Connected Device Manufacturers Report Serious Developer Skill Shortages

Connected Device Manufacturers Report Serious Developer Skill Shortages

Jul 28, 2021

Three quarters of connected device manufacturers say they are struggling to find enough developers to keep up with demand, which is putting enormous strain on their existing teams.

That’s the finding of a new report from Forrester Consulting, commissioned by cross-platform development platform Qt. A survey of embedded device and connected product decision-makers at companies across the globe found that two thirds were concerned about the well-being of their developers because of the amount of work they were having to do to meet required production cycles.

The report focuses on how growth and evolution in connected and embedded device markets has made what were once considered standard app development practices for devices redundant – as the report’s authors put it, “with today’s digital products, the software doesn’t stop at the firmware layer.”

The connected device market is changing

Worldwide, the connected device market is enjoying a surge in growth. It is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 23% between 2020 and 2025, reaching a value of $40.3bn. That in itself creates a huge upsurge in demand for developers, as programmes need to be written for and configured into the millions and millions of devices flooding the market. As Forrester points out, every new car bought today contains around 100 million lines of code.

But it isn’t just the size of demand that is putting pressure on skills resources – it is the fact that expectations around what digitised devices can do is changing, requiring new functionality that in turn requires different skill sets.

Increasingly, connected devices are being deployed to create a particular user experience, often centred around simplicity, convenience, putting control and information in the hands of the end user. If we think about the ‘smart home’ phenomenon, the next phase of evolution is not to have a smart refrigerator and a smart boiler and a smart security system all operating as separate entities – it’s to have them all working together as a cohesive whole, with a single point of command (such as a smartphone app).

From a development perspective, this means the focus is no longer on programming a single smart product. Cross-platform compatibility, plug-and-play usability so any device can slip seamlessly into any existing hardware set-up, are now primary concerns. To use that well-worn phrase, the silos have to be broken down.

In addition, end users increasingly want to be able to add new features and functions to a particular device once it is installed, which makes much more sense to them financially than having to replace devices that are still in good working order just to keep up with new tech. That means over-the-air software updates, and perhaps making over-the-top services available from third parties to add value.

From a development perspective, this is seeing app development for connected devices enter the realms of open architecture, of APIs, of cloud-native applications, of collaboration at a grand scale. This is very different to the proprietary world of programming specific functions directly into the closed world of a single chipset.

A perfect storm of skills shortages

All of the above is combining to put huge pressure on the development resources available to connected device manufacturers. Asked about the challenges they face from a human resourcing perspective, a third (32%) told Forrester that high demand for fast turn around on production cycles was an issue. The implication here is that firms just can’t find enough developers to keep up with the pressure they are under for rapid release cycles.

It is also clear from the survey findings that the responsibility being piled on under-staffed development teams to meet these targets is taking its toll. Not only are two thirds of companies Forrester spoke to concerned about developer well-being, one in five are also experiencing high levels of churn among developers.

It’s a perfect storm – you struggle to find enough developers with the skills you need, that puts huge pressure on the people you already have, which eventually pushes them out the door and you are left looking to recruit even more people in a scarce market.

The rapid acceleration in digitisation seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is likely a contributory factor. As businesses across the board look to digital innovation as a means to survive the crisis, demand for digital products, connected devices included, has soared.

Whatever the market demands are, however, there is only so much a finite number of developers can do. Placing too heavy a burden on existing developers is ultimately counterproductive – if their well-being is affected, it will impact productivity and potentially push them out of the industry.

Connected device manufacturers must look at ways of attracting more developers into the sector, whether that be through better pay and conditions, more flexible recruitment strategies and working arrangements, expanded training and development schemes or partnerships with external software houses.