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September 02, 2015

Developers: builders or explorers?
byStijn SchuermansinPlatforms

What do you think about when you hear the word “software developer”? Most people probably imagine a duffy engineer, turning his boss’s requirements into code. A software builder, so to speak. But developers are so much more. They’re often more like adventurers and explorers, boldly going where no programmer has gone before. This was never more true than at the eve of the Internet of Things. The most important role of Internet of Things developers is to explore new possibilities. The technology is widely available; in no small part because of open source software and hardware projects. Now we need to learn where we can take it. We can build it, but should we?

Why are Explorers so important?

Explorers are critical to any developer ecosystem, including in the Internet of Things. First, because that’s where all the truly new, out-of-the-box ideas come from. It’s hard to be super-innovative when you have a project to deliver to your boss or client. Only by exploring seemingly crazy ideas can the Internet of Things reach its full potential. The open source ecosystem is often the area where these ideas bloom.

Secondly, while exploring, Explorers gain a tremendous amount of experience. This will help them build their careers (as builders or otherwise). It also helps the companies that pay the bill. And it is needed. In Q4 2014, VisionMobile surveyed 4,000+ IoT developers. The lack of hardware development skills was the top challenge among IoT developers. 48% of IoT open source enthusiasts (those who find it important to use an open source platform) listed it as a challenge.

Learning and open source

VisionMobile’s data also shows that exploring, learning and open source technology go very well together. Among Explorers (developers that are primarily interested in gaining experience to seize on future opportunities), 20% value open source platforms and technology. That’s the highest level of any group. Conversely, Explorers are the biggest group among open source enthusiasts (32%).

Furthermore, open source is popular among developers that are new to IoT and new to software. A second group who value open source are seasoned software developers who bring open source business models to the Internet of Things. Traditional IoT developers with lots of experience underuse open source. In a way, these “experienced in software, new to IoT” developers provide another kind of ecosystem-level learning.

More data

Here are some more key insights about IoT explorers and open source enthusiasts that we summarized in an infographic, co-created with Arduino:

  • Open source is not just useful for building skills. It is also used by developers that want to increase efficiency (we call them Optimizers) and by developers that work on commission (Guns for Hire). This indicates that open source tools get the job done quickly, efficiently and inexpensively. On the other hand, developers are cautious about using open source technology in commercial products.
  • Open hardware in particular helps IoT developers to address their 3 main challenges: a lack of hardware skills, immature tools and high production costs. Arduino is clearly a leader in this space.
  • “Open” seems to be a professional philosophy that is applied on hardware, software and protocols alike. 60% of open source enthusiasts feel that open standards are missing from IoT, compared to 44% of other IoT developers.
  • All this doesn’t mean that open source has won everywhere. Some verticals, e.g. wearables, seem more difficult to address with open source technology and are therefore less popular among open source enthusiasts. Sometimes open source platforms struggle in the face of strong closed-source competitor. Smart Home platform OpenHab is a good example.

In conclusion, developer-explorers are critical to any developer ecosystem, and open source technology is an important tool to make that happen. I for one can’t wait to see what these modern-day Marco Polo’s and David Livingstone’s discover next!


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