Five reasons why investing in the software development community is a strategic business driver

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Software development skills are central to the regeneration of South Africa and Africa. Strengthening the community that underpins this revitalization is strategic for businesses and governments.

South African businesses are grappling with the aftermath of the past two years and the challenges of recovering from a load shedding. Investing in software developers as a community may seem like overkill.

But developer skills are at the heart of South Africa’s and Africa’s regeneration. Strengthening the community that underpins this regeneration is strategic for businesses and governments.

1. Developers are probably behind your next product evolution

Andrew Pillay, regional director at Peach Payments, said the company’s investments in the developer community have resulted in changes to its product portfolio, even though the developers don’t work for Peach Payments.

“Developers are important decision makers in companies because they make critical technical choices that impact the business. Interacting with them has given us a better understanding of what our customers want from our products.

2. You need developers, but they don’t know you exist

said Stephen van der Heijden, vice president of community at OfferZen, the premier community job market. “We are regularly contacted by companies wishing to speed up the recruitment of their developers. The problem that many of them face is that their companies do not have an appropriate profile among developers to be considered as potential employers.

On the other hand, some of the start-ups that OfferZen works with are known because they have been active in the community and the developers know their philosophy, thinking and general approach to problem solving. As a result, these companies have more – and better – candidates for software developer jobs.

“It is the direct result of the availability and investment of their founders by their time, their participation and their activities in the community.”

3. “Home” is anywhere – meet them there

Van der Heijden points out that being able to choose where their “office” is located has opened up incredible opportunities for local developers. Companies that prefer their developers to be on-site, rather than working from home, are making life more difficult, he believes.

“Between 2019 and 2022, we have seen a 14% decrease in the number of South African developers looking to move abroad,” he said.

This requires a fundamental overhaul of how local businesses recruit and retain software development staff.

4. Fostering developer communities strengthens the country’s technology base

Pillay said getting involved more closely with developer communities has taught him that developers in the B2B space can learn a lot from developers in the B2C space, and vice versa.

“One of the big issues we face as a country is how technologies remain siled both within and across industries. Investing in the developer community opens doors for cross-silo technologies,” Pillay said.

An example would be a bank developer wanting to add a “wish list” option to a banking application, to allow customers to indicate what they would like from the bank.

“Seems like an open field until you realize she got the idea from a developer at an online retailer, who said ‘wish lists’ provide deeper insight into planning retailer’s future than direct sales numbers. The bank’s developer found a way to use this information to adjust the bank’s potential future offerings.”

Another example is Investec tapping into the developer community for programmable banking, adds Van der Heijden.

5. Developers help you reach customers next year

Millennials – born between 1981 and 1994 – have become the largest living generation in 2019. Similarly, South African Gen Z consumers – those born in 1995 or later – are becoming increasingly active in credit and are also helping to fuel the growth of the consumer credit market.

“These generations are digital natives; they grew up with technology, and paper-based systems are kind of an alien concept. They don’t remember a world without the internet and have always been able to buy and consume services through the web and their mobile phones,” said Louw Hopley, CEO and co-founder of insurtech company Root.

Root found that new consumers expect near-instant responses to queries, so adding digital front ends to analog backends won’t be enough, Hopley said.

“They expect an integrated experience, which requires software developers who understand your internal systems and can make them work with your vendor and partner systems.”

In an environment where technology skills are increasingly scarce, Hopley, Pillay and Van der Heijden agree that companies that invest in South Africa’s developer community – and its scarce skills – have a strategic advantage. But what does investing in the development community look like? Van der Heijden suggests basics like helping existing tech communities with event or venue sponsorships is a good start. “Also consider supporting mentorship programs across industries, creating access to technology leadership within your own company, and helping develop the next generation of developers.”

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