Is “Internet of Things Developer” still… a thing (pun intended)?
Updated: Jul 11
In a rapidly evolving tech landscape, recent decisions by industry giants to revise their IoT strategy (refocusing on mainstream services and industry standards instead of Cloud services and solutions specialized for IoT) have sparked discussions about the role and relevance of IoT developers. However, amidst these shifts, the IoT industry stays critical and core to businesses digital transformation and is growing at a fast pace. Furthermore, and at the risk of sounding like I’m surfing the buzzwords hype, new opportunities are arising with the emergence of AI (generative and more), the growing need for Edge Computing and the materialization of an Industrial Metaverse, all reaffirming the significance of IoT developers in shaping the future.
Disclaimer: I am an Internet of Things Developer myself
This topic is dear to my heart because I consider myself to be an Internet of Things Developer (if you ask for a proof, below is a picture of what my desk would look like on an average day) and I need to share some about my background for you to understand how I forged my opinion that IoT Developers will play a significant role in shaping the future.
As I was studying Electronics and IT engineering at the Institut Supérieur de Paris (ISEP) in France in the early 2000’s (gosh that doesn’t make me any younger to write this!), I was not sure if I preferred electronics or software for my major. So, I picked “Embedded Systems Architecture” which was something new mixing both topics. That led me to start my career as an embedded real time developer, building Windows CE images for telematics, robotics, and other industrial devices. I knew all there was to know about the architecture of an RTOS, hardware integration, custom drivers’ development and how to build real-time smart apps for embedded devices. I learned how to connect them to other devices and to local field buses and network infrastructures, then to the Internet. Fast forward, I joined Microsoft as a developer advocate for Embedded technologies which evolved into IoT technologies. When Microsoft created the Azure IoT group, I jumped on the opportunity to learn about Cloud technologies while driving devices SDKs developments for these new services. I got to educate embedded developers about Cloud services, while at the same time I was helping internal teams grasp the specificities of embedded and resource constrained devices. I also got the chance to contribute to the creation of the Azure IoT Edge offer, bridging and blurring the lines between Cloud and Devices before taking on the fun task of leading the IoT Developer Engagement team. Over the past 17 years, I had the chance to engage with thousands of developers, hundreds of customers and partners working on all parts of IoT solutions, giving me a unique and broad perspective on the diversity and importance of IoT developers. So yes, I might be biased when I say IoT Developers are the best but let me explain why!
The growing significance of IoT in most industries
While some companies may shift their focus on “how to do IoT”, the “why” has not changed as the IoT industry remains vibrant and full of potential. The demand for connected devices, intelligent systems, and data-driven insights continues to grow across industries, fueled by businesses digital transformation.
Depending on who you ask, you get quite different figures for the IoT Global market size and its projected growth over the next decade (that’s why I have never been a huge fan of those pointing at only one set of such numbers). If you ask FortuneBusinessInsights.com, they’ll tell you that the global IoT market should soar from over $600 billion today to over $3.3 trillion by 2030. Statista.com says IoT global revenue will grow from $293 billion today to $621 billion by 2030 while GlobalData bets on $925 billion today going $1.3 trillion by 2026. IoT-analytics.com focused their recent numbers on the Enterprise IoT market and estimates it’ll grow from $238 billion today to about double that in the next 4 years only. The one thing all these research reports have in common is an expected YoY growth of at least 15% to 20%.
They also seem to all agree on the reasons for this growth: many businesses have embarked on a digital transformation journey to enhance efficiency, improve customer experiences, and gain a competitive edge. I have myself seen first-hand how IoT can play a pivotal role in this transformation by enabling organizations to collect and analyze vast amounts of real-time data from connected devices. This data provides valuable insights that drive intelligent decision-making and process optimization.
As a result, IoT is no longer limited to a few niche sectors. It has become a mainstream technology that is transforming industries across the board. From manufacturing and healthcare to agriculture and transportation, IoT is revolutionizing operations, improving productivity, and driving cost savings.
