developer_driven software marc andressen

Developer-Driven Software: What Is It, Why Does It Matter?

In 2011, Marc Andressen wrote the highly predictive and insightful essay “Why Software Is Eating The World”. In it, he talked about the shift from a hardware-based to a software-based economy and how in essence, software companies were taking over large swathes of the traditional economy. Building on that metaphor, think about how Uber and Grab ‘ate’ the traditional taxi industry, and how Airbnb ‘ate’ hotels.

Then, the world blinked and services are ‘eating’ software, according to a 2019 article in Forbes. “[All] software legacy products are moving to Software-as-a-Service [...] the old model of buying software and implementing it is giving way to the service model.”

Firms went from buying software to buying the use of the software. The SaaS model freed organizations from the complexity of owning and integrating new software. They could focus their attention on core businesses, like creating value for their customers, while reducing the burden of IT operations.

Use of the software was then extended further, with cloud offerings, rather than in actual code. Case in point: Amazon’s public cloud service AWS (launched 14 years ago), Microsoft Azure and the Google Cloud Platform. Companies building their own software and SaaS vendors, lured by the possibility of scalability and agility, started moving to public cloud infrastructure. 

Growing An Appetite For Developer-Driven Software

From SaaS to the public cloud, to where we are today, which is: That developer-driven software will be the next software wave.

In the 2020 IDG Cloud Computing Survey, cloud now represents a third of IT spend and a clear majority of organizations plan to use cloud services for over half of their infrastructure and applications. This adoption curve has caused software developers to become more and more valuable, and developers in turn also depend on software to meet ever-rising user expectations. They are the key decision makers or influencers when it comes to a company’s tech-buying decisions, and they also are becoming a vital resource for delivering innovative applications. To put it bluntly, developers are increasingly in the driver’s seat. 

And what do software developers want? To work with (or for) businesses that understand developer needs best, and to mitigate all the hassle of procurement, integration, management and operations. One example is, a Platform-as-a-Service company that builds state-of-the-art, real-time audio and video capabilities and delivers them as SDK or API for app developers. Founded by Tony Zhao, he declared that Agora was a “developer-friendly company, because I was a developer for such a long time – in fact, I’m still a developer.” His developer-focused thought process led him to create a platform where developers could easily use real-time audio video capabilities in the applications they create. 

Many of today’s companies have built their businesses on the backs of scalable developer services like Agora. Take Stripe (latest valuation at $36 billion) as another example of an API-first, developer-friendly company. With a laser-focus on the developer experience for setting up and taking payments, developers flocked to Stripe for its simplified integrations, pricing and easy set-up process. Businesses working with Stripe include many of your favorite consumer and enterprise apps like Shopify, Slack, Deliveroo, and many more.

To get a sense of the appetite for developer-driven software, one simply has to look at the past. The developer tools market of the past resided on closed platforms which limited services and contributor freedoms, in a way inhibiting innovation and exchange of creative ideas. Moreover, developer tools then were packaged expensively, and sentiment among developers was that they “considered the buying of tools rather than building them akin to a shameful act”. But all that has changed now. This new era of developer tools are readily available online, often free or at a low cost, and facilitate the growth of a wider developer community around potential use cases. Basically, it’s a developer’s dream.

So, it’s easy to see why software developers prefer API-first, developer-friendly products. After all, just like the basics of UX taught us, putting your customer (that is, the developer) at the centre of your product works. 

What’s Next?

These days, nearly every company wants to, or is in the process of becoming, a technology company. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to accelerate this trend, with a plethora of mobile apps and platforms being created to serve the work-at-home, socially-distanced trend.  

From fast-food outlets to grocery stores, software developers are the ones enabling organizations to transform into technology companies. And since they are in the driver’s seat, the very products that enable developers to build applications quickly, collaboratively and productively will become the next market to pay attention to. This is only the starting point for the developer-focused software industry – it can only go up from here.

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