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Are Coders the Future of the Workforce?

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Published

19 Feb 2016

Duration

11 minute read


Who knows? Predicting the future is a dangerous game. But there is some truth in the title. Perhaps the real question isn’t whether coders the future of the workforce, but instead, how do you learn to code so that you have a future in the workforce?

Predicting the future when it comes to technology is hard because of the speed at which things change in the industry. Change in the technology world happens fast. And the means for building and writing that technology is continuously evolving as well. It may be a truism to say that learning to code is a safe career choice in terms of money and prospects. But there’s also the very real chance you could code yourself into a brick wall if you don’t occasionally look more than a year to see where the growth in technology is going.

A Growth Industry

Well, that’s true at least. Developers are crying out for coders to program to requirement.

Demand for coders has never been higher and is only set to increase for the next 20 years according to some estimates. I don’t know about that, but I do know that US government statistics point to the fact that in North America alone there will be 1,000,000 unfilled jobs for programmers come 2020. (That’s only four years away, you know.)

Worldwide, the number of people working in programming is in the order of 15 million, according to a BBC article on the future of coding. At present, India graduates around 100,000 computer science graduates annually, but that’s still not enough. The rise in demand of the number of things that need to be programmed is set to outstrip supply for many years to come.

By contrast, the EU is itself is predicting a similar shortfall of around 900,000 properly skilled coders and other technology pros by 2020. Other US stats show software development was ranked 3rd in the “best jobs 2015.” And why wouldn’t it be. The money is good and more likely than not, you can work from the comfort of your pyjamas in the living room. In that respect, it’s not that dissimilar from being a writer, except that coder professionals will more than likely pay able to pay all their bills.

But, is a career in coding really a ticket to the big time?

Will it always be well paid, and will it always be rewarding? Will wages fall through the floor when supply finally catches up with demand?

The good news is that yes, coders will always be required, and good coders will always be in demand, at least in the medium term. A joint research white paper from two pretty prestigious universities recently saw a future where even the coders could face a time where “smart” machines could start taking over from the need for human written software. I’m just saying.

Practically everything around us these days requires code to run. From the humble microwave, to traffic control, Cloud computing, Robots, and soon if Google and the other usual suspects get their way they’ll also be needed more and more to program driverless cars. The one thing all these advancements have in common, is that they all still need coders to write the programs that will allow it all to happen. So, yes, the general consensus is that labour markets expect to continue adding “good” coding jobs through 2020 and beyond.

The trick for future proofing a career as a coder is going to be making sure that you make some savvy choices about what programming language will still be relevant in 10 years time.

Anticipated Growth of Programming in the Future

Programming is changing quickly. Cloud computing, for example, is still in its infancy, in real terms, but its growth and need for decent coders seems only set to increase. IBM have just announced a major industry changing move into using blockchain technology as a service for the Cloud. More than 90% of U.S. companies are using some form of cloud computing, and most industry futurists predict that movement to the Cloud is only going to accelerate for the forecastable future. As a result, a whole host of Cloud related careers will be born.

New programming languages are also set to explode in the next few years. Take Apple’s Swift, for example, or Facebook’s Hack scripting language. But crucially, this doesn’t mean that everyone should rush out and learn all the new languages as they pop out. It’s unlikely they’ll all still be around in 20 years time.

Classical programming languages are paradoxically still likely to be needed for a long time to come, however. It’s an interesting fact of the previous 20 years that languages such as C, C++, and Java are still going strong. Learning to program in Flash now though is probably a career ender. The Web is still growing, and though it may not feel like it when compared to cloud computing, it too is still in its infancy.

And how will we access the Cloud? Through the Web of course, and, therefore, browser based software. So if I could offer you one sure fire safe tip for the future, it would be wear sunscreen. If I could offer you another, it would be to say that JavaScript isn’t going anywhere for a long time, and Java coders look like they are going to have a fairly robust career; even ones who aren’t very good at it. And overall this is still good news for talented programmers all be it, not so good for tech companies facing an abundant shortage of talent.

Wearable Technology, IoT, and Terminators

Artificial Intelligence, wearable technology, and robots are likely to need coders en masse in the next decade or so in much the same way that Apple and Google needed coders for the Smartphone revolution ten years ago. The move to ‘wearables’ is predicted to need more development than mobile OS and App developers were needed. "By the time 2020 rolls around, wearable devices could be as common as the iPhone today, and that creates all new opportunities.”

Of course the Internet of Things is something almost everyone is aware of at this stage. Despite being the most stupid name for something ever, and also undergoing a few false starts, its finally beginning to take hold and more and more objects are joining all the time. While personally not seeing the need for a coffee machine that can talk to you or a kettle you can set to boil from the comfort of your living room, coders will be in demand for writing the Android (probably) interface for the fridge that will tell you the milk has gone off.

Robotics and AI are also relentless, having already breached the line between reality and science fiction. It’s estimated that AI and robotic are going to be considered part of everyday life in large sections of the Western world by 2025, and are expected to have disruptive implications in a range of industries, including healthcare transportation, security, and logistics; pretty much everything.

Final Thoughts on the Future of Coding

So overall, learning to code, and considering coding as a future career is a good idea. The trick is going to be figuring out what will need to be coded in the future. Will there be demand for the programming language you specialize in? And will it be future proof? It’s something to think about anyway.


By Euan Viveash (With a background in IT, technical writing, and video games, Euan has been writing about software and the latest technology in general for the best part of 10 years. In any case, he’s fairly certain it beats actually having to work for a living.)


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