‘Tis the season for 2017 “tech trends” and forecast articles. (We like Forbes, Business Insider, and InfoWorld.) There are lots of great lists, but we were curious about what trends might affect Nashville in the coming months. So, we asked some experts…the Centresource development team.

According to Business Insider, software spending is projected to reach $357 billion in 2017. For Nashville companies looking to stay ahead of the curve, it might be a good year to consider what custom software would streamline business and increase innovation.

There’s a lot happening in technology, but the dev team had a pretty strong consensus on what trends Nashville should pay attention to.

Machine Learning

Conversational UI and machine learning were both popular choices. Machine learning is a broad section of technology that will undoubtedly make inroads into enterprise in the coming years. This isn’t just robots. It’s any program that can learn and adapt to data without being reprogrammed.

One subset of machine learning is conversational UI. Think chatbots as well as Alexa, Siri, and Google Home. This technology allows the user to communicate with a service just like they would a person, via talk or text.

Why does this matter in Nashville? Machine learning has big implications for healthcare–not by replacing human doctors and nurses, but in aiding them with better diagnostics, treatment, and followup.

But, even outside of healthcare, building a chatbot or other conversational UI program will give customers more convenient access to your company. By helping prospective and current clients answer questions quickly, you could shorten a sales cycle or increase retention.

Finally, as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook open their machine learning APIs to third parties, companies wanting to reach and serve users on those platforms will be smart to start development in 2017.

Internet of Things

Another big topic in our dev talk was the Internet of Things (IoT).

The IoT is not a new conversation, of course, but the increase in machine learning may be the tipping point for all those connected devices. As the ecosystem grows, we can expect to see intelligent devices communicating with each other.

What does this look like? Smart drone deliveries. Driverless cars. Virtual assistants. It all sounds futuristic, and probably won’t take over Nashville in 2017, but the technologies are being put in place to make it reality.

So, this matters to Nashville businesses….why?

One of the biggest hurdles to the Internet of Things is security. Companies that can figure out how to keep data private and secure in the IoT will be well-positioned to grow in the coming years. Even if you don’t make connected devices, incorporating connected devices into your business model will be beneficial–and the sooner you do it, the better.

Cybersecurity

Security is an issue with the IoT, but that’s not the only place it matters. No one has really solved the security problem in our new society, and it’s a big one to be tackled in the coming years.

As one of our Managing Partners, Brandon Valentine puts it: “Between the IoT botnet that sprang up this year (Mirai), another banner year for credit card hacks, and the concerns around russia tampering with the election, a lot of firms are going to have to get serious about security in ways they aren’t right now.”

From payments to customer data to HIPPA regulations, security is a big problem to tackle in 2017. Every business, in Nashville or anywhere, needs to be aware of and meeting security threats.

Global Tech Trends

And then there are the big things the global tech community is talking about. Virtual and augmented reality. Driverless cars. Blockchain (which is bigger than Bitcoin and might solve a lot of security woes.) Serverless computing.

These things may not affect Nashville…yet. But the ground is being laid for ever more innovation.

It’s official. Software has eaten the world, just like Marc Andreessen predicted. No matter where you turn, you will find software products and solutions. Sometimes they’re amazing and the perfect solution. Sometimes…not so much.

Either way, in 2017 more people will begin to focus on product development and building great products. After all, if you’re in business, software can solve a lot of problems.

But, what does that mean? Is it enough to know how to operate software? Or do you need to go to software school and learn to code?

Thankfully, there’s always a middle ground. We love product at Centresource, and we know that in the next year more business owners will need to grow their understanding of how software works. So, we asked around the office and got some great recommendations for you to learn more about product ownership.

Web Content

What better place to learn about software development than on the web? There are a few great product blogs out there, but we love these two. Even if you don’t want to be a full time product manager, you can pick up a lot of tips from these experts.

This Is Product Management

Mike Fishbein interviews product experts from across the technology spectrum. Recent topics include the Internet of Things, product validation, and venture capital. Sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss a post.

Mind The Product

Run by the team behind Product Tank, this site is a wealth of great product content. Their manifesto? To further the craft of product management by bringing together product people of all stripes. We love it!

Centresource Posts

And, of course, we’ve also written about product a lot. Here are some of our best posts:

What Are Your Product Cornerstones and Why Do They Matter

What’s The Difference Between UI and UX?

