A Perspective on the Future of Software Engineering

A Perspective on the Future of Software Engineering
Photo by Alexander Shatov / Unsplash

Mass layoffs at Stripe and other fintechs. Elon Musk progressing towards his villain arc at Twitter. Bullish companies like Meta and Amazon announcing hiring freezes throughout this year. Now, do you also feel this sense of impending doom?

As software engineers, we may have sinned of hubris in the last decade. Our industry experienced an unparalleled boom, spreading throughout all corners of our lives. We felt invincible as we navigated the Covid outbreak sitting in our homes and seeing the demand for our skills skyrocketing. Even Putin's war allowed for an armistice with software professionals. But it seems that the tides are turning lately.

As stated in a stern letter from Amazon's management, we are experiencing "an unusual macro-economic environment": the pandemic, supply-chain distruptions, double-digit inflation, the war in Europe, and all that jazz. The picture doesn't look rosy and it will probably get worse before getting better. After all, this is a wake-up call screaming that we are in the same boat as everybody else.

Short-Term vs Long-Term cycles

However, I feel that the current trend will be a rather short-term one. Sure, it may last for a few years, but I don't feel it will make a huge difference in our careers anyway, at least compared to the global trend in the next decades. Simply put, there is still a vital, burning need for IT professionals in today's society. For example, we aren't yet at the point where software has been disseminated in all the objects, businesses, places, edges, and corners of our world. There is a lot of buzz about AI, VR, blockchain, IoT, quantum computing, and other hot tech trends, but we are still a couple decades away from reaping their full potential.

Moreover, today there are billions of people that do not live in fully industrialized countries in Africa and Asia. While it's true that in terms of sheer scale there is no need to invent another Google or Amazon, it's easy to guess that this huge amount of people and cultures actively participating in the global economy will bring in a flock of new needs and business models. There is still a lot of work to do for software nerds and we will have a chance to bounce back.

On the other hand, if we shift our perspective toward the next two or three decades in the future, it is likely that the scenario will dramatically change. It's easy to imagine that the IT industry will be much more consolidated by then: there won't a lot of cool new start-ups pushing new products and the incumbents will have many years to strengthen their monopolistic positions. This means that fewer engineers will be needed in general, and they will mainly work on maintaining old systems. It is possible that highly skilled professionals will be fairly compensated, but what about new blood? They may face ruthless competition and slim paychecks, as new lawyers and civil engineers do nowadays.

One shouldn't underestimate the impact of AI as well. Content creators and artists are already wary of tools that can generate images from text at a fraction of the cost of their services, and for good reason. By mixing artificial intelligence and low-code tools, everyone will be able to create simple scripts and automation tools. I believe that programming will exist forever in one form or the other and will become truly ubiquitous in the future, it will be more democratized and accessible, and people in every path of life will be able to create software to their benefit. Don't misunderstand me, this scenario will be great for humanity in general: it's just that specialized software engineers will become a thing of the past.

Closing thoughts

To me, it's difficult to think that highly competent engineers at Twitter or Stripe will have a hard time bouncing back and finding new well-paid jobs. As an industry, we may have many other fruitful, exciting years in front of us and good employment prospects until our retirement. That said, I wouldn't expect our grandchildren to follow in our steps, or even understand what we did for a living in our productive years. Although, that may be for the best.

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