A brave new world for software developers

January 30th, 2019, Published in Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT

Software developers are in the enviable position of having the power to shape the future. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry, but also a time for reflection on the ethics and responsibilities of software development.

Cliff de Wit

Cliff de Wit

Developers today are in a privileged position. As software becomes increasingly crucial in business and daily life, software developers are playing a key role in shaping the world of the future.

Eighteen years ago, developers primarily wrote code from scratch, whereas now they stand on the shoulders of giants, using evolved toolsets and architectures to focus more on software composition.

The devil is still in the detail, and there is still a requirement to know what you’re doing, but the pace of productivity has increased. Developers are using higher level building blocks, which allows them to be more productive, and as software expands across all realms, they are broadening the domains they work in. Instead of just enterprise software, they are now becoming involved in software for everything from fridges to cars.

Scope for SA software sector growth

There is huge scope for growth in South Africa’s software development sector, and that skills development will be key to supporting that growth. Developers need to stay curious, stay current and keep learning. This year, I believe machine learning and AI are important areas to develop skills in. Fortunately, there is no shortage of content and learning sites to support self-learning. Self-learning is likely to emerge as a key tool for developer upskilling in South Africa, where scores of youths lack the means to attend tertiary institutions.

Academic institutions are changing, but a lot of the digital skills South Africa needs won’t come out of these formal institutions in future. I foresee that in future, many more developers will be self-taught and peer taught. We may even move to a model whereby self-taught candidates are simply certified by formal institutions.

For those with the aptitude, software development is an exciting career choice, with a lot of potential. Software development is only going to become more relevant, and it paves the way for more entrepreneurial activity in South Africa. It’s a skill that’s highly portable, and lends itself to outsourcing business and software development shops. At Microsoft, we supported over 3500 software start-ups, and there are significant opportunities for growth in development companies, which could be a huge driver for the South African economy.

Developers lack a ‘Geneva Convention’

Ethical software development has become increasingly important in this brave new world.

With great power comes great responsibility. If you consider that software powers so many things in our lives, such as access to funding, or who qualifies for university access or home loans, the developers behind the software need to understand the impact their software can have. Ethics in software development is a new and evolving field, as the role of the developer enters a phase of rapid change.

Major players such as Microsoft have started suggesting a “Digital Geneva Convention”, but no formal conventions or guides exist for ethical software development yet. At the moment, ethical software development is an industry responsibility, and developers themselves need to take the time to understand the consequences of what they are doing. They need to ask: “is this for the good of humankind, or is it unethical commerce hunting; do I feel comfortable, ethically, with what I’m doing?”

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