Learning Product Management From…Fruit Salad?

Books

If you’re really ready to dive in, there are plenty of great books on product development, management, and ownership. These are our favorites:

Making It Right: Product Management For A Startup World–Rian van der Merwe

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products–Nir Eyal

The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth–Clayton M. Christenson and Michael E. Raynor

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability–edited by Steve Krug

The Design of Everyday Things–Don Norman

In Person

Okay, reading and listening is great, but sometimes you just want to talk to real people. Nashville has some great product and UX meetups, where people in all stages of interest get together and discuss product topics. Think Homebrew, but in Nashville.

Nashville Product Meetup–Empowers product people to own the things they know. A monthly meetup with presentations, networking and discussions about product development, management and marketing. If you manage an existing product, are a product owner, are developing a product, or are marketing a product… this is for you.

Nashville UX Meetup (NUX)–Supports, promotes, and teaches UX, advocate the value of UX, and foster strong professional networks. User experience includes everything the user touches: including experience strategy, content strategy, information architecture, interaction design, user interface, and usability.

Nashville Agile User Group–If you’re interested in the development process (or already a developer) don’t miss this group. It focuses on promoting the values and practices of Agile development and is a great place to learn and network.

Design Thinking NashvilleHave an interest in design thinking? Looking for support in innovation or improving the culture of work? This group is for you.

Want more product talk? Need to consult about potential product options for your company or startup? Drop us a line and request a free consultation. Our product experts love this stuff!

You may not have heard the term “technical debt” before if you aren’t a developer. But, if you’ve worked with custom software at all, you’ve almost certainly felt the effects. So, what is technical debt, and what can you do about it?

Techopedia has a pretty solid definition:

Technical debt is a concept in programming that reflects the extra development work that arises when code that is easy to implement in the short run is used instead of applying the best overall solution. Technical debt is commonly associated with extreme programming, especially in the context of refactoring. That is, it implies that restructuring existing code (refactoring) is required as part of the development process. Under this line of thinking refactoring is not only a result of poorly written code, but is also done based on an evolving understanding of a problem and the best way to solve that problem. Technical debt may also be known as design debt.

Or, if you just skipped that whole section as TL;DR, I’ll sum it up. Technical debt happens when a programmer decides (strategically or not) to go with a solution that gets the job done, if not always in the most effective way for the long term.

Technical debt isn’t always a coding problem, though. Sometimes business choices like rushed planning, the wrong tech stack, or other stakeholder decisions can increase a project’s technical debt. That’s why Centresource likes to get in on a project as early as possible. Allowing our strategists access to those early decisions will ultimately make development a lot faster and easier.

Technical debt happens. Accruing it does not (always) mean you have a bad programmer. Some cases call for the quick and dirty solution, understanding that it will have to be adjusted at a later stage.

The key to technical debt? Strategy.

Wait, Technical Debt Can Be a Good Thing?

The short answer is “sometimes.”

What many people forget is that computer programming is, at its heart, a creative task. Developers are often such logical people that we forget that they are creating, often from nothing, complex solutions.

That kind of creativity leaves detritus.

Think about the last time you created or learned something new. If you’re an artist, you know a lot of bad drawings happen before the best one comes out. “Mess” is a part of any creativity–including programming.

When developers are working on a new feature, there will be a lot of ways to solve the problem. The key is to find the best one, but they can only get there by trying multiple different options. Like a chef in the kitchen, the mess you’re making for the current meal is good, because it gets the food to the table. The problem happens when the mess stays around.

Aside from the creative need for a little technical debt, sometimes you’ll find there are legitimate reasons to choose a “good for now” solution to a problem. Budget, timeline, and other product features may all lead you to decide to knowingly take the duct tape solution, while planning to fix it in the future.

The key is strategy. It’s purposely choosing that option, with a basic plan to iterate on it in another phase of the project.

Crisp’s Blog has good illustrations of how to think about good and bad technical debt, if you’re interested in diving a little further on it.

I Have Technical Debt–Now What?

Don’t panic. Just like with consumer debt, there are strategies to deal with technical debt. Every project is different, but technical debt is not an unclimbable mountain.

In the next week, we’ll talk more about how we handle technical debt at Centresource.