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From Software Underground to Living the Low-Code Dream (Part 1)

Roland Alston, Appian
May 31, 2019

Suvajit Gupta, Senior Vice President, Engineering at Appian

(This is the first installment of a two-part series on low-code development and innovation withSuvajit Gupta (@suvajitgupta), Senior Vice President, Engineering at Appian, a low-code platform company in Reston, VA.)

We live in an age of constant acceleration and technology that can turn ideas into software faster than anyone ever imagined. Which brings us to Suvajit Gupta and his zigzag journey from a scrawny kid in Kolkata India to living the dream as the Senior Vice President, Engineering at Appian in Reston, VA. For three decades Gupta has excelled at leading people to build amazing software development tools that businesses can't live without.

"What I've learned along the way," says Gupta, "is that software is like the ultimate clay': You can build anything with it and you're limited only by your imagination."

Software development is Gupta's kind of job. He calls it the best job in the world. "It's the only job that allows you to go from ideating at a whiteboard to coding at a keyboard and then getting the immediate gratification of bringing that idea to life."

The Google machine confirms Gupta's perspective: With a median salary of over $100K and a jobless rate of less than 1.9%, software development consistently ranks among the best professions on the planet according to U.S. News.

In retrospect, Gupta has achieved more success than he ever imagined. His journey to senior management is a tale that's both inspirational and cautionary, filled with pragmatic lessons about innovation, leadership and why businesses can't keep up with the blistering pace of digital transformation without low-code development.

Hope you enjoy the conversation.

Appian: What's the biggest misconception about software developers and the work that developers do?

Gupta: Most people think building and modifying software is easy but that's not the case. People only think about the "primary scenarios": what they want the system to do. But they ignore or massively underestimate the "secondary scenarios" which include all the things that can go wrong with a system, the inputs, the environment, and on and on and on. The truth is that these secondary scenarios comprise about 85% of the lines of code in a fielded production system. They are like "dark matter." They're one of the primary reasons software projects fail.

Appian: Last year, you wrote a blog in Medium that caught my attention. You called it "Traveling the Software Underground." What motivated you to write that piece?

Gupta: I was asked to blog about career paths within the Appian Engineering team that I lead. As I was looking for inspiration, my wife suggested that I tell my own story of navigating the many jobs and roles during my professional experience.

Appian: How did people react to the story?

Gupta: I was surprised by the positive response to my story. I think that people really connected with the personal side of it.

Appian: One of the things you talk about in that piece is your passion for hacking, for working with a computer and coding to solve problems. What was it about computers and coding that got you fired up?

Gupta: The engineer in me loves to clearly define a problem, look for viable options to solve it, and then pick one and make it work. In software development, this is not a linear process. Like many people in my profession, I get bored quickly, but software keeps me perpetually engaged since things are constantly evolving.

Zigzagging the Software Underground

Appian: You've said that figuring out a career path is like figuring out which train to get on in a busy subway station. I think the same is true of trying to figure out which technology to embrace in the age of digital transformation. What advice do you have for business and IT leaders who are struggling with this challenge?

Gupta: Keep learning about new things that are better at solving the challenges that are on your plate. Surround yourself with people that question things and propose ideas and are happy to run with them. Low-code (development) is one of those things. Business and IT leaders should understand the business value of trending tech like low-code so that they can figure out how to leverage it to transform their organization.

Appian: Which brings us to the topic of innovation. The best companies are better at innovating than the competition. For non-tech execs, how do you explain how low-code fits into the innovation process?

Gupta: By now, most people have heard the phrase: "Every company is a software company." That's true so it's essential to be able to weaponize application development to gain a competitive advantage.

Low-Code: How to Build Custom Software in Weeks, not Years

Appian: That's a good segue to the next topic I want to talk to you about digital transformation. Critics say that digital transformation is just another buzzword and that it has played out. But our research shows that many companies are still prioritizing digital transformation. Is digital transformation still relevant and how does it relate to the low-code trend?

Gupta: Digital transformation is not going away. It's happening. It's real. And it's going to happen for the next two decades. But at the heart of digital transformation is lots of software and data. The low-code connection is that low-code platforms allow organizations to manage the explosion of emerging technology not in calendar years but in "Internet years." For example, with low-code (development) businesses can go from taking multiple years to build custom software to doing it in weeks.

(Stay tuned for the final episode of this two-part series on low-code development and innovation with Suvajit Gupta, Senior VP, Engineering at Appian)