Developers as Typists

An Interview with Enterprise Wizard's Colin Earl from JavaOne 2007

by Frank Sommers and Bill Venners
June 29, 2007

Business managers often rely on developers to obtain custom reports, or to implement business logic that operates on some enterprise data. Assisting management in such piecemeal projects is tedious and unrewarding for developers, argues Enterprise Wizard CEO Colin Earl in an Artima interview. Earl describes new tools and techniques that make managers more independent, allowing developers to focus on higher-level tasks.

Empowering business managers with the ability to create management software tools and reports without the involvement of developers has been an enterprise software holy grail, pursued at least since the IBM executive terminals of the 1980s.

Yet, as many of Scott Adams' classic comic strips illustrate, the vision of business managers extracting and making use of operational data without developers' help seems elusive. In Adams' comics, Dilbert's pointy-haired boss would, from time to time, charge into the venerable employee's cubicle, asking Dilbert to fetch this or that type of report for the boss.

Sensing that developers know not only where to find the required data, but also how to extract that data in a form the boss can find useful, business managers often treat developers as a sort of data-savvy typists, a term Colin Earl, CEO of EnterpriseWizard, used to describe this developer role in an interview with Artima:

In the past, developers have really been treated like typists for the business managers. This work is difficult, it's nit-picky, and is really unrewarding, because the only thing that can happen is that you either get it right, in which case nobody notices, or you'll get it wrong, in which case they complain. Or the request changes...

Earl believes that technology developed now to the point where smarter tools can enable managers with more autonomy, freeing developers to focus on higher-level, more rewarding, tasks:

We enabled business managers to design and automate business processes without IT assistance... We allow the business manager to [implement custom logic] themselves, to generate the work flows, to create a completely custom form to gather any kind of data, for any kind of relationship between that data and other data in the system, without the assistance of programming.

What we're doing is freeing the developer from the numbingly tedious process of creating custom forms, from working with the peculiarities of systems... to make those forms functional, to roll them into production... Developers will be free to concentrate on tasks, [such as] integration between the form capturing system and the back-end database that verifies requests.

Click to download audio Colin Earl, CEO of Enterprise Wizard explains how empowering business managers with better tools can free developers to work on higher-level, more rewarding, tasks. (3 minutes 39 seconds)

How autonomous are business managers at your company when it comes to knowing what operational data is available, and in being able to extract that data for their use? How realistic is it to remove IT as layer between management and a business' data?

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About the authors

Frank Sommers is Editor-in-Chief of Artima Developer. He also serves as chief editor of the IEEE Technical Committee on Scalable Computing's newsletter, and is an elected member of the Jini Community's Technical Advisory Committee. Prior to joining Artima, Frank wrote the Jiniology and Web services columns for JavaWorld.

Bill Venners is president of Artima, Inc. He is author of the book, Inside the Java Virtual Machine, a programmer-oriented survey of the Java platform's architecture and internals. His popular columns in JavaWorld magazine covered Java internals, object-oriented design, and Jini. Bill has been active in the Jini Community since its inception. He led the Jini Community's ServiceUI project, whose ServiceUI API became the de facto standard way to associate user interfaces to Jini services. Bill also serves as an elected member of the Jini Community's initial Technical Oversight Committee (TOC), and in this role helped to define the governance process for the community.