfer activity • more people are getting in on the act, albeit in limited ways. This is no longer something which should or, indeed, could be discouraged! • it can involve much more, and wider, collaboration with peers from elsewhere • there is scope, and I believe a pressing need, for a more strategic role 21
  • some questions.... Can we recognise, develop and offer a viable career-path to our strategic developers, so that they are able to provide technical leadership in our institutions and related communities? Is it in the interest of development communities, such as those at the heart of Sakai and Jasig, that this happen? 22