Software

Still believe developers don't pay for software? Here's why you're totally wrong

Developers used to be influencers, but not buyers, of software. That has changed completely.

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Image: iStockphoto/StockRocket

"Developers are not a market. They have no money." Though this tripe has been regurgitated for years as a truism, it's simply not true. Not anymore, anyway.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the classic counterexample, but there are others, including Atlassian, MongoDB, and more. Indeed, as Andreessen Horowitz venture capitalist Peter Levine declared in 2016, "One of the most notable transformations over the past 5 years has been the pauper-to-prince of the developer as a buying center within a company."

Ironically, one of the key ways to reach the increasingly flush developer set is through open source software, which can be downloaded for free. It's really not about open source, however, and instead a symptom of open source that is also shared with cloud computing. That symptom? Convenience.

The nouveaux riches

Developers have arguably always influenced purchasing decisions, but in the last few years they've actually started to influence purchases with their wallets. As uncovered in SlashData's most recent State of the Developer Nation (Q3 2017) report, nearly 90% of developers in a leadership role, and two-thirds of front-line coders, are involved in purchasing decisions.

Not just involved, either, but leading those same purchasing decisions. As Levine, a former developer, put it: "As software infiltrates every part of our economy, [developers are now] the lead innovators and they're the lead buyers in companies."

While there are certainly areas of software that remain somewhat secluded from developer influence, those areas are both less impervious to developer interest and less interesting overall. If software is truly eating the world, and developers are driving that change, then the areas of software that developers don't want may not help move the needle for enterprises hungry for differentiation.

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In terms of reaching developers, SlashData highlighted that developers are constantly looking for new tools, with a third saying they purchase tools for personal use. This would suggest that vendors that only see developers in a corporate context stand to miss out on the earliest part of the sales funnel. If Glengarry Glen Ross made Alec Baldwin's "Always be closing" speech famous for sales teams everywhere, the developer equivalent is "always be coding," and they do—at home, at work, always. As such, vendors that want to reach them need strategies that think about developers holistically, and not as corporate automatons.

Gravity (and convenience) always wins

The whole polyglot persistence phenomenon called out by Martin Fowler years ago remains true today precisely because developers insist on using the tools that best match their ever-evolving needs, and refuse to closely adhere to defined enterprise standards. Sure, over time the industry settles around standards (Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Microsoft Windows in server operating systems; AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud for cloud services, etc.), but only when these become convenient for developers.

It's easy to cast about for other reasons a given technology takes off with developers. In trying to explain away MongoDB's outsized success, for example, Chas Emerick has castigated the company for what he deemed "blatant, comical misrepresentations," a triumph of false advertising over a substandard product, in his view. Despite all the angst and derision dumped on MongoDB, however, Redmonk analyst James Governor explained its success in two words: "Convenience wins."

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This same convenience explains how AWS stole a march on heavyweight incumbent server vendors with a lock on enterprise IT bank accounts. This despite rampant CIO concerns about cloud security, data governance, and more. Again, Governor's colleague, Stephen O'Grady, pointed out the key ingredient: "Convenience trumps just about everything."

In sum, the way to a developer's heart and, hence, the enterprise budget, is through convenience. This will often involve open source, open APIs, and a hefty dose of cloud infrastructure. For those vendors still hoping to make do with CIO golf gatherings, it's time to smarten up and dress down. Developers don't want to play golf with you. They just want convenience.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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