Platform Wars and the Battle for the Developer Heart

October 28 2014

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On the heels of Dreamforce, one thing is clear, there’s never been a better time to be an enterprise . The sheer number of technologies on display, not only by Salesforce but also by the sponsors—developer tooling companies, API providers, independent software vendors (ISVs), systems integrator partners and other complementors—make it abundantly clear that we’ve reached a critical mass of players competing for the hearts of the enterprise developer.

 But it’s also a confusing time, in that the essential problem of choice looms large. If the smorgasbord of give-away shirts at Dreamforce was any indicator, there truly is an abundance of technologies upon which you can build your apps and business today. Whether you were coding all night at the Salesforce $1M Hackathon, or navigating the cramped aisles of the Cloud Expo that boasted over 300 sponsors, you probably weren’t alone if you asked yourself, where do I even start?

This combination of unprecedented opportunity and choice at an enterprise conference like Dreamforce underscore one simple fact. The are alive and well, and technology companies are not only battling for what shirt you’re going to sport the next day, they’re actively competing to outfit your entire business.

Platform Wars

In a recent article, Dana Evan, a partner at Jafco Ventures, underscored this point when she was quoted as saying that she’s never, “seen the competition for developer talent as fierce as it is today”. The piece went on to say that for, “platform players, it means they have to work harder than ever to attract developers to build tools on top of their products.”

Not only that, but the platform wars are being waged on multiple fronts. Hackathons, a staple battleground for the developer share of mind, are targeting developers earlier and earlier in their lifecycle. At CalHacks, a first of its kind inter-collegiate event which gathered over 1,000 college-aged hackers, no less than 60 sponsors were on display. These included platform providers like AWS, Uber, Nest, Paypal, SendGrid, Gracenote, and yours truly, MuleSoft, as well as venture capital firms like LightSpeed Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and, interestingly enough, the Thiel Fellowship, which encourages students to leave school for 2-years for a fellowship where they get funded to pursue a business idea.

How did we get here?

There was a time where developers only had few development platforms to pick from. For example, during most of the 1980s and through the early 1990s, you built applications that were “MS-DOS” or “Windows Compatible” simply because they were the platform with the dominant install base. Time to market was still of the essence, but because of longer waterfall development processes and release cycles, the first mover often had the best chance at succeeding and attaining those desirable network effects. The only thing taking over that trend was when platform envelopment and bundling strategies either got more sophisticated or aggressive (or arguably both), causing information workers and developers to migrate to solutions that either came pre-installed on PCs, or pre-deployed by corporate IT who bought them in bulk. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Fast forward to today, and everything we know about platforms has evolved and changed. It is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity. The way apps are brought into the enterprise has changed. The way they’re expected to work has changed. And for developers, the way apps are built has changed.

Some of these changes have happened over the last few years—The Economist recently tracked the evolution of APIs alongside the emergence of apps as found in the Apple Store or hosted on AWS, and labeling that growth as a new “cambrian explosion” in terms of building blocks available to developers. The pattern shown to the right is telling.

Some of this innovation also feels like it happened overnight—witness the recent trend of applications that focus on just doing one thing, really, really well, that’s apparent in apps like Uber, or even the Salesforce 1 mobile app. The engagement you get with those applications, when done well, is almost instinctive. Which brings us to…

The battle for the developer heart

For developers at large then, the new hotness is about seeking and fostering that eponymous “micro-moment of engagement” for their end-users. Something that is made increasingly easy with the panoply of building blocks available to them. For enterprise developers the goal is no different, but the stakes are arguably higher because they are the culmination of their art. Those micro-moments are made real by their years of domain expertise, or by encapsulating the business processes they understand so darn well, and that can literally transform their business.

There is something almost beautiful when an enterprise can define, build and deploy those killer app or processes on their own terms, without any compromises. At MuleSoft, we see that every day when our customers can build something that’s truly tailored to their needs. It goes to an organization’s essential intent, and is at the heart of what they want to do. Add to that intent, the availability of similar, bespoke building blocks for the enterprise like Box (content), Twilio (communications), and Stripe (payments) among others, as well as the ability to have them easily work in concert with each other, and you witness what can only be described as the consumerization of enterprise application development.

Excited? You should be.

The opportunity is made all the more real in business by the need to move fast. Faced with so many choices in technology platforms, we stand by our belief that there’s no better time to be an enterprise developer. And while you may not have the luxury, nor the time to teach yourself the intricacies of every API or platform, the good news is you don’t have to. With the growing emphasis on developer tools and human-readable APIs that encourage rapid prototyping, it’s never been easier to build minimum viable products, or processes to simply learn from and experiment. The casualties of platform wars are essentially getting neutralized because integration itself is getting easier. And the best part in all this is you can get your job done better, and increasingly on your terms, because in this era of software development, the battle for your hearts doesn’t need to be a battle for your soul.

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