How to Build the Development Team for the Future

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Agile, cloud-native development requires a very different architecture to the monoliths of old, and it’s not easy for developers to adapt to the change.

Ask any CIO what they want most from their development teams, and chances are the answer will involve “skills.” Whether you work in app development or sandwich making, having a skilled team ready to balance quality with agility is the key to ongoing success.

In our study Cloud Native Comes of Age, we found that 70% of executives agreed that building the right skills was a significant challenge when adapting to cloud-native development. And when as many as 15% of new enterprise apps are now cloud native, with 32% expected by 2020, it’s not hard to see why.

You need a team ready to face whatever comes next; a development team for the future. And rather than leave your existing team in the lurch, it’s time to hone their knowledge, experience and confidence without losing the people that got you where you are.

Recognizing the skills gap

Whether your goal is to become more “agile, flexible and secure,” or simply to “make more money” – it’s important to recognize what’s stopping you from doing so. Skilled app developers are in critical demand, with some going as far to predict demand will soon outstrip supply.

Your existing team may be talented and comfortable within their existing environment, but as we’ve discussed before, creating a new culture built around flexible and iterative functionality is key to achieving a successful cloud strategy. So, what are these skills gaps?

Common development skills gaps include:

  • Running microservices on Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
  • Working collaboratively within a DevOps model
  • Adopting automated testing, provisioning and deployment
  • Iterative and high-quality code deployment

For a truly futureproof development team, you’ll need skilled architects to help define your future development environment, and a cloud-native strategy that everyone – including management – can get behind. And without proper support from management, skills development will soon hit a brick wall as architects struggle to break the silos blocking cloud-native adoption.

Here’s how three other teams faced up to the challenge:

1. Retraining the best in class

There’s no definitive approach to building a great development team. Royal Mail’s IT Portfolio Director, Alex Lorke, used a combination of approaches: Recruiting visionary architects to guide development decisions, retraining existing teams, and partnering with different suppliers who would be able to challenge the status quo and established culture:

“I would certainly encourage best practice expertise from the outside to deliver hands-on experiences, rather than people who just quote from a textbook. It’s a voyage of discovery, and people need to learn to solve problems on their own in the future.”
One CIO that I recently spoke to, who works at a digital bank, focused on re-skilling and re-training existing development teams to make the company’s cloud-native strategy a success, now delivering “99.9% availability across many of our banking products, and a much faster time to market for new innovations and capabilities.”

But getting there wasn’t easy, requiring some staff to un-learn old concepts to make way for future fundamentals. The approach that worked was to encourage clarity in standards and practices, ensuring standardized deployment and well-defined methodologies made it “simpler for the developer to be successful.”

At Royal Mail, this involved bringing in external assistance to help lead the transformation: “We definitely hired senior architect type leadership to help us with the mindshare. But in the broader organization, the masses, the full development teams, our approach has been to re-skill and retrain these associates.”

2. Retain and attract talent

For Cloud Foundry Foundation’s executive director Abby Kearns, the development skills gap is a trend they acknowledged and studied at the end of 2016. Abby is “heartened by the fact that training is becoming is a priority” for many organizations, including the retraining of existing talent:

“I think it’s a great way to address the [skills] shortage in the near term. It’s taking the teams of people that you have today and offering them new skills and new capabilities to develop applications in new ways. Then, as you progress and become less risk averse, you have the opportunity to pull in new talent because you’re doing interesting work, and developing code in new ways.”

3. Develop skills for the future

It’s evident there’s no single way to bridge the skills gap, but there is real value in bringing in new individuals – be it through outsourcing or hiring – to help augment your existing teams.

Agile, cloud-native development requires a very different architecture to the monoliths of old, and it’s not easy for developers to adapt to the change. But ensuring your teams are ready to deal with the future isn’t just great for app development, it can also make you a more attractive employer thanks to the continuous quality of their output.

Accelerate the culture shift, teach new skills and roll out a cloud strategy that gives back. Who you call upon to assist and lead in this journey is up to you.

To see all the survey results, and get expert analysis on the challenges facing development teams today, download the full research report here.

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