Essential Steps To Become a Citizen Developer

Taylor Karl
Essential Steps To Become a Citizen Developer 969 0

7-Step Guide to Becoming a Successful Citizen Developer

Are you curious about becoming a citizen developer? A citizen developer is a non-technical individual who uses low-code or no-code platforms to create simple software applications. With tech playing such a big role in our lives, it's no wonder more and more people are becoming citizen developers. How can you become one? In this blog, we're going to lay out a step-by-step guide to help you transform from a tech novice into a confident citizen developer.

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Understanding the Role of a Citizen Developer

A citizen developer refers to a non-professional developer or someone who creates applications for use by others while not being part of the IT or software development industry.  Gartner estimates that by 2023, citizen developers at large enterprises will outnumber professional software developers by a factor of 4:1.

The trend of citizen development is booming because businesses need quick digital solutions, and now, thanks to user-friendly low-code/no-code platforms, employees can build apps without deep programming knowledge. By 2023, over 500 million digital apps and services will be developed using citizen developer approaches.

This democratization of software development lets more people help with a company's digital projects, speeding things up and taking some of the load off IT departments. It's all about getting more hands on deck in a tech-driven world, without needing everyone to be a tech expert.

Getting Started: Essential Skills for Becoming a Citizen Developer

Becoming a citizen developer unlocks new abilities to create handy solutions. It's not just about being tech-savvy; it's about mixing a bit of creativity with a dash of tech knowledge. You don't need to be a coding wizard, but you do need to be good at solving puzzles, understanding what makes a good app tick, and knowing how to get a project across the finish line. Think of it as a way to make your ideas come to life.

Required Skills for Becoming a Citizen Developer:

  • Problem-Solving Ability
  • Understanding Business Processes
  • Basic Coding Knowledge
  • Communication Skills

Let's discuss each of the skills that can help you stand out as a citizen developer, where it's all about making things easier, faster, and better for everyone. 

Problem-Solving Ability

More than just coding, citizen development is about identifying problems and creating technology-enabled solutions to address them. To succeed as a citizen developer you must be curious and persistent. Learning how to ask the right questions in a search engine or AI language model can lead to the guidance you need. You'll need a keen eye for spotting inefficiencies and the creativity to develop streamlined solutions. 

Understanding Business Processes

As a citizen developer, you'll often find yourself bridging the gap between the business side and the tech side of your organization. This makes understanding business processes vital skill. Whether it’s sales, HR, or finance, knowing what makes each department tick will enable you to design apps that truly meet their needs. 

Basic Coding Knowledge

You don’t need to be a full-fledged software developer to succeed, but having some knowledge of programming concepts will certainly help. Learning the basics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, for instance, can provide a solid foundation for diving into  more advanced tools. 

Communication Skills

Despite what the movies might tell you, development is not a solitary pursuit. Good communication skills are essential. You'll need to effectively collaborate with others, gather requirements, present your solutions, and sometimes, explain complex technical concepts in an easy-to-understand manner. 

How to Become a Citizen Developer: 7 Simple Steps

Starting your first project as a citizen developer is an exhilarating step on your journey. The key to success, though, is adopting a strategy: start with a simple project and progressively tackle more complex ones. Here's the way to do it.

  1. Objective Setting: Set a clear, achievable goal that solves a real business problem - this could be monitoring expenses, managing room bookings, streamlining HR tasks, etc.
  2. Needs Assessment: Understand the specific pain points and plan how your app will address them
  3. Tool Evaluation: Pick the right low-code/no-code platform based on your skills, the platform's ease of use, and your project's needs
  4. Design the Solution: Design the app UI/UX, workflows, automation rules with simplicity and user-friendliness as priorities
  5. Prioritize the User: Always design for the end-user; make it intuitive and easy to use
  6. Execute the Plan: Build, test, deploy, and continually refine the application
  7. Integrate Feedback: Be open to constructive feedback and use it to enhance your project

How to Become a Citizen Developer

Citizen Developer Sample Project

Let's use the scenario of a marketing team within a company that wants to streamline and optimize the process of tracking and managing their various marketing campaigns across different channels (like email, social media, and web advertising).

