As more customers and employees raise expectations, businesses need countless new apps to achieve a strategic edge. Sadly, professional developers can’t keep up.

Traditional application development is broken. It’s slow, expensive, and risky. Ultimately, this can have a major impact on your organization.

To scale better, you need to reevaluate how you automate and integrate your systems. While professional developers have been the go-to for ages when it comes to app development, there is another option: citizen developers.

There are positives and negatives to both.

Whether you need a citizen developer or a professional developer depends on your business goals and what you hope to accomplish by digitizing processes.

Our guide will highlight the pros and cons of citizen and professional developers so that you can make the best choice for your business.

What Is Citizen Development?

In simplest terms, Citizen development is app development carried out by non-IT, business-centric employees. Instead of professional developers creating apps, non-IT “citizens” apply their business process know-how to do the job.

It’s a movement grown out of necessity as demand for apps spirals amidst a developer shortage and the limitations of IT.

With low-code/no-code development tools and their hands-on expertise, citizen developers can often build apps faster and cheaper. As a result, they can help to complement and extend scarce professional development resources.

Citizen development is like a quick-response task force. It’s agile and targeted. Plus, citizen developers get things done faster (often building apps in days or weeks instead of months.)

Who Is a Citizen Developer?

In simplest terms, citizen developers are business unit employees without programming skills that create applications related to their roles and duties.

They are often business analysts, strategists, or managers with in-depth knowledge of processes, operations, and insights into the best ways to apply technology to solve their day-to-day problems.

In other words, they make up for their lack of coding skills with practical know-how in business processes and how to improve them.

Low-code/no-code tools empower citizen developers to channel their hands-on expertise into business applications without depending on professional developers to write code. Removing the intermediaries and cutting through IT red tape frees citizens to focus on solving problems rather than negotiating cumbersome conventional development cycles.

Citizen developers excel in visualizing process automation and enhancement.

With the right tools, they can realize their vision by dragging and dropping pre-defined elements together using a simple visual interface–minimal to no coding required.

In short, they have the superpower to improve technology on their organization’s front lines.

What Is Professional Development?

Professional development creates and implements applications, databases, APIs, and more.

Tools of the trade include programming languages like Javascript, and C++, SQL databases, and a toolbox of utilities from source control managers to debuggers.

Professional development resides within the IT department and employs formal (and some would say more rigid) development processes.

Professional developers and traditional IT also tend to be more bureaucratic and deliberate. As a result, the development process is longer, more resource intensive, and often carries more risk.

Still, organizations have long relied on professional developers for creating, customizing, and maintaining applications.

While professional development no longer completely dominates technology within most companies, they still control the IT backbone and heavy-duty applications that manage finance, manufacturing, and enterprise resource planning.

Who Is a Professional Developer?

Professional developers include programmers, software engineers, and coders. However, their titles can sometimes overlap with roles like IT manager, software architect, or database administrator.

The bigger the company, the more likely professional developers will specialize in one technology, discipline, or role.

Most have one or more degrees in programming, computer science, or similar areas. They tend to follow structured methodologies governing the application lifecycle and other development processes.

Professional developers are also responsible for a company's critical applications and technology infrastructure.

Employed by IT rather than business units, most professional developers focus more on technology than business. They lean toward the “tried and true” methods. And they can be skeptical of new technologies (low-code included).

Differences Between Citizen Developers and Professional Developers

There are distinct differences between Citizen Developers and Professional Developers. Knowing these can help you decide which resource would better suit your business.

Citizen Development Professional Development
App Development Cost <$10k $40K to $250K+
App Development Time Days or Weeks (up to 10X faster) Months
Skills Required No coding needed, business analysis and strategy Coding required
Platform/Tools Low-code/no-code development frameworks Computer languages, databases, utilities, compilers, debuggers, etc.
IT Involvement Minimal Integral
Collaboration High Low
Deliverables Web and mobile business applications Applications, integrations, oversight, compliance, etc.
Primary Focus Business automation and productivity enhancement Technology management

Pros of Citizen Developers

Businesses Need More and More Applications

The demand for new business applications has never been higher.

