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Citizen Developer

What is a citizen developer?

A citizen developer is a non-technical builder of new applications or programs for the enterprise, typically via a corporate or collective code base.

Unlike professional developers, whose specific job is to code various applications, citizen developers rarely have advanced or even intermediate coding skills. Rather, they depend on no-code or low-code, WYSIWYG development software. This software allows end users with little technical skill to build web and mobile applications using simple point-and-click and drag-and-drop techniques.

A major advantage of citizen developers is that they typically have far more business knowledge and acumen than a typical developer, meaning their solutions can more closely fit specific business needs.

Why do citizen developers exist?

The immense demand for business applications, combined with a proliferation of WYSIWYG software development tools, has created the perfect conditions for the emergence of citizen developers across a range of business verticals and industries.

Put simply, R&D departments can't keep up with the demand for custom-built business apps. In many cases, they're overwhelmed. An analysis by Global Market Insights indicates the enterprise application market will grow at 7.6 per cent annually through 2024, enough to double the 2015 market size of $150 billion. 

Because of this intense pressure, most application requests are shelved for at least several months while other things are built, fixed, or upgraded.

In some cases, companies attempt to bridge this gap by purchasing off-the-shelf cloud or mobile apps. Otherwise, citizen developers often step in to fill these gaps.

Are there risks associated with citizen developers?

One criticism of citizen development is that it can often lead to the development of applications without the employer's knowledge or blessing

This issue has been termed "Shadow IT": when the integrity and organization of the company's IT structure can be undermined by apps that are "unmanaged, ungoverned, and of questionable quality."

However, the rise of citizen developers may also correspond with a rise in efficiency and increased work satisfaction. 

One survey of several hundred citizen developers indicated that of those surveyed:

  • 83 per cent said they developed custom apps "to create a better way to work"
  • 48 per cent also said they saw an increase in work satisfaction

Perhaps most tellingly, 46 per cent of apps developed by surveyed citizen developers were up and running in less than four weeks, while only 12 per cent of those surveyed said they'd been asked by management to build these apps.