Will AI replace Software Engineers?
The question of whether a programmer’s job is safe from AI is a nuanced one.
I’ve spent a few days writing and researching this article, and have several thoughts.
Many software engineers already in the workplace, and students who are currently planning a career in programming, would be forgiven for being concerned that their job and future careers are at risk from AI. Indeed there are programmers who've already been laid off because of AI.
Nonetheless, in this article I argue that for the foreseeable future, the job itself of software engineer is fundamentally safe. The marketplace however is going to change dramatically over this time, so basically you will need to be on your 'A' game.
The astonishing capabilities unleashed by LLM’s are changing programming rapidly. It’s like we’ve gone from having a horse to a Ferrari overnight.
Unless you’re deep in the AI weeds, it’s come about very quickly, and if you’re like me, your head may be spinning just a bit.
It’s a lot to keep up with.
Productivity gone ballistic
Granted it's just one data point but I’ve been using AI extensively the past month to help me build this website. It's a custom CMS.
In doing so, I’ve been getting things done in 1/10th to 1/20th of the time it would have taken me pre-AI. It’s literally 10-20X’d my productivity.
By any measure that’s a game changer.
Setting aside concerns such as AI gone 'rogue', the next 15 years are going to be a roller coaster for programming and engineers. Developers have long fretted which languages or frameworks to learn, but this question is likely to fade into irrelevance in future.
The new role of Software Engineer
In a post-AI world, the new ‘job’ of engineers, at a high level, is going to be ‘marshaling the power of AI to help the organization you work for’. Think about that.
This could be as simple (and a little boring...) as doing things 10x faster, or something more profound.
If you can help them navigate AI at a business level, you will be extremely valuable to your organization.
How can I help my organization use AI?
Here's a few examples of how you could help your organization use AI in the short term:
ChatGPT Plugins - If you could bet money on one thing, ChatGPT’s coming mobile app will catapult use of AI into the mainstream. There is a strong likelihood this will create the App store of this decade, and the next. Figuring out how a particular organization can make a ChatGPT plugin, and plugins for other inevitable AI marketplaces, from the likes of Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc, organizations can benefit from the entire planet switching to a new medium, to organize and plan their lives.
Everything will be API’s... Websites and searches will become outmoded, possibly within months if a ‘Her’ like app quickly goes viral. This may or may not be ChatGPT. Whether a company offers a product, service, or has proprietary data, this will be consumed by API’s like ChatGPT, and other Personal Assistant AI's, and can and will be transactional. An airline can open up direct booking of their flights via AI; a company that organizes celebrity home tours can make these bookable via AI; a farmer’s association can allow people to order food from their local farm via Siri 2.0; an expert can offer booking slots for one-on-one paid video consultations.
Voice - We are going to be talking to our personal assistants. This is surely going to be the pre-eminent interface. It’s sort of that simple. The new ‘SERPS’ will be thinking of which questions people will be asking their personal AI assistants, and then building API’s that can translate this into an economic opportunity for your organization.
Pain points and Efficiency Improvements - What can you do at your organization with AI that will improve efficiency, productivity, and remove pain points? Figure this out, and its 'money'.
New Opportunities - What skills are lacking in your organization that could be added or enabled via AI? What products, features or services could your organization now offer, that it couldn’t offer before?
New Threats - Where is new competition for your organization going to come from because of AI? Which areas of your organization are most at risk? By thinking on these problems and bringing potential solutions to management proactively, you position yourself as the resident guru, someone to listen to, and could quickly find yourself promoted into a new role, or in charge of a new project.
In short, providing you use AI to increase your productivity at the very least, and even better, help your employer benefit from it on a business level, you can ride the wave of demand from businesses around AI. Development is going to explode in every company within a year.
If you’re ambitious, now is the ideal time to be putting yourself ahead of the pack. Start using AI to increase your productivity (but check all the code!), learn how to get AI to work best for you, ask AI to give you alternate approaches every time, and allow yourself undistracted thinking time away from work to seriously and systematically consider ways AI is going to impact the organization you work for.
AI is really a new coding language that every programmer needs to learn. It still requires a brilliant programmer to use to its best potential. Organizations inevitably require customization to meet their unique needs. As a result, AI savvy programmers will be in huge demand to adapt AI technology to each organization’s needs.
More reasons why programmers are safe
As software engineers know better than anyone, no system is perfect, and AI is no exception. If anything it will be more complex to understand than pre-AI systems.
With wholesale changes within organizations’ systems inbound, programmers will be needed to implement, troubleshoot and maintain. Think of the volume of work to change every business in the world's systems, to accommodate and integrate AI. API's alone (as suggested before) will be huge. Engineers will continue to play a crucial role in identifying issues, debugging, and ensuring the smooth operation of AI systems. After all, who better than programmers to keep AI in check?
If an AI system identifies potential efficiency improvements within a manufacturing process for example, a programmer will be needed to implement the project. Other team members and management are not going to understand AI, and will be turning to software engineers to explain things. Don't underestimate that you are the expert people want to turn to. If you can communicate AI effectively to other workers, this is an amazing opportunity. As AI becomes more integrated into various industries, the demand for programmers to act as the go-between between AI and the workforce will only grow.
So as organizations increasingly rely on AI for efficiency, new areas of business and problem-solving, the demand for skilled software engineers to integrate, customize, and manage these systems will skyrocket. So instead of being concerned about AI, there's actually no better time to embrace the changes coming and seize the opportunities offered. You are starting from the same point as every other programmer if you start soon, which is a good thing. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Every organization is going to want to know how they can benefit from applying AI to their business. Those software engineers who approach employers first, and who suggest ideas for how an organization can increase productivity using AI, are likely to be welcomed with open arms.
There will be an explosion in demand for programming, and API's in particular. Entire new systems will need to be built within enterprises to accommodate this. AI plugins are a fantastic bet.
Software engineers are literally the best placed people to understand this paradigm shift, and will ultimately be the people everyone turns to to make sense of it.
Good luck, and bring your A game!
Conclusion: Very Safe (with caveats) | Time Period: Foreseeable Future