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Lessons in software and app coding from the next generation

Can today's software professional learn lessons about simplified programming from the new generation of developers and engineers? Experts on the forefront of this movement say yes.

In the face of a critical software developer talent shortage, there appears to be a glimmer of hope resting among the emerging generation of software developers. And the way these young developers approach app coding and development may hold valuable lessons for the older generation of software professionals.

We talked with Neha Sampat and Matthew Baier of Built.io, a cloud and digital product provider that has taken a vested interest in software developer training for the emerging generation. Built.io provides teaching support for a class at UC Berkeley focused on mobile entrepreneurship and innovation, according to Sampat. Built.io is also heavily involved with local universities around Viriar, India, where one of their engineering offices is located.

Sampat and Baier believe that younger developers embrace a new programming approach that differs from preceding generations -- and that there may be lessons to be learned from that approach. Here's what they had to say. 

Neha Sampat, CEO at built.ioNeha Sampat

What can today's developers and engineers learn from how younger people approach app coding and development?

Neha Sampat: I find so much inspiration in young people. They don't have the same objections as those that have been in the business for a while. They ask "Why not? Why can't I do that?" and "Why wouldn't I do that?"

We've seen that with the students at Berkeley. ... They kind of challenge us. They, essentially, will try to build something, and it's not to the normal way that you do it. But it doesn't matter; they can do whatever they want.

As people grow up in their careers, they become more and more jaded by titles and hierarchy. Kids don't have those barriers. [Developers should realize that] being able to build things that are API driven [opens] up the opportunity for anyone inside of an organization to talk to the CEO of a company [about] any one piece of their product without hesitation.

Matthew Baier, COO at built.ioMatthew Baier

Matthew Baier: The willingness to borrow innovation and not be apologetic about it. If you're building [an application], ... your time might be better spent just finding the person who built [a similar application], borrowing that, and then building [in] your unique aspect or what's relevant to your unique business case.

That's one of the reasons why all these cloud platforms are beginning to take off: No one wants to reinvent that stack. What we're seeing is that students are minimizing the problems down [by asking,] "What is the new unique thing that I have to build?" Everything else [they plan to] either borrow or build on top of, [allowing them to focus] on the innovation itself.

Do you find that younger students tend to understand app coding and software development in a way that generations before them don't?

I find so much inspiration in young people. They don't have the same objections as those that have been in the business for a while.
Neha SampatCEO of Built.io

Sampat: Absolutely. I mean, a 2 year old knows how to use an iPad. It's inherent in young people to just embrace technology. I don't have the stats for this, but I would imagine that it's a lot less intimidating to get into computer science and adopt it. It's something that's just second nature to understand, [so they say,] "How do I go deeper into what I'm already using as a technology?"

We're seeing that with a lot of young kids. I coach an organization with young girls that are trying to learn more about getting into entrepreneurship, and I'm surprised by how many of them come up with ideas that are specific to technology and mobile applications. That's what they want to do with their life, and they are 9 years old. It's really cool to see that's where their heads are at.

Baier: There are a couple things that I think young people just take for granted now. For slightly older people, we still remember when things were different from a software development perspective and in terms of what technology you use. The idea of developing in the cloud, obviously, it now makes sense. The idea that you would have to download something and then store something seems really weird.

[There have been] a lot of conversations happening around [connectivity] and the value of APIs. Ten years ago, people weren't really talking about [APIs] as much. Whereas now, if you're looking at how people are building software -- and especially the younger generation -- of course it has to be an API.

What role should formal education play in software developer training? Do you think that high schools and colleges need to be more involved in training?

Sampat: Absolutely, and it's happening pretty organically. Ten years ago, a computer programming class was an exception, ... something that you would take in the summer or on the weekend. Now it has become a normal part of the curriculum, just like a foreign language.

Every student that's going through the education system in multiple countries is getting exposure to basic programming skills and understanding computer science as an entity. Outside of that, if you think about students that have already come out of that system and may be a little bit older, there's so much money and time and effort and that's being put into just STEM education.

I'm especially a big proponent of women in tech, so I'm involved in several organizations that are trying to bring technical education to females around the world. There's a huge movement happening, and it's really exciting to see. It will take some time before it really takes a foothold, but between computer science and data science, it's sort of the next big subject matter that everyone is getting into at a very young age.

Next Steps

How the Developer Workforce Initiative will tackle the development talent shortage

How to become the developer of the future

Why it's time for the role of the developer to evolve

This was last published in March 2016

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What lessons about building apps and development have you learned from younger generations?
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"I mean, a 2 year old knows how to use an iPad. "

Say what? I highly doubt that a 2 year old knows what its doing on an iPad. It may understand certain stimulie to a small degree when setup by an adult, but some 2 year olds have small if any vocabulary, and likely cannot read, but perhaps recognize certain important iconography. (For example common words, or symbols, like their favorite restaurant.) Also let's not confuse, willingness to use electronic mediums, with an actual interest in Computer Science. My whole young life i thought I"d be a doctor or a chemical engineer like my dad. It wasn't till I saw a few things at an engineering day that I began to see here were other neat things to do.

Can we please let young people learn, try things and grow and decide for themselves what they want from life instead of trying to push everyone everywhere into software development?
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