When Jeffrey Hammond, Mark Grannan, Adrian Chapman, and I dove into our most recent developer survey, we unearthed a fascinating group of developers we call "digital architects." This group aspires to set architectural direction, deploys open source software across four or more technology areas, and uses three or more types of cloud services (see the figure). 
  • One in 11 enterprise developers. Only 9% of the developers in North America and Europe are digital architects. This small segment is an elite and attractive group, with particular enthusiasm for technology and, as we'll see, for digital innovation and customer engagement.
  • More likely to work at fast-growing companies. More than half of digital architects — 53% — work at companies growing at double-digit rates. You'll find them in all three sectors of the software business: enterprises, software vendors, and service providers.
  • Younger than the rest. Almost three-quarters of digital architects are younger than 45, and 30% are younger than 35. That means these technologists came of age during the internet and smartphone era. They think digital because they know nothing else.

Why should you care? Because they are the digital architects of your success in the age of the customer. The data's clear: They want to build products and companies; they care about customer engagement; and they are bold enough to make it happen on their own dime. You want them on your team because they:

  • See the world through software eyes. Digital architects have demonstrated a passion for customers and software. That marriage means they will work your toughest problems with unique perspectives. When customers started complaining about products on Twitter, it caught companies flatfooted. They weren't even listening to customers, let alone serving them that way. Then digital architect Ben Hedrington famously solved the problem for Best Buy in 2008 by building a Twitter search engine that helped it pioneer customer service on that channel.
  • Harness open source and the cloud to build a digital experience architecture. Building digital experiences means building and composing a lot of software. Digital architects will kickstart digital application development with open source software and scale the capacity and cost of your digital experience architecture using the cloud. A digital architect at AT&T accelerated the U-verse field service app using the cloud.
  • Infuse your team with the DNA of a startup. To get digital right, launch and learn, relentlessly optimize, and extend the software into the adjacent possible — the next best thing to do. That requires a continuous development and delivery process, something digital architects have mastered. Rob Friedman, director of eCommerce at Urban Outfitters, applies this philosophy when assembling the company's technology stack.