8 min read

“Modern business is strange”

Modern business is strange. And this, really, is down to technology. Although the dot com bubble may have blown up almost twenty years ago, it’s really the effects of the open source revolution of the past decade that we’re feeling today. This was a period that really can be called innovative. It was a time of experimentation and invention, when the rigid structures of traditional IT (and the stereotypes of the traditional IT team that existed alongside them) all but disappeared. Everything seemed to fragment. And this includes business culture itself. In its place, the sharp and smart startup became a new signifier for 21st century business. Gone was the stuffy boredom of the drab office (see Office Space for an expert example), in favour of something more creative and casual – something where technology rules and no longer simply serves.

Perhaps this is a bit of a caricature. But there’s some truth to it – software culture, from the software itself to its project management methodologies have all had an impact on the way that even the largest companies see themselves. And why should we be surprised? When a multibillion dollar company like Facebook started life in a college dorm, we’re reminded that we’re living in a new business landscape, where technology has flattened barriers to entry. When size no longer seems to matter.

But does size really not matter anymore? We looked closely at the technological differences between large and small companies in our 2016 Skill Up report, published earlier this summer in July. The picture it paints is interesting. While it highlights that the software used by businesses does shift according to size, it also demonstrates that there is a lot of crossover. Size matters. Sort of. The concerns and challenges that many organizations are facing are perhaps more similar than we might have thought. 

Small Businesses

Let’s first look at the tools being used by survey respondents working in smaller companies.

It’s worth noting that micro refers to organizations of 1-20 employees, small 21-99, medium 100-1000 and large any number exceeding that.


A large proportion of the data here has come from respondents working for small development startups – these are likely companies that wouldn’t even exist without these useful tools and frameworks – they’re essentially small teams that have come together to take advantage of what these tools are capable of.

Unreal is there at there at the top – on the one hand, yes this shows it’s up there with Unity when it comes to game development tools, but it also suggests that game development is an industry that is thriving on small development teams. It’s a huge industry, and perhaps one that’s growing due to a combination of developer enthusiasm and entrepreneurialism. It’s also worth noting Blender’s appearance as well as Android Studio. Android Studio is not quite as popular with micro businesses (startup size), but overall it is a crucial tool for smaller businesses. This perhaps underlines the importance of mobile for modern businesses – whether these developers are working for software development companies specifically or companies that believe they need mobile solutions to meet customer needs, it’s clear that Android Studio is proving to be incredibly popular. You can find our game and mobile development Skill Plans in Mapt here to learn more.

It’s also notable that WordPress performs so well here. It’s a tool that has expanded beyond the tech and developer sphere, becoming a mass market tool to just about anyone who wants to write content for the web.

But what about the frameworks right at the heart of the web development world? It’s hard to pick a clear narrative thread here – Meteor is pretty high on the list here among developers in small businesses, a tool at the cutting-edge of web development, but to confuse us PHP is right next to it, a framework that’s unlikely to be called ‘cutting-edge’. It’s likely that what we’re seeing here is simply a fact of the fast-paced reality of web development, perhaps the one area of software where keeping up with change and new frameworks is most difficult.

Front end or full-stack development – we’ve got a range of carefully curated Skill Plans on some of the hottest frameworks being used today, including React and Angular 2.

One only has to glance at the diverse range of frameworks listed here to see that it’s difficult to characterize small businesses in any other way than simply asserting that diversity is a fact of life – there are a huge range of tools available for performing similar tasks and building similar types of products, all offering different features, and all having different benefits depending exactly on what you need to deliver.

One way of looking at it is saying that it’s about those marginal gains. The most popular software are the tools that make your life easier, that fit comfortably into your workflow and can help you build the type of products that you (or, indeed, your clients) want. Depending on what you’re currently or have been using, what the purpose of the product is going to be (is it an app? A game? Does it need to be dynamic? Or would something more static do a perfectly good job?). 

Technology used in larger organizations

If it’s all about diversity, and finding tools that fit comfortably into the way you work for smaller organizations, what about larger companies? As you can see, the list does look a little different:

The trend here, broadly speaking at least, are for operational tools rather than specific frameworks. For the most part it’s all about data, cloud, and virtualization – terms that have unfortunately become somewhat empty buzzwords for vendors trying to shift their clunky enterprise software.

But that’s not to say that anything listed here should be characterized as clunky. Tableau, sitting pretty at the top of the table, makes data visualization pretty simple – it makes Business Intelligence accessible and easily manageable. It’s worth noting that a similar proportion of respondents from micro-sized businesses are working with Tableau as medium sized businesses. This means that while it’s a tool that remains in a tradition of enterprise analytics, its appeal is not limited to the world of corporate tech.

Elsewhere on the list there are clear nods to the ongoing importance of Big Data; Hadoop and Spark are clearly popular. But again, we’d be wrong to assume these are only of interest to those in large businesses. For software pros in medium and smaller organizations these tools are playing an important role in business strategy too.

Whatever you want to do with data, our data science Skill Plans are built around you. Whether you want to dive deeper into Machine Learning with Python or stay up to date in Big Data, simply sign in and find what you need here.

Virtualization and cloud tools also emerge as important tools for large businesses. This is evidence of an increasing need to take control of their software infrastructure for reasons relating to both security and resource efficiency. This is perhaps of less concern to smaller organizations for whom free tools can facilitate collaboration and resource sharing for no cost.

But the impetus for these tools that can virtualize or ‘abstract’ resources comes from a similar place as that diversification we saw earlier. Fundamentally, it’s all about finding solutions that fit around your problems. Arguably, these solutions may feel like new challenges for large organizations who may, but by spending some time reflecting what’s important for their business, this relative freedom can be essential to success. DevOps Engineers are crucial if we’re to unlock the full potential of cloud and virtualization. Learn more in our DevOps Engineer Skill Plan.

Size matters when it comes to tech. Sort of…

Both graphics demonstrate some slight differences in focus between larger and small organizations – but the focus of both is ultimately on making those marginal gains, whether that’s in terms of the right framework for the job or effective use of virtualization to use tight resources in a more intelligent way.

But more than that, while we may be able to discern shifting focuses that correlate to company size, there is nevertheless a lot of crossover in what’s important. Strangely, there appears to be more common ground between the ‘micro’ sized businesses and the large ones. This suggests that when it comes to properly taking advantage of software, the organizations that are in the best position are those with the resources and time to invest in skill development and learning, or those that are streamlined and agile enough – maybe simply enthusiastic enough – to keep up to speed with what’s new and what’s important.

Stuck in the middle

The real challenge, then, is for those organizations in the middle. They might have ambitions to become an industry giant but lack the resources. They might even be attracted to the startup mentality but are burdened with legacy systems and cumbersome processes. To take advantage of some of these massive opportunities will require detailed, even critical, self-reflection and a renewed focus on organizational purpose and strategic priorities. It also means these organizations will need to fashion a different tech-oriented culture.

Startup, small, medium or large business – with Mapt for Teams, you can ensure everyone has the resources they need to learn the skills most important for your projects – for today and tomorrow. Learn more here. 

Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.


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