Whether the market (or country) is ready for it or not, the fourth industrial revolution is here and the pace at which technology is moving is astonishing. And according to Greg de Chasteauneuf, chief technology officer (CTO) for Saicom, software developers are the architects of the future.
But why does that matter to South African businesses?
According to Ekanekt Recruitment, the most high-in-demand skill and one of the most difficult to secure is software developers. And the increase in skilled resources leaving the country, especially in the 25 – 35 year age group, is contributing to the scarcity of the skills.
The software developer brain drain can be likened to the exodus of doctors, teachers and accountants. Unlike these professionals, developers have easily transportable skills, with no bridging qualifications or entrance exams required to work.
For companies that know that in order to scale up, they need to automate, and in order to automate, they need developers, this presents a catch-22. One could say that you can match salaries in Euros or dollars and let the developers do what they do, from abroad. But, local businesses transact in Rands, and it becomes unsustainable.
Some businesses forego the developers and the automation and hire more people to continue with manual processes. For the short term, this is perceived as a good thing, because employment is being created, but it doesn´t offer the scale a business may need which inevitably means it cannot be sustained.
The flipside, is that many organisations, ours included, go the outsourcing route to alleviate immediate business pressures and enable some scalability through automation.
What we gain in expertise and skills, we lose in fluidity and on-the-fly creativity and innovation. Water cooler discussions and impromptu whiteboard brainstorms are replaced by scheduled meetings and project managed interactions.
You just cannot schedule innovation.
Businesses that want to cultivate an in-house development ecosystem, just don´t have access or the means to find, attract and retain the right skills. Instead, businesses try to bootstrap it by hiring one developer, who does as much as possible and when he/ she is at capacity, the hiring cycle starts again. The downside, is that younger developers will look for senior skills and expertise to learn and grow, and when they can’t find that, they look to move organisations, or consider emigrating.
Aside from the reality of emigration and the challenge of a workforce that continues to move for growth and opportunities, there is a need to build a deep, broad skills pool for the future. And despite the initiatives that are in play and being rolled out, training the next generation of developers is tough.
Lynsey Chutel, in an article for Quartz Magazine said it best: ¨while many talented programmers are trained by South Africa´s globally competitive universities, the gaps in South Africa´s public education system means so many potential geniuses may never get to code a single line.¨
Industry and government has to find a way to retain critical skills in country – it is not just about creating a digital economy, it is also about enabling the kind of innovation that put South Africa on the map historically.
For now, businesses are grappling with ways in which to maximise the skills that are locally available, retain them and cultivate an ecosystem that will enable the true power of the fourth industrial revolution.
Greg de Chasteauneuf
Chief technology officer (CTO) at Saicom