Ray PloskiAs Stan Lee once wrote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” For application developers, this responsibility includes managing an ever-changing IT landscape.

Opportunities and challenges will be out in force. Technology advances will shift developers’ targeted platforms and daily tasks, giving developers higher profiles within the enterprise.  Simultaneously, the advent of cloud computing and Platform-as-a-Service, as well as the explosion of mobile devices and economic demands, will directly impact the role of the developer.  

In 2011, PaaS came into its own, bringing greater levels of abstraction and lower barriers to entry. More developers, even those with less experience, were able to accomplish tasks, such as the creation of complex e-commerce sites, with the aid of PaaS and modern frameworks and standards.  

This year, PaaS offerings are evolving from the sandbox of early adopters into mainstream services. These platforms now offer Java EE services, Ruby, Python and PHP, providing various language choices.  

The ease of deployment associated with PaaS continues to have a much larger impact on developers’ everyday tasks in 2012. Developers now have the ability to deploy to platforms directly from their IDEs, test their applications, and quickly modify and patch. As such, developers are becoming increasingly empowered within the enterprise, have a higher profile than ever before, and are far more efficient. It is likely we will see a large growth of Software-as-a-Service offerings provided by individual developers as a correlation of PaaS innovations.

Agile promise realized
But PaaS is not just a target for deployment. Realizing the promise of the agile development movement, providers are also offering complimentary services such as databases, Maven and continuous integration technologies.  

Traditionally, agile development, with its incremental and evolutionary approach of delivering value to businesses, has been impeded by handoffs between developers and operations staff. Historically, IT organizations were filled with ceremony and documentation when passing applications from developers to administrators. This is beginning to fade, giving rise to the DevOps movement.  

DevOps entails direct collaboration among everyone involved in the development of a solution, including developers working hand-in-hand with IT managers, testers, operations personnel, and especially the business stakeholders. This convergence will continue, leading to greater agility and faster deployment for the organization, as well as a larger role for developers  that organization.

Still, challenges remain that organizations must address. For example, while the DevOps model offers greater efficiencies, corporations are struggling with how to incorporate it while still complying with Sarbanes-Oxley and PCI regulations. Also, organizations need to continually consider the best ways to leverage current investments in IT infrastructures, given PaaS solutions and the DevOps model.

Explosion of mobile
If there were ever a doubt that the explosive popularity of mobile was something developers need to pay close attention to this year, it should have been eliminated by Apple’s Q1 2012 earnings call. There, the company noted there were more iOS devices sold in 2011 than all Macintosh computers sold in the company’s 28-year history.

Without focusing on mobile, developers risk reducing their applications’ market share. And this market is only going to get bigger and more crowded, as mobile expands beyond smartphones and tablets to an even broader base of devices with multiple form factors.

Luckily, there have been many innovations within the industry to reduce the amount of extra work required to deal with the variety of devices. The trend toward applications written in HTML5 and CSS3 will accelerate. Technologies that produce hybrid applications that launch Plain Old HTML5 sites using native device functionality will be part of the majority of developers’ toolkits moving forward. Those that choose to embrace native SDKs will find interoperability through RESTful services.

Economic developer-ment
Finally, another big driving factor is something that’s been around for centuries: economics.

It’s estimated that after each economic downturn, only 60% of companies that were in the top quartile prior to the previous recession retained their leadership position. On the surface this may seem like a negative, but it’s actually been somewhat of a benefit to many developers in that it is a primary force behind the drive toward agile development.

Leaner organizations ask more of their employees. In 2012, many companies will continue to shift or condense resources, requiring developers to take on greater responsibilities. Often this means doing more with less—particularly less time to develop, test and deploy—but it also presents great opportunity. The economy has necessitated the need for a more streamlined approach to development and deployment.

This has caused organizations to adapt and become more efficient. The result has been the fast adoption of cloud-based services like PaaS that enhance and ease development, as well as the DevOps model that facilitates an automated yet collaborative approach, hastening time to market.

Of course, in some ways the developer community has empowered itself too. For example, there was much experimentation when PaaS first entered the developer scene. There was not much standardization, so developers continued to adjust PaaS and redefine it in ways that made sense to them. Recently, however, PaaS has matured and support of standards like Java EE has become commonplace. We wouldn’t have gotten to this point without the developer community.

That community is being provided exciting new opportunities and challenges every day through constant innovations and changing market demands. These changes have helped companies take advantage of technology like PaaS, DevOps and mobile to create more nimble, successful organizations. All of these factors are redefining the value developers bring to the table, value that will only increase in 2012 and beyond.

Ray Ploski is director of application platforms for Red Hat.