The future of the web will need a different sort of software developer

Web3, ambient computing and the Metaverse all sound exciting, but they will be matched by changes to what developers do, too.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor
Young serious programmer in eyeglasses concentrating on working with coded data on computer screen
Image: Getty/iStockphoto

Many people ridiculed the idea of a World Wide Web back in the early days of its evolution, with naysayers firmly believing that it was no more than a geeky fad. Almost 30 years on, it's impossible to imagine an existence without it.

Equally hard to imagine is where the internet is headed next, although there are already a few clues. What is certain is that while there is a lot of noise about the hottest programming languages and the evolution of Web3, blockchain and the metaverse, none of this will matter if the industry doesn't have highly skilled software developers to build them.

In a recent Fortune survey, CEOs cited the lack of qualified talent as the top threat to business – taking precedent over a recession or supply chain glitches. According to Andres Garzon, CEO of IT staffing firm Jobsity, this makes staffing a critical component steering the Internet's future in 2023 and beyond.

"The buzzwords for working smarter will be all about looking beyond immediate borders to recruit highly skilled tech professionals, retain existing professionals with less expensive junior talent and effectively manage costs and workloads," Garzon tells ZDNET.

"With the rise of remote work, the talent pool is now global and businesses need to tap into it to survive and thrive."

Professional developers will be no less important within the development environment as companies tap into automation. In fact, automation will play a key role in clearing away much of the laborious coding that fills so much of developers' daily work, giving them more time to innovate and – dare we say – enjoy their jobs.

"The trend we are seeing now is the shift to the developer experience," says Ori Bendet, VP of product management at CheckMarx. "Developers are the engine and, as we know that the world runs on code generated by said developers, their time and efficiency are as important as everything else." 

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One class of solution being used to support a better developer experience are automatic code generators (ACG) like Github CoPilot, AWS CodeWhisperer and Tab9, which suggest code and functions in real time so that developers can whiz through code and spot errors on the fly.

Bendet believes traditional coding will eventually be replaced by ACG as interest in machine learning grows and vendors begin to look at optimizing the role of developers to focus on innovation: "Although ACG is not as good as developers may think, over the next few years, every developer will have their code generated, leaving them more time to focus on their core business."

Coding, democratized 

As businesses turn to automation as a means of quickly building and deploying new apps and digital services, low code and no code tools will play a fundamental role in shaping the future of the internet. According to a 2021 Gartner forecast, by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will be based on low-code or no-code tools, compared to less than 25% in 2020.

A lot of this work will be done by 'citizen developers' – employees who build business apps for themselves and other users using low code tools, but who don't have formal training in computer programming. In order to build a proficient citizen developer workforce, companies will need an equally innovative approach to training.

"Low code and no code tools are democratizing software development and providing opportunities for more people to build technology, prompting more innovation across industries," says Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO of Stack Overflow.

"Without taking the time to learn the fundamentals of writing code or the context in which code is used, developers using low-code or code suggestion tools will hit a limit in the quality and functionality of their code."

The rise of low-code and no-code will also help to further democratize tech jobs, creating more opportunities for talented individuals from non-tech or non-academic backgrounds.

A 2022 survey by developer recruitment platforms CoderPad and CodinGame found that 81% of tech recruiters now readily hire from 'no-degree' candidate profiles. CodinGame COO Aude Barral believes this trend will only grow as the demand for software professionals intensifies.

"In a fast-changing technological environment where coding is becoming the new literacy, mastering technology is part of today and tomorrow's mandatory employability skills in a digitalized world," Barral adds.

There is a lot of excitement around the concept of ambient computing – also referred to as ubiquitous computing – in which all computerised electronic devices can seamlessly interact with each other by tapping into a vast, interconnected computing network.

Within this immersive ambient information environment, access to the internet will be effortless via portable and embedded Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and augmented reality. To make these evolutions possible, IoT, IoB (Internet of Behaviour) and AI coding experts will find themselves in high demand, says Barral.

"The world of the internet is likely to evolve into one of ubiquitous connectivity that will further change the way people collaborate, gather, share information, and consume media," says Barral.

Mobile, wearable and embedded computing will be highly connected to the IoT. This raises a number of critical questions about how we secure the internet in the future; things are bad enough in our current hyperconnected society, and adding more endpoints into the mix could make things considerably more messy without proper forethought.

Organizations have begun working with third-party consulting firms to have their security protocols assessed, and Barral adds that multi-factor authentication and data-centric encryption measures are also coming into play. Most importantly, developers will also need to become highly attuned to emerging threats.

"Protecting identities and personal information will also be a major concern, and will benefit from the help of tools such as blockchain, encryption, or