Why It’s a Good First Project:

  • Scope: The project is clearly defined and limited in scope, making it achievable without overwhelming complexity.
  • Impact: It solves a real pain point, providing immediate value to the user and the organization.
  • Learning Potential: Offers a hands-on opportunity to learn about app development, automation, and system integration.

For this example, we'll need to undertake several steps in order to complete the project:

  1. Identify the Need: The marketing team currently uses a combination of spreadsheets, emails, and several disparate tools to manage their campaigns, which is inefficient and error-prone. They need a centralized system to track all campaigns, their performance metrics, and the ROI of each campaign.
  2. Learn the Basics: A member of the marketing team, enthusiastic about improving processes, decides to become a citizen developer. They start by exploring various no-code platforms online, watching tutorial videos, and reading documentation on how to build applications using a no-code tool like Microsoft PowerApps or Google AppSheet.
  3. Choose the Right Platform: After researching, the citizen developer selects Google AppSheet for its user-friendly interface, integration capabilities with Google Sheets and Analytics, and the ability to easily share the app within the organization.
  4. Understand Data and Integration: To enhance the app, the citizen developer learns more about integrating third-party APIs to pull in data from social media platforms directly into the app. This allows for a more comprehensive view of campaign performance across all channels.
  5. Prototype The Solution: Using AppSheet, the citizen developer creates a simple app that allows team members to enter campaign details, budgets, and objectives. The app also links to Google Sheets, where performance data is automatically updated from Google Analytics.
  6. Gather Feedback and Iterate: The prototype is shared with the marketing team and key stakeholders. Feedback is collected, highlighting the need for additional features such as real-time notifications for budget overruns and a dashboard for a quick overview of all campaigns. The citizen developer iterates on the app, incorporating these features.
  7. Deploy and Manage: Once the app meets the team's needs, it is officially deployed. The citizen developer sets up user access, ensuring only relevant team members can view or modify campaign data. They also plan a monthly review process to update the app with new features or adjustments based on evolving marketing strategies.

Following Best Practices for Sustainable Development

Now that you've taken the first steps and honed your skills, it's time to dive deeper.  Keep in mind, the secret to mastering and keeping skills sharp is all about practicing. For most adults, it usually takes about seven tries before something sticks in their memory.

Staying curious and persistent helps prevent giving up too early. Building solutions with speed is essential, but equally crucial is the scalability and sustainability of the solutions you create.

Following these best practices will make sure your apps are sustainable:

  • Design for the end-user: Your software should consistently provide value and a seamless experience for its users. Therefore, maintain a user-centric approach in your design process. Use interactive elements and intuitive interfaces to enhance usability and ensure user satisfaction. Remember, an engaging user experience triumphs over complex functionality. 
  • Establish  governance: Your organization should recommend trusted platforms and tools. Incorporate risk management and security into every phase of the lifecycle. Don’t treat it as an afterthought, but make it integral to everything you think about, plan, and build. Make sure you are aware of the data you are working with and the compliance issues (financial, health, educational…) Follow corporate guidance and search for best practice documents online.
  • Maintain Documentation: Documentation  is another vital aspect of sustainable development. It's not just about coding and creating applications; it's also about accurately documenting your process and updates. This not only makes it easy for others to understand your work but also simplifies future updates and maintenance. 
  • Adopt a test-driven development (TDD) approach: In TDD, you write tests before you write the code. This approach ensures that your code meets its requirements and functionality before it goes live. Not only does it lead to higher-quality output, but it also makes it easier upgrade your programs in the future. 
  • Collaborate with others: Build strong relationships with professional developers, QA testers, and other stakeholders. Their expertise can help you troubleshoot problems, enhance your solutions, and generally make your development process more streamlined.
  • Join Developer Communities: Become an active member of citizen developer communities online - forums like StackOverflow, GitHub, and Reddit offer valuable insights. The shared experiences and learning these communities offer can prove to be invaluable as you navigate your journey. You can learn from others' successes or failures, get answers to specific queries, or simply find inspiration. 
  • Stay Abreast with Technological Trends: As a citizen developer, you should not just be proficient with the tools you use today, but also be ready to adapt to new ones. Webinars, conferences, and technology-focused news sites are a good source of information. The tech world is dynamic, so staying adaptable is crucial. 

