How citizen development leads to more fun and more efficient work

Published on: 5 April 2022

Organizations appear to recognize the value of citizen development increasingly more often. The same applies to APG. A so-called citizen developer is an employee who is not a professional developer but who is able to create small-scale applications. George Drost, Maarten Lafeber and Iris Schipper tell us how this approach makes the work easier and more fun. “The culture in the workplace changes if people are given the opportunity to learn new things.”

What does it take to become a citizen developer? It all starts with curiosity, says George (Digital Lead). “If a citizen developer performs repetitive work, he or she will be curious about a tool that is able to make that work easier.” You don't have to be a diehard programmer, Maarten (Strategist) adds. “Although it helps if you have some affinity with data. I already had some experience with programming because of my study Financial Engineering. But I think eighty percent of what I am programming, can be done by virtually everyone. It's all about taking the time and having the will to do it. It is also important not to be afraid of change.”


Because there are many low code/no code applications, George believes you can also start without much knowledge of programming. George: “If you don't know a lot about programming yet, it can also be a trigger to participate in a DataCamp training for instance.” (DataCamp is an online learning platform on data science, ed.) Many citizen developers often already have some knowledge of data and programming because they took these subjects during their study, such as Maarten. Iris (Junior Asset Management Professional) also practiced programming during her study Finance & Investment. “Especially when writing my master's thesis and for the subject statistics. But I wouldn't say that can be directly translated into what I am doing for my work.” To refresh her knowledge, she now takes the course data scientist of DataCamp.


“My manager encourages me to learn Python”, Iris continues. “That can be applied to my current task aiming at alternative data on the telecom and media sector. Those data have to be visualized so colleagues are able to quickly derive the information they need. We are using Python to write a script in order for the new data to be automatically visualized in a PDF report.” She believes she will soon be able to benefit from her knowledge of Python. “I still have to become a bit more adept, but I believe that I will quickly see things in the next assignment of my traineeship that can be done more efficient or easier. And that will be thanks to my DataCamp training.”

A citizen developer is someone who makes something possible, who is curious and who wants to learn new things

What motivates these colleagues is coming up with solutions that make their work more fun. “Your work is done quicker, meaning there will be more time to do other things. That enables you to complete more tasks. And the performance increases when someone enjoys what he or she is doing”, says George. Moreover, citizen developers create applications that reduce the likelihood of human mistakes. Strategist Maarten, for example, noticed that he and his colleagues often worked in CSV files. “Being economists, we create expectations for the future. That requires a lot of data we include in CSV files. But you don't seem to make any progress if you have to browse through a server and just hope that the file ‘versie3_nieuw.csv’ is the right one”, he says jokingly. “That is why we created a database into which all data we need are automatically uploaded. Such database can be compared with a site like But instead of a product, you search for a dataset. Because the data are included in a database, they can be retrieved quicker, also by colleagues outside our team. Such database makes our work more robust and reduces the risk of mistakes.”


“If you are not fully mastering something yet, you need a way to learn it”, says George. “That's the reason why we work with communities at APG. These communities consist of experts and colleagues with knowledge and the same interests. There is always someone in the community available to help should you have any questions. That's how colleagues inspire one another to come up with creative ideas.” An example is the digitization group within Fiduciary Management, of which strategist Maarten is part. “Here we share, for instance, that a dashboard has been created within our team and offer our help should another team also want to create a dashboard. But our group also discusses digitization initiatives from outside our department. We believe it's important to closely follow all initiatives, also if none of us are directly involved. This because it could also apply to our work at some point.”  


In general, citizen developers thrive in an environment encouraging them to improve themselves, George explains. “When people are given the opportunity to learn new things, such as a certain tooling, it changes the culture in the workplace. There is room for new ideas and innovation.” It also contributes to employee satisfaction. And it stimulates an organization to work more efficiently and to develop the best possible solutions for clients. George: “A citizen developer is someone who makes something possible, who is curious and who wants to learn new things. You don't have to be an expert in programming. Some people will take it up quicker or easier than others, but that's okay. It's about trying to improve our digital collaboration on a daily basis.”