The Rise of the Designer Programmer

FallingwaterDesigner Programmer is a term that I would like to coin when thinking about the impact of UX Design, Service Design and Design Thinking within the ICT field coupled with the advent of programmable networks (think SDN) and billions of programmable devices (think IOT).

The term attempts to combine the 2 trends of the 2010’s: we are focussed more on Design as both a management discipline and a route towards better customer experience PLUS we are creating a world that is driven more and more by programmable software.

If I do a quick Google search of the term I come across a lot of articles that debate topics like “designers are not programmers” and “I am a programmer, how do I get into web/UX design?”. This leads me to conclude that the common wisdom of design and programming are that they are separate tasks and should be kept so.

This feels like Taylorism at its best and flies in the face of many of today’s trends. For example large companies tend to rotate their top talent early in their career in order to develop executives that are well rounded in all aspects of the business. Much of the literature around growth and innovation focusses on strong collaboration across functions and disciplines. Of course that does not mean individuals have to do multiple jobs simultaneously but it does imply empathy and learning from one peers with complementary skills.

OK, maybe that’s a good idea but what is a Designer Programmer?

To explain let’s go back to the 1980’s (before internet) when there was a well recognised term that we used to call “Analyst Programmer”.

It was a mash-up of a role and the reason that it existed centred around 3 commonly held beliefs.

The first belief was around a trend towards smaller IT projects. Perhaps slightly pre-dating Agile and Extreme Programming was the movement away from mainframe development towards PC-LAN development teams, which tended to be smaller (at least when the project was more departmental than full enterprise) and tended to develop multi-skilling within the team.

Second was a belief that we needed to develop task efficiencies for small software projects. Analysis and programming did not overlap in the project life-cycle therefore the person who did the analysis could then also do the programming and testing, thereby reducing the total manpower you needed for a project.

Thirdly was a belief in technology centricity. The analyst needed to have an idea of the program to be build at a technical level, therefore they were also best placed to be the programmer. Somehow the skills of analysis and programming were seen as linked because they were both regarded as technical skills. Note that in larger programs of work this belief was usually ignored and large teams were formed where business analysts and software developers were kept separate from each other.

I looked on SEEK the other day for Analyst Programmer jobs and, out of over 16,000 IT jobs there were only around 500 labelled Analyst Programmer. It feels like we no longer value Analyst Programmers as much as we used to.

With this background, my belief in the future of business being built around the Designer Programmer construct centres around 3 current developments:

  1. With the world’s most valuable company, Apple, being an example of a focus on design and innovation it is my belief that most of the successful businesses of the 21st century will incorporate a focus on design and designing experiences. Therefore (and we see this development with Google, SAP, GE, Microsoft, 3M, Proctor and Gamble) I see Design becoming a desireable skillset in the future.
  1. Whilst the 20th century has seen the growth of the Information Age and there are multiple futurists predicting what this century will be known for the one thing that is certain in my mind is that it will involve more software programs running on more devices and placing more demand of businesses to innovate in their processes and business models. Hence programming is also a desireable skillset.
  1. The rapid growth of Silicon Valley, the growing importance of Venture Capital and the formalisation of startup processes and small company innovation processes will change the world of work to encourage more collaboration and multi-skilling.

Hence I feel that the future of this century includes a role that involves Design, meaning the design of anything from business models to physical objects, combined with Programming, and I label this the Designer Programmer.


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