Citizen Developers vs. Professional Developers: Are These Two Actually Differ That Much?
8 min.

As the digital realm continues to evolve, so does the face of software engineering. The emergence of citizen development, powered by intuitive low-code/no-code platforms, has broadened the horizons of who can create software within organizations.

Who are these people and how are they different from professionals? ProCoders offers an objective view on the topic.

In this article, we navigate the landscape where professional and citizen developer personas converge, revealing the exciting transformations shaping the world of app creation.

Understanding the Basics

By gaining a thorough understanding of the principles that underpin each paradigm, we can navigate the landscape of modern application development and its correlation with business processes.

What Is Citizen Development?

It’s a rising trend in the tech industry that empowers non-technical individuals to create applications with minimal or no coding expertise. It democratizes the engineering process, enabling business users and industry experts to participate actively in shaping digital solutions that address their specific needs.

A citizen developer utilizes a code platform, usually a low-code or no-code one, which provides pre-built components and intuitive interfaces, making application development more accessible to a broader audience.

Who Is a Citizen Developer?

A non-IT developer is someone within an organization who leverages low-code or no-code platforms to design, build, and implement software without formal coding skills.

They are typically business users and professionals, analysts, or domain experts who possess a deep understanding of their industry’s requirements and can bridge the gap between IT and business departments.

Pro vs citizen dev - what's the difference?

Citizen Developer Skills

Non-IT developers, while not primarily trained in coding, possess a unique set of skills that enable them to contribute effectively to the app crafting process. Their skills include:

  • Industry Knowledge: A non-IT developer has a deep understanding of their industry and its businesses.

  • Problem Solving: They excel at identifying and solving business problems through technology, leveraging their knowledge of both the niche and the organization.

  • Creativity: A non-IT employee often approaches challenges creatively;

  • Communication: Effective communication skills are vital when collaborating with various stakeholders to define project goals and requirements.

  • Adaptability: They quickly adapt to changing business needs and evolving technologies, making them valuable in rapidly changing environments.

Now on to professionals and their skills!

What Is Professional Development?

Professional app engineering, often referred to as traditional or enterprise development, follows established app creation methodologies, rigorous coding practices, and programming languages.

A professional developer has the skills to create more technically complex projects and custom solutions for business users from scratch. They are responsible for building mission-critical applications that require a deep understanding of coding languages, design patterns, and software architecture.

Who Is a Pro Developer?

Pro engineers are experts in the field of software engineering and application development. They hold degrees or certifications in computer science or related disciplines and have honed their coding abilities over years of experience.

They excel in designing scalable and maintainable code, implementing robust guarding measures, and optimizing platform performance to meet the demands of enterprise-level software projects.

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Pro Developer Skills

Pro devs possess a comprehensive skill set rooted in technical expertise and formal training. Their skills include:

  • Programming Languages: Professionals are proficient in programming languages such as Python, Java, C++, JavaScript, and others, allowing them to write custom code from scratch.

  • Software Architecture: They have a deep understanding of software architecture and design patterns, enabling them to create scalable and maintainable solutions.

  • Algorithmic Thinking: Professionals are skilled in designing and implementing complex algorithms to solve problems efficiently.

  • Security: They are well-versed in the best practices, ensuring that applications are protected against vulnerabilities and threats.

  • Code Optimization: Professionals optimize code for performance, ensuring that software runs efficiently and meets high-performance standards.

  • Testing and Debugging: They excel in testing and debugging code, identifying and fixing errors to deliver reliable and bug-free applications.

By recognizing and appreciating the unique skill sets of both professional and citizen development practitioners, organizations and business leaders can harness the strengths of each group to drive innovation and achieve their goals.

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Citizen Developer vs Professional Developer: What’s the Difference

While both citizen developers and professional ones contribute to business application creation, there are several key distinctions that set them apart:

  • Coding Proficiency:

    • Citizen Development: Typically have limited or no formal coding training, relying on low-code or no-code platforms.

    • Professional: Possess extensive coding expertise and are proficient in multiple programming languages.

  • Scope of Projects:

    • Non-IT Development: Primarily focus on smaller-scale, departmental projects or quick solutions.

    • Professional: Handle complex, enterprise-level projects and large-scale software systems.

  • Technical Depth:

    • Citizen Development: Emphasize domain knowledge and problem-solving abilities over technical depth.

    • Professional: Prioritize technical skills, including software architecture, algorithms, and coding best practices.

  • Customization vs. Standardization:

    • Non-IT Development: Often work with pre-built templates and components, prioritizing customization for specific business needs.

    • Professional: Develop custom solutions from the ground up, emphasizing standardization and scalability.

  • Coding Tools:

    • Citizen Development: Utilize low-code or no-code tools with user-friendly interfaces.

    • Professional: Employ Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) and coding editors for manual coding.

citizen developers vs pro developers difference
  • Project Complexity:

    • Non-IT Development: Tackle straightforward projects that align with their domain expertise.

    • Professional: Handle intricate projects requiring advanced technical knowledge and problem-solving skills.

  • Team Collaboration:

    • Citizen Development: Often collaborate closely with business stakeholders and may work independently.

    • Professional: Collaborate with cross-functional teams, including QA, DevOps, and project management.