Exploring the Tools of the Trade: Key Software and Platforms

So, you've started your journey to become a citizen developer. Now it's time to equip yourself with some essential tools to get the work done. Let's review the technologies and tools that are most often used by citizen developers. 

Overview of Low-Code/No-Code Development

No-code/low-code platforms provide a graphical user interface for programming, allowing users to drag and drop application components, connect them together and create mobile or web apps. This approach significantly reduces the amount of hand-coding needed, speeding up the development process and lowering the barrier to entry for software development. 

According to New Horizons Trainer Tom Payne, "The platform handles all the basics, allowing the developer to focus on more customized aspects of the app. Often the platform provides built-in security and performance enhancements that developers could bypass."

Popular Platforms

Several platforms have emerged as leaders in the low-code/no-code space:



Key Things to Know

Microsoft PowerApps

A suite that allows enterprise users to create their custom apps without needing extensive programming knowledge. PowerApps integrates with Microsoft’s existing cloud services like Azure, Office 365, and Dynamics 365, as well as third-party apps, offering a wide range of functionalities.

Integrates with Microsoft cloud services and third-party apps Offers wide range of functionalities

Google AppSheet

This no-code platform enables users to create mobile and web apps using data sources like Google Drive, Dropbox, and new SQL databases. It's designed for both technical and non-technical users, offering intuitive development tools and integration options.

Enables creating mobile and web apps Intuitive tools for all users Integrates with various data sources

Salesforce Lightning

Aimed at simplifying the process of building apps that run on Salesforce's platform, Lightning includes a drag-and-drop interface with components that can be used to create apps quickly. It's particularly beneficial for businesses looking to customize their Salesforce solutions.

Drag-and-drop interface to build Salesforce apps Quickly create customized solutions


APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) allow different software to communicate with each other. As a citizen developer, you'll often use APIs to integrate your apps with other software - like your company's CRM or a third-party service. Almost every major platform provides APIs.

Enable software integration Essential for connecting apps


No app works in isolation - they need data. Whether it's a customer's contact info or a product's price, this data usually lives in a database. Understanding how to work with databases is essential. This includes being able to design a database structure, as well as knowing how to add, delete, or update data.

Apps rely on databases Must know how to structure, manipulate data

Developer Tools

Even though low-code and no-code tools reduce the need for hand-coding, some situations demand it. Therefore, getting a handle on developer tools can give you a significant advantage.

Useful when low-code isn't enough Coding still required in some cases

Tools like GitHub for code hosting, Postman for API testing, or automated testing tools can be incredibly helpful in your citizen developer journey. Remember, to emerge as a successful citizen developer, it's not just about mastering the tools, it's also about understanding how they best fit into the business.

Final Words: Embracing the Journey 

Citizen developers will certainly play a bigger role as the platforms and AI tools get easier and better all the time. Organizations seeking to maximize value will be able to reduce their dependency on full-stack developers by leveraging these new technologies. With AI leaping and bounding with new capabilities regularly, more citizen developers will be able to meet their requirements without having to master programming themselves. 

Becoming a citizen developer is a journey, not a destination. It involves continuous learning, practical application, and a willingness to adapt. Remember to stay patient, stay motivated, and enjoy your growth along the way!