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GitLab 2021 Predictions: New tech brings challenges, developer role changes and need for new skills

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual series exclusive.

New tech brings challenges, developer role changes and need for new skills

By Brendan O'Leary, Senior Developer Evangelist, GitLab

The year to come will bring a lot of "new" to the tech industry. As we see new challenges incoming, like new technology changing the workflow of developers, technologists will have to adjust their roles and the skills that are required. In order to keep up with the constantly in-flux tech environment, developers will need to stay on their toes - in more ways than one.

New tech brings new challenges: From 5G to edge computing, microservices and more, today's cutting-edge technologies will be mainstream soon. These technologies will upend the way developers work, requiring them to understand everything about networking as well as new types of hardware architectures to support modern applications.

One of the most important of these is edge computing. The fast-growing Internet of Things (IoT) market - worth $212 billion in 2019 and projected to hit 1.6 trillion in 2025 according to market research firm Statista - means edge computing may be coming to your DevOps team sooner than you think. Edge computing will challenge developers to literally put processing power within the application (on the "edge," in other words) rather than having to reach out to the cloud for computations. In 2021, it will be essential to encourage developers to embrace edge computing to come into the future of DevOps.

Tech advance means changing roles: With all this technological advancement, the role of the developer is going to change. We'll see a doubling down on open source, a move from IT departments to lines of business and more. Additionally, there will be a surge of citizen developers - especially given the impact of low code and AI/ML.

With developers moving "into the business" and a growing emphasis on citizen devs, it's clear not all teams will be filled with hardcore coders. Some certainly will be working alongside citizen developers. But others may also find "team members" in unexpected places, like their IDEs. Although artificial intelligence is still nascent in most enterprise development teams, some industry analysts are bullish that AI/ML can bring speed, advice, structure, and perhaps even coding to the table in three to five years from now.

However, no matter how quickly AI/ML ends up as part of the professional developer work experience, it's clear dev culture is going to have to change if "development" is no longer such a specialized skill.

Stars aligning for AI and software development: Every set of software in the future is going to be the combination of some procedural code and some AI/ML models. The models will eat more and more of the code over time, but this isn't going to replace humans. This will make the human role more critical to understand what's important, and ensure systems function with the correct ethical boundaries.

To put it another way, it would be strange if artificial intelligence weren't playing a much more significant (and helpful) role in code development ten years from now. However, this isn't going to replace humans - it's going to make the human role more critical to be the final arbiter of signal from noise. This is similar to a detail-oriented second set of eyes that can sort through all the data quickly to focus coders on areas that need it. Computer-aided detection (CAD) is already extremely valuable in mammography because it's hard to look for 1 millimeter specs of white that can represent early cancers. CAD is valuable because it surfaces the 'second look' areas to focus on for professional radiologists. We can expect a similar model when it comes to AI/ML and software development.

In-demand skills shifting: As observed by the World Economic Forum, the impact of technological and other changes across nearly all industries is shortening the shelf-life of employees' existing skill sets. Developers need to take a step back, invest in their soft-skills and broaden their expertise.

As noted above, AI/ML will have a large impact on the developer role, so soft skills are more important than ever. According to research, developers, security pros, ops team members, and testers were unanimous in their choice of the most important skills for the future: communication and collaboration. It's not particularly surprising - DevOps team members are increasingly finding themselves working even more closely together and often in different or new areas of the company. Communication and collaboration in those cases can be the difference between success and failure, especially in DevSecOps.

Each new development in the tech industry will impact what comes next. From new software and technologies to evolving developer and IT roles to re-skilling, we'll see a number of changes in the new year. In order to stay productive and remain relevant, developers and tech industry workers will need to monitor these changes closely and be prepared to adjust. Iteration is not only at the core of software development practices, it is at the core of what we do as software professionals.


About the Author

Brendan O'Leary, Senior Developer Evangelist, GitLab 

Brendan O'Leary 

Brendan O'Leary is a Senior Developer Evangelist at GitLab, the first single application for the DevSecOps lifecycle. He has a passion for software development and iterating on processes just as quickly as we iterate on code. Working with customers to deliver value is what drives Brendan's passion for DevOps and smooth CI/CD implementation. Brendan has worked with a wide range of customers - from the nation's top healthcare institutions to environmental services companies to the Department of Defense. Outside of work, you'll find Brendan with 1 to 4 kids hanging off of him at any given time or occasionally finding a moment alone to build something in his workshop.

Published Thursday, December 03, 2020 7:07 AM by David Marshall
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