The End of Programmers As We Know It?

by Ming Chow

The recent news on IT has been less than welcoming, if not demoralizing. Some of the recent news headlines:

Such headlines have been appearing frequently, and it is somewhat frightening. I was going to respond to Kevin Schmidt's recent article Down With the Software Engineer! Long Live the Application Builder! but the slew of bad news from the IT industry was coming out faster than I could think.

So the question is, are programmers and software engineers going to be extinct?

To start off, there is a difference between a programmer and a software engineer. Loosely, a programmer is focused on building software using specific language(s). A software engineer, has the abilities of a programmer, but also encompasses the software development methodologies such as prototyping, documenting, and testing.

I asked a friend about software engineering at his research laboratory, and his response was: Everybody is a programmer here. In some ways, everyone is also software engineer. Everyone uses programming and some software development methodologies to build tools and products for their research. This seems to be the mentality at many firms and companies. Programming is becoming a trade, and at many places, it is a required skill in order for people to do their work --just like how knowledge in Microsoft Office is a highly recommended, if not required skill, for a majority of office personnel. Alas, it is a major reason why the job of "programmer" is on the decline.

What about the job of software engineer? My professor once told me that software development is 80% design, and 20% coding and maintenance. His comment seem to still true. These days, prototyping, documenting, and/or testing are critical aspects of a software engineering position. Added to that, knowledge in algorithms, security, user interfaces, or other fields (e.g. any of the sciences including mathematics, physics, and psychology) is recommended.

I can understand why the role of programmer is going by the wayside, but it will never be totally extinct. Instead, it will be blended in with many other roles on the job. I do not see the role of software engineer to be going by the wayside like the programmer because a software engineer encompasses a large spectrum of methodologies. However, I do see that software engineers will require more than just knowing the development methodologies –-it will be more specialized towards the nature of the application (e.g. radar systems, gaming, medical, etc). Finally, I do feel that the media is overplaying the whole layoffs in IT scenario, and the headlines are harsh. There are still tremendous opportunities in IT especially is networking and security, education, general support, application development, user interface design, and web services. Plenty of skills and talent is needed in IT. The reason why the IT layoffs/decline of programmers and offshoring is front-page tech news is because the general public believes that programmers is IT, which is flat-out wrong.


2004-10-20 23:29:29
look back
people (and especially the press) have been screaming that programming is dead for over a decade.

When VB was first announced THAT was said to be the end of programming. Now anyone with a computer could point and click an application together.
The same was hailed years later with graphical design tools. The business analyst could (it was said to be coming "soon") just put his business rules into some piece of software (who'd write that the stories didn't mention), press a button, and he'd have a full blown application. No more need for those pesky programmers and software engineers.

In a research lab I'd expect everybody to know at least some programming. After all they're (mostly) university graduates or students and programming classes have been mandatory (or high availability at least) for those people for the last 15-20 years.
The majority of people though don't know and couldn't care less.
Ask in your average office (say the accounting department of a retail store) for someone to write some software to automate a common task and you get glassy stares. Maybe someone has a cousin who "does something with computers" who might be able to but that's about it. Those people all say they know MS Office but they've never seen the macro editor and would be completely lost if you started it and walked out the room (they couldn't even close it down most likely).

2004-10-21 02:49:02
Say what?
"Finally, I do feel that the media is overplaying the whole layoffs in IT scenario"

Or, to put it in straight language - it's election year, and the media is trying to affirm John Kerry's apocalyptic vision of the job market in any way possible. (But don't worry, if he wins, media folks all of a sudden will find out just how cutting-edge domestic programmers are.)

2004-11-15 14:09:56
Say what?
Uh, no. I have 9+ years of experience in software development and QA, and I was out of work for 2+ years. This is very much a real reality.

However, despite a lot of IT going overseas, they still cannot come over desktop to desktop and fix computers, so I moved to be an IT Admin. I would not dare re-enter back into R&D. :'(