Developer Digital Transformation

Developer-driven businesses just hit the gas pedal for digital transformations

Commentary: Resource-starved businesses are turning to developers to see them through the coronavirus pandemic.

Image: nd3000, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Amidst all the recent uncertainty, there are some constants: Developers remain, as before, "the new kingmakers." A year ago I wrote that catering to developers was becoming big business . If ever someone wanted to stress test that hypothesis, the global coronavirus pandemic is it. Given the uncertainty of consumer and business spending, every organization is scrutinizing spend.

And yet, a year later, that original hypothesis is holding firm. If anything, developers have become even more important in the face of a downturn. While perhaps not a perfect measure, the stock market is a reasonable proxy.

Developer-powered rocket ships

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has upended how every organization works, in some key ways this is a good thing. For example, in a conversation with CircleCI CEO Jim Rose, he said that "all the timelines have shrunk" for embracing modern development practices like Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). Companies may have known before that they needed to upgrade their development practices, but the pandemic has shone a blinding light on old-school approaches that leave organizations incapable of adapting to rapidly changing circumstances. "Now every company is trying to get apps to be cloud-enabled or cloud-native. These are best practices, and companies are having to rush to get there. The pandemic has compressed the time[line]," said Rose.  

SEE: Hiring Kit: Python developer (TechRepublic Premium)

In that rush, they're spending big with developer-oriented companies. While there are many examples, let's start with just two: Twilio and Fastly. After announcing impressive earnings, both companies saw their stocks grow nearly 50% overnight.

On Twilio's Q1 earnings call (May 2020), Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson echoed what Rose had said: "We've seen companies across multiple industries adapt in real time due to COVID-19. Digital transformation projects that could have taken years such as transitioning from an on-trend contact center to the cloud instead took a weekend." Though Twilio has invested heavily in "upleveling" its sales strategy to focus more on executive engagement, the heart of the company is still the developer. Click on the company's product drop-down menu, and you'll see this: Everything is an API. 

This developer-led strategy played out recently with Epic, a healthcare-oriented software company that serves over 250 million users. In response to the pandemic, Epic turned to Twilio to build its own telehealth platform. But that project didn't start with the CEOs of these two companies connecting. "This started through the power of our developer community," according to Twilio COO George Hu.

"By developers, for developers"

Meanwhile, Fastly , a content delivery network focused on developer experience, offered much the same good news on its earnings call. In fact, Fastly said they expect to do even more business this year than expected, as companies turn to its developer-oriented CDN to build out their web presences.

SEE: 10 ways to prevent developer burnout (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

"Customers [are] realizing they have to digitally transform quickly" in the wake of the pandemic, Fastly CEO Joshua Bixby said. "And they can't digitally transform quickly when they actually can't control or work with their system [because] they have huge amounts of [professional services] that have to get involved. As a system built by developers for developers, [by contrast, Fastly is] uniquely positioned to capture that inspiration and to serve the best of the web."

Throughout the call, Bixby stressed that "the core of what we have always [done] is to allow developers to innovate." This is critical because it's developers, not traditional IT, that will be able to figure out how to do more with less (using open source software and cloud for infrastructure). They're the ones who will help their organizations respond quickly to our ever-changing society. 

Nothing about the pandemic is easy, and much of it is tragic. One bright spot, however, is that given the right tools, developers can help build solutions to at least some of the problems we're facing.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but nothing herein relates to my work there.

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