Tech-driven automation is reshaping career paths. Software developers must prepare, too. - Technical.ly Baltimore

Software Development

Tech-driven automation is reshaping career paths. Software developers must prepare, too.

Mind Over Machines Chief Innovation Officer Tim Kulp offers a guide for the low-code future.

The storm is coming for everyone.

Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

This is a guest post by Tim Kulp, chief innovation officer of Owings Mills-based software and data consultancy Mind Over Machines.
The future of work is like a snowstorm. It affects every community differently.

For some people, snow is about sledding and play. For others, snow means shoveling and isolation. Sometimes the snowstorm is a dusting, and other times it is a paralytic whiteout.

The future of work will be fun for some, challenging for others. It will land like a blizzard for some, while for others it will just flurry for years. But have no doubt: The storm is coming, and it is coming for everyone, even software developers.

As businesses seek to convert data into the new oil, software developers have become the new refinery of business value. They build services that generate data. They dig through the mounds of data to find information. They are critical resources, and they are in short supply. For years, we’ve heard that tech talent is in short supply, and that the United States can’t keep pace with the number of computer science graduates needed to meet the market demand. For software developers, this job market has been a place of great opportunity. Tech and STEM skills are in high demand, which is great for the workers in these fields. But good things can’t last.

When the demand for labor outstrips the supply, enterprising companies will find a way to fulfill the need. Enterprise software companies are seeking to fill the software developer supply gap with low-code platforms like Salesforce.com, Microsoft’s Power Platform, Zapier and the list goes on. Once, developers were needed to get data, move data and examine data. Now, tools are available for non-technical users to do similar tasks.

Research firm Gartner projects that, by 2024, 64% of application development in an enterprise will be done through low-code systems. This will bring the rise of the citizen developer, where business users can innovate in business with tools approved by IT.

Low-code systems are automation tools used by business users to perform tasks once reserved for developers in IT. Need a user interface on your data? Microsoft’s PowerApps has you covered. Need to move data between systems? Zapier to the rescue. Want to build an RPA bot to perform a business process? UiPath’s StudioX can help. These tools are not magical hammers that can do anything — they have limits. But they are unlocking new capabilities for business users – capabilities that once were the domain of the IT department. But just like RPA can automate many tasks of an accountant, low-code tools can automate the traditional role of a developer for business applications.

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Once, developers were needed to get data, move data and examine data. Now, tools are available for non-technical users to do similar tasks.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying the software developer career is going away. Humanity will always need software developers to build systems. What I am saying, is that software developers will see a transformation in what they do. Many developers will concentrate in the companies that make low-code tools. Some will enable their peers in business to extend the low-code solutions, and a very few will have the necessary skills to hold the most important role of software’s future, the Explainer (more on this in a moment).

Don’t worry. A blizzard might be coming, but I’m about to hand you a snowblower. When it comes to the future of work, consider the following steps to stay relevant, regardless of your career. This applies to software developers, healthcare claims processors, and CEOs alike:

Identify your core competency

What are you better at than anyone? I ask people this in interviews all the time. It is not an ego trip; it is you identifying your unique value proposition. For example, as a developer, I always touted my creativity as a unique asset. When I talk about software development, I talk about it as an act of creation. Many others see it as problem solving. In the end, the result is the same, but the approach is different and using creativity to get there is my core competency.

Focus on social emotional intelligence tasks

Think about how you interact with others. How can you add value to your organization through better collaboration, better communication and better empathy? There are many smart developers in the world that know this API or that API inside and out. Being a genius is great, but if you can’t work with others, don’t expect a long career. Use social intelligence and emotional intelligence as a differentiator.

Own your role, then grow your role

Your job is not your role. Your job might be software developer, but what is your role in the company? It probably isn’t to develop software. Instead, it is probably to solve some problem or enable others to create value. Below are three ways to think about your role. You can blend these roles together to find yours. These roles are adapted from Wilson, Daugherty and Morini-Bianzino’s work from MIT Review:

  • Maintainer: You keep systems running. Think of this role as the mechanic of technology. You fix issues that arise, optimize performance and make the system sing. This role is a traditional IT role of helpdesk and service. It will be needed in the future for the care and feeding of the complex systems that are becoming the engines of business.
  • Trainer: You teach the systems new tricks. Think of this role as the person who is enabling the system to deliver more value. In this role, you could be adding new features, you could be building data models to enable new problems to be solved by the system or you could be creating content for the system (such as building conversation modules in a chatbot).
  • Explainer: This is the key role of the future. In this role, you explain why the system did what it did. This role’s importance will be critical as we move into a future with more automated/intelligent systems. Explainers help users, customers and regulatory bodies understand why the system made the decisions it made, as well as what checks/balances are in place to ensure a fair system.

The future of work is a place of rapid change. COVID-19 has accelerated that change as many companies were forced into digital transformation seemingly overnight. New models of work are appearing, and new skills are needed. This is for everyone, even those in high-tech jobs, like software developer. Stay relevant and thrive by tapping into your core competency, leveraging your social intelligence and understanding your role. We will always need software developers but what a software developer of tomorrow looks like is up to you.

Interested in learning more about how the future of work applies to your current job? Mind Over Machines is partnering with the Maryland Innovation Center for the Workforce Ascension and Enhancement (WAE) series. Learn more about this three-session workshop here.

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