As more businesses go mobile and the market becomes more unpredictable (the pandemic, supply chain issues, high turnover, and other complications), businesses need a way to stay lean and agile.

Many companies recognize that rolling out strategic applications can get a leg-up on the competition. Long an untapped resource, citizen developers bring unique knowledge and additional bandwidth into the mix to make creating more apps possible.

Helps Reduce Cost

Traditional apps created using professional developers are expensive, $100,000 to $300,000 on average. Citizen developers can create an app at a fraction of the price, often under $10k.

If your organization needs to reduce costs, this can be a great resource.

Talent Shortage

With the shortage of professional developers, IT struggles to balance their workload. Backlog is common. Burnout is high. Thankfully, citizen developers can reduce the pressures of demand.

Any employee in your organization can learn to be a citizen developer in weeks. This means that you can train your staff to build the unique solutions they need to solve their problems instead of waiting to find the necessary programmers needed to finish a build.

Better Collaboration

Currently, IT, Leadership, and departments are often siloed. Each group has obstacles they have to climb over to get work done. This slows down processes and leads to applications that may not meet the needs of their target audience.

Citizen developers can work as a bridge between IT, business leaders, and customers, strengthening collaboration and driving better results. Because citizen developers are more directly engaged with all parties, they can share expertise with the team, leading to more successful process improvements.

Faster Time to Market for Applications

Apps built by citizen developers take less time to develop and get to market faster.

End-to-end, the process is speedier with fewer hurdles to jump, approvals to get, and resources to line up. It's common to reduce the traditional application lifecycle from months to weeks or even days.

Increased Productivity

Manual, repetitive tasks eat up your team’s time. Endlessly sorting through spreadsheets, trying to find information, and waiting on approvals can drag out a task’s completion time from minutes to weeks.

Citizen developers can reduce those inefficiencies by building simple automation and integrations to connect workflows.

Over time, your team will reduce the tedious tasks they have to manage. As a result, they’ll have more bandwidth to focus on critical issues.

Reduces Shadow IT or Helps Monitor It

Using a citizen development framework creates a single point of control and monitoring.

This model reduces the incentives to engage in Shadow IT. It also increases visibility into Shadow IT activity and enables better compliance.

Think about it: If your team has the tools to work faster and achieve results, they won’t be tempted to side-step IT to find solutions.

Better Results

When the app's owners write the specs, it's a good bet that the resulting application will meet expectations. Citizen developers know better than anyone what needs improvement or automation.

Ultimately, they can create the exact solution to their problem. This guarantees smooth implementation, training, and adoption of new technologies.

An Agile Approach

Citizen development better lends itself to agile techniques, increasing flexibility and reducing development time. Development, testing, and shipping of applications are faster than with conventional methods.

As a result, you can get the necessary solutions while they’re still relevant and scale your business growth.

Frees up Professional Development Resources

Maxed-out professional development teams can focus on higher-priority projects when citizen developers help carry the load. This optimizes resources and helps IT catch up on tickets.

Cons of Citizen Developers

Can Be Hard to Manage

Citizen development can be hard to manage without a citizen development framework to centralize control and monitoring. This can also lead to increased instances of Shadow IT.

Risk of Stifling Creativity with Ineffective Governance

Citizen development requires effective governance. Otherwise, citizen developers can’t take full advantage of new technologies.

Rogue citizen developers may neglect security or quality, causing more harm to your business. Additionally, their creativity will be stifled without a safe sandbox environment to test solutions and ideas.

Constant Learning Needed

Successful citizen development requires education and training. Training in data security fundamentals is essential, as is ongoing education in low-code/no-code tools.

As a result, leadership needs to adjust budgets and resources to ensure IT can provide support and citizen developers have time to learn.