IoT technologies are becoming mainstream
While core elements of IoT solutions such as MQTT, OPC-UA, LoRaWAN (just to mention just a very few of them), are still specific to the IoT industry, these same IoT solutions are growing integrating more and more technologies used across other domains: containers and virtualization to deploy and orchestrate workloads at the Edge, Web technologies for Human/Machine interfaces, mainstream Cloud services for storage, data analytics, Machine Learning training, integration into business applications through no-code, low-code platforms.
We are also seeing the emergence of modern development languages and tools to build device code such as Rust, .NET nanoFramework, DeviceScript, MicroPython (as an ex-embedded developer these last 2 are still itching a little, but eh, one gotta adapt to tech evolution, right?).
Another trend we all observed in the past decade is the democratization of embedded development with solutions like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Particle.io, M5Stack. (Almost) anyone can build a prototype or small IoT project from hardware to Cloud with minimum (sometimes no) development skills required. And some of these solutions aim at going beyond makers and hobbyists and simplify professional embedded development as well, like Arduino pro or Wilderness Labs. That means that you don’t need to be an old timer hardcore C/ASM developer to build an IoT device (… to a certain extent, don’t cancel me just yet if you are one of those hardcore embedded devs 😉).
These trends make us wonder: are IoT developers still relevant? Can any IoT-agnostic developer build an enterprise IoT solution nowadays? Should developers specializing in IoT solutions today learn new skills and more streamlined technologies?
My answer is “yes, no, yes”.
The importance and uniqueness of the “IoT acumen”
As IoT continues to expand its reach, it will require even more skilled developers who understand the complexities of integrating hardware, software, and data streams, at the Edge (on devices and on premises) and in the Cloud. But who are these skilled developers and what will they need to know and master that other developers don’t?
Let’s try and define what a modern IoT Developer is.
Here is a decent definition provided by a friend of mine:
“IoT developers are skilled professionals who specialize in building, programming, and maintaining IoT systems. They possess a unique blend of knowledge in software development, hardware engineering, data analytics, cloud computing, and networking. These multidisciplinary experts work on developing and implementing IoT solutions that connect and control an array of smart devices and sensors.” - ChatGPT
I like this definition as it covers a broad range of disciplines and skillsets. That said, there are very few developers out there that can claim that they are “full stack” IoT Developers. Most often, IoT solutions are built by teams of developers with complementary expertise and skillset. In fact, when I say or write “IoT Developers”, I mean “IoT Developers’ Teams” as it is essential to recognize that IoT development encompasses various domains. There are Embedded IoT Developers, Cloud IoT Developers, Edge Compute IoT Developers, and more…
But all these types of developers do have one thing in common: their IoT acumen. As they are building parts of an IoT solution, they do need a good understanding of the bigger picture and context.
The Embedded developer coding in C and C++ for embedded real time systems might not be proficient in Cloud services integration, but nowadays, they need to understand how the device they code will connect to these Cloud services, how they will be managed.
The developer building the device management part of a solution might not be comfortable coding or debugging a piece of embedded real time system, but they do need to grasp the specificities of the resource constrained devices they need to manage.
Same thing for the developer creating the intelligent edge part of an IoT solution: even if they are expert in Kubernetes and other micro-services orchestration related technologies, they need to adapt and adjust to the Edge limitations that the Cloud doesn’t have.
IoT developers, (a.k.a. IoT developers’ teams), are critical to the industry at large as they collectively possess the unique technical skills necessary to design, develop, and deploy IoT systems and solutions tailored to specific business needs. They understand the complexities of integrating diverse systems, securing data, and creating robust architectures that can handle the scale and complexity specific to IoT deployments. And that makes them unique!
I would definitively recommend any early in career developer to consider starting in the trenches of IoT solutions building to develop a unique and broad set of skills that are already and will be increasingly in demand in many industries.