Software is your salesperson - how to avoid agile annihilation

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Great news: It's a good time to be a software engineer again, you no longer have to worry about your job going to India, and IT leaders are queuing up to employ you.

For much of the "noughties", it was a widely acknowledged truth that all software development was going to India and the Far East. Swathes of corporate application development teams were laid off and big outsourcing contracts put in place, as the global system integrators convinced customers of their "transformational" delivery skills.

Numerous expensive non-transformations later, things have changed.

According to Sam Gordon, a director at recruitment firm La Fosse Associates speaking at the first CW500 Club event of the year this week, there is a huge and growing demand from CIOs to bring software development back in-house. Gordon quoted one un-named CIO as saying he would rather have "10 rock-star software engineers than 100 programmers in India."

It's important to note this isn't a backlash against India - it's a realisation that in a digital world, when dealing with technology-enabled customers and IT-led business change, software is your salesperson.

Increasingly, your customers are dealing with you not through well-trained human beings, but through software - whether websites, mobile apps, in-store kiosks, ATMs, whatever. Software is your shop front. It's also the key to internal efficiency and productivity.

The value that organisations deliver is increasingly embodied in the software they use. And that means you need the value-creators in your organisation, not in a supplier bound by little more than a project plan and a service-level agreement.

"Agile" is an over-used word, but it's the essence of the interface between software and competitive edge or customer service.

Walk into any online company - Asos.com, or LateRooms.com for example - and you'll see software engineers sitting alongside business decision-makers. They're not talking code, they're talking business, and user needs.  

Software engineers themselves have changed. Walk around the Government Digital Service - the closest thing the public sector has to a software start-up - and you won't see the old programmer stereotype of bearded blokes with open-toed sandals and few social skills. These are bright, creative, thought-provoking, idea-generating business people who happen to be able to push out some kick-ass Ruby code.

Attitudes are changing elsewhere too.

This week, there were two fantastic news stories for the future of UK IT. First, the Department for Education announced that computer science will be one of the subjects for the new EBacc baccalaureate qualification in schools. Second, the number of students applying for computer science courses at university grew for the first time in years - what's more, it was one of the highest increases in popularity of any degree course.

That's the future. At last, kids are finally seeing software as something they want to learn.

Another of the IT leader guests at CW500 came up with a great phrase - "agile annihilation" - to describe the prospects for organisations that don't have the flexibility to rapidly respond through software to what's happening in their market.

If you're a software engineers with the skills - it's going to be a good few years for you. If you're an IT leader without the in-house software skills you need - well, it's time to review your recruitment plans. Agile annihilation awaits for the rest.

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