Or as programmer do you feel your
production should have academic merit
I don't think it needs to, because (ideally) software development is mainly an engineering discipline.
Engineering disciplines are about building working solutions in the real world.
In contrast, research disciplines are about providing correct knowledge within an isolated scope.
These two things are largely orthogonal, however the former requires the latter for quality, and the latter the former for actual harnessing.
Now if somebody really claims your work isn't an intellectual achievement, based on its nature and not on its quality, then they are just arrogant or ignorant or both. If they say it isn't academic, then they are probably right, unless it's only a matter of some stupid formality.