Software & Web Development

The new age of the 'rock star' software developer

This is a contributed piece by Alan Mumby, Partner and Head of CIO Group, Odgers Berndtson


In a world that is increasingly driven by code there is a new commodity shaping human capital: the ‘rock star’ software engineer. It’s simple: if you want to remain competitive in a market that is changing more rapidly than ever before, you need to hire the very best – you need to hire a rock star.

Think of a software developer, or ‘coder’, and what comes to mind?

The chances are that the words ‘rock star’ or ‘super star’ weren’t part of the imagery conjured up when thinking of a software developer; but we are entering into a new era which is cutting edge, the pinnacle of twenty-first century innovation where software developers reign supreme.

The world as we know it is being rewritten in code. This has sparked an unprecedented tech boom, where we are increasingly moving away from a position where software development and programming are restricted to Silicon Valley. While coders have been running the show from behind the scenes since the late twentieth century, we are now looking to welcome them to the boardroom. Companies are increasingly recognising coders as the heart of their business, it makes sense that they should be given a place at the table and given a place centre stage at the forefront of companies. They are in fact both the foundations, and leaders of many great corporations.

Chris Stevens, author of Appillionaires, explains “How Apple made programmers cool – and rich”, and how the rise of the App Store changed the view of the programmer from a seemingly nerdy job to a stylish and lucrative profession.

“The rise of the app has massively altered the public perception of what a software programmer is. It has turned a generation of geek coders from social misfits into superheroes. Mention to someone that you make iPhone apps and their interest will pick up instantly.”

With now over 1.5 million apps, it has become increasingly important to hire creative and intellectual talent when trying to break into this newly ‘cool’ field and in order to stand apart from the masses.

The path to this trendy and highly desired career (and lifestyle) has been partly paved by the rise and celebration of the coder gracing the Hollywood sets: From Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, and Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs. Great CIOs have gravitas, they command authority and respect at all levels of the business and they are calm under fire. A credible manager must have integrity and the will to stand up and be counted when the chips are down. Only an accomplished and grounded individual who is comfortable and confident in their own abilities as a leader can do this.

But how do we identify these rock stars?

The anatomy of a coder, as Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook claimed, is that “Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good. They are 100 times better.”

Coding is a creative and artistic pursuit, much like speaking another language or creating music. The rock star is a highly artistic and unique individual who lives a very rich and diverse life. Their ability to draw from vast experiences and inspiration allows them to be sophisticated, efficient and creative with code.

In an extremely dynamic environment, younger software developers and coders are more appealing for tech companies because they typically are more willing to adapt their skills as new innovations and updates in platforms frequently occur. The older the coder, the more outdated their skillset is likely to be unless they continually relearn their skills with every release of a new platform.

This is a contentious point and actually one which increasingly holds less weight in a world driven by multi-channel. Yet the fundamental point rings true, technology has to be seen as a business enabler, no more, no less.


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