  • Scalability:

    • Non-IT Development: Business users may face limitations in scaling solutions to handle larger workloads or enterprise-wide deployments.

    • Professional: Design applications with scalability in mind, accommodating growth and increased usage.

Understanding these differences is essential for organizations seeking to use the strengths of both non-IT and professional software developers, to drive innovation and meet diverse software development needs.

Let’s see the pros and cons of both specializations in detail!

Advantages & Disadvantages of Citizen vs. Professional Coders

In the realm of business application creation, both non-IT and professional engineers offer unique advantages and face certain challenges. Let’s explore the pros and cons of each approach

Pros of a Citizen Development Program

  1. Cost Efficiency: By utilizing low-code or no-code platforms, they reduce app costs.

  2. Addressing the Talent Shortage: They help bridge the gap when there’s a shortage of professionals in the job market.

  3. Better Collaboration: In-house non-IT devs work closely with business units, fostering better collaboration and alignment with organizational goals.

  4. Faster Time to Market: A citizen development program in your company can accelerate application creation, allowing businesses to bring products to market more quickly.

  5. Increased Productivity: Business applications with citizens on the teams allow to have more hands on deck, boosting overall productivity.

  6. Reduces or Monitors Shadow IT: Non-IT developers can bring shadow IT activities into the official IT fold, ensuring better governance and safety.

  7. Frees Up Resources: By handling smaller projects, citizen developers alleviate the workload of pros who can focus on complex tasks like code development and software architecture.

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Cons of Citizen Developers

  1. Governance Issues: There is a risk of stifling creativity and innovation when too many citizen developers operate independently.

  2. Need for Continuous Learning: Non-IT developers must stay updated with rapidly evolving technologies, which can be challenging for people only using no-code tools.

  3. Organizational Culture Changes: Adapting to a culture that embraces citizen development may require a significant shift in mindset and practices.

  4. IT Department Misperceptions: Professional IT teams may have reservations about citizen developers’ abilities, leading to skepticism and resistance.

By understanding these pros and cons, organizations can make informed decisions about how to leverage both citizens and professionals to achieve their tech objectives efficiently.

Pros of Professional Developers:

  1. High-Quality Custom Solutions: Professional web developers excel in crafting high-quality, customized solutions tailored to specific business needs.

  2. Better IT Oversight: They ensure rigorous adherence to IT protocols, security standards, and best practices throughout the engineering process.

  3. More Applications Versatility: Real pros with proper training can create virtually any app for your business, from a regular step counter to an AI-infused music recognition platform.

  4. Common in Most Locations: While non-IT devs may not be available in all locations the trend is still growing, pros are always available in all locations, from the US and the UK to Portugal and Croatia.

Cons of Professionals:

  1. Talent Shortage Challenges: The shortage of skilled professionals can lead to resource constraints for organizations seeking their expertise.

  2. High Turnover Rates: The competitive job market for trained experts may result in higher turnover rates, impacting project continuity. Unless you work with reliable outsourcing and/or staff augmentation providers like ProCoders. You can find out what staff augmentation is in our blog!

  3. Managing Backlogs: The demand for professional developers can lead to backlogs, delaying project timelines and deliveries. Again, manageable with dedicated staff selection!

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By considering these advantages and disadvantages, organizations can make informed decisions about when and how to engage professional developers in their projects, balancing their capabilities with the specific requirements of each endeavor.

The Life Cycle of Citizen Development

The emergence of this form of development is reshaping the landscape of IT within organizations, challenging traditional roles and methodologies. This life cycle highlights key phases and considerations:

Rethinking Traditional IT Roles:

While professional developers continue to play the main role in complex projects, with citizen development resources supplementing IT functions, a more collaborative approach can be established.

Movement to No-Code/Low-Code Development

The adoption of low-code and no-code platforms is on the rise. These platforms empower both IT professionals and non-IT personnel to create applications with minimal coding, accelerating app creation and democratizing the process.

Involving Employees:

Engaging non-IT staff in the development process is essential. Their domain expertise is invaluable, and involving them can lead to more user-centric solutions.

Strategizing IT Governance:

Maintaining a balance between citizen development and traditional IT governance is vital. Organizations need to establish guidelines, security measures, and oversight to ensure responsible and effective development by citizen developers.

This life cycle reflects the evolving landscape where citizen development complements professional development, fostering innovation, agility, and cross-functional collaboration within organizations.

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Are there any specific industries or sectors where citizen development is more prevalent?

Sectors such as healthcare companies, education, non-profits, and small to medium-sized businesses often embrace citizen development due to its cost-effectiveness and agility.

What types of applications are suitable for citizen developers to create?

Citizen developers excel in creating straightforward, department-level applications, such as data collection tools, simple dashboards, and basic workflow automation apps.

How can organizations ensure that citizen development efforts align with IT governance and security standards?

To maintain IT governance and security, organizations should establish clear guidelines, provide training and support for citizen developers, and implement oversight mechanisms. Collaboration between citizen developers and IT departments is crucial to strike a balance between innovation and compliance.


As organizations navigate the software development landscape, the interplay between citizen and professional developers sparks change. This synthesis of skills propels businesses, as pros bring expertise to complex projects, while citizens offer cost-effective, agile solutions. In this dynamic landscape, roles blur, fostering collaboration and innovation, and embracing a future where development knows no boundaries is key.

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