Culture Change Needed

Citizen development requires a cultural shift in the relationship between professional development and the rest of the organization.

Professional developers have owned software for a long time. They may feel that citizen development will render them obsolete or create more issues. Control issues may ensue.

IT Departments Misunderstand Value

IT departments may be skeptical of citizen development and see it as unstructured and lacking value. Worse, they can see it as another task they have to manage.

There can also be a degree of a, “That’s not how we do things here” or “Us vs. Them” mindset that leads to antagonism, preventing collaboration and results.

Pros of Professional Developers


Software development goes back to the 1940s. Professional developers are an established role within most companies and have been for some time, leading to familiarity, comfortable processes, and credibility within an organization.

Can Build Very Customized, High-Quality Solutions

Most professional developers are very good at their jobs and can do impressive things with the tools they have at their disposal. Given the time and budget, they can build rock-solid applications and customizations.

Better IT Oversight

As part of IT, professional developers provide better project oversight. This can be handy, especially if unexpected issues crop up during development.

Cons of Professional Developers

Very Expensive

Professional developers get paid well. And with ongoing shortages, salaries continue to increase. Developer pay varies depending on location, experience, and specialty. However, the average salary for an experienced developer was $132,000 in 2022.

Not Needed for Every Solution

With the advent of low-code/no-code platforms, professional development skills are overkill for many projects. They add little value to the types of applications citizen developers can handle without coding knowledge.

Talent Shortage

Even with many professional developers entering the field, demand continues to outstrip supply. Companies need more new apps than the current population of professional developers can produce.

Lots of Training Needed

Professional developers often complete 4 to 7 years of college. Most also pursue ongoing, continuing education to learn new roles and technologies.

High Turnover Rate

With the shortage of professional developers comes a high turnover rate (57.3%).

Turnover is high because, not only do you have the typical reasons employees leave (burnout, frustration with management, new opportunities), but you also have to deal with other companies actively trying to poach your developers.

This can make it even harder to fill vacant IT positions.

Lots of Backlogs

In many companies, backlogs and overwhelmed development resources are the status quo (stats on this below). New application development can take a backseat to other priorities.

More Risk

If you only have a hammer, everything can look like a nail.

Professional developers know less about an app's use case than end users. This means that there’s a risk that an app won’t work properly or that your team won’t adopt it.

Growing Businesses Need Citizen Developers

The citizen developer movement is significant and growing.


Because citizen developers are the perfect response to perhaps the most pressing business challenge today: the app gap.

Businesses can’t grow without a rapid growth of business apps, and traditional technology actors like professional developers and corporate IT can’t keep up by themselves. Only citizen developers can fill the gap and help their companies grow.

A look at some of the statistics surrounding citizen developers illustrates this:

  • Citizen developers will outnumber professional developers by 4 to 1 in 2023.
  • They can build apps up to 10x times faster than conventional methods.
  • They are expected to deliver 450 million apps over five years starting in 2020.
  • 64% of IT professionals report a backlog in app development.
  • 88% of IT leaders projected increased workloads in 2022.

Taming Shadow IT With Citizen Development

As technology usage becomes widespread and integral to corporate operations, the spread of Shadow IT increases dramatically. Citizen development helps to reduce Shadow IT by providing legitimate, authorized pathways for users needing new capabilities.

Increased collaboration among citizen developers and IT brings functionality requests under the umbrella of a citizen development framework. Once there, they can be managed and monitored more effectively.

Get Support with Your Citizen Developer Program

Quandary Consulting Group delivers all the tools and services you need to support your Citizen Developer Program.

We believe 100% in the citizen development movement. And we’ve trained countless team members for numerous clients to help them get more out of low-code platforms like Quickbase, Workato, and Pipefy.

We aim to work as your long-term partner, providing guidance and support to ensure your citizen development team aligns with your business goals and vision.

Want to get the most out of your citizen development program?

Reach out to us today!