Are We on the Cusp of a Citizen Developer Revolution?

2 minute read

I ran across an article on ZDNet today entitled The advent of the citizen developer. In the article,  posits that we may finally be at the cusp of a citizen development revolution.


I’ve been arguing for years – in one way or another (See, for example, The Middle Tier Manifesto: An Alternative Approach to Development with Microsoft SharePoint) – that the citizen developers in any organization are the lynch pins to IT success. This gray area, where the work isn’t just configuration and isn’t “real” development has been critical to the success of SharePoint in many organizations for years. What we call it is less important than what it is: the lifeblood of technology use and success in the modern organization.

Unfortunately, the response from most IT departments is that these very capable citizen developers will simply screw everything up and – oh, no! – require support the IT department can’t provide. This attitude is truly at IT’s peril. Instead of being seen as having a customer service attitude, they become known as the “NO! people”. “NO!” should almost never be the answer; this simply sends end users off to use external tools, which are usually far better that what IT provides to the organization. Thus, the very security that IT claims to be protecting falls apart. The end users are happy, but only in violation of corporate governance, whether it is explicit or not.

When I speak at conferences I often talk about IT offering Functions as a Service (FaaS) to the organization. (For example, see slide 12 in my recent presentation at SharePoint konference 2016 in Munich Alternative Approaches to Solution Development in SharePoint and Office 365.) By providing a set of reliable building blocks, whether vetted external JavaScript libraries or internally developed functionality that citizen developers can incorporate in their solutions, IT simply must get on board with this work. Offering consultative services in support of citizen developers must be cheaper and more productive than not doing so in the long run, though I can’t point to a study to prove it.

Even Microsoft is starting to understand how important these citizen developers are. At the recent SPTechCon in Austin, Seth Patton, the Global Senior Director for SharePoint and OneDrive product marketing even had a slide in his keynote acknowledging that citizen developers *exist*, which is a HUGE step forward. If Microsoft is thinking about empowering citizen developers, shouldn’t you be?

Continued developer empowerment

‘Continued developer empowerment’ from Seth Patton’s SPTechCon Austin 2016 keynote

Here’s hoping that now and into the 2020s become the decade(s) of citizen developers, even though they have been around as long as there has been computing. If it weren’t for the dabblers and hobbyists inside organizations, we wouldn’t have evolved to the places we’re in now. These people are the ones who push the envelope in directions that makes sense to the business, not just to some power grabbers in IT.



  1. I believe empowering citizen developers can give a company a competitive advantage over its competitors. Bring on the revolution!!

  2. Here’s to hope. I’m pushing the envelope each and every day. It took me a while to grasp jQuery and JavaScript, but now I build clever stuff with SPServices that would otherwise cost thousands and thousands as custom development by “real” developers who build solutions with Visual Studio.

    In the reporting world, Microsoft has started a revolution with Power BI, where the knowledge worker can tap into data sources and build compelling dashboards without any coding. That targets a similar market of people who know their business and their data and just want to get stuff done without waiting for IT.

    Thanks for this write-up, Marc!!


Have a thought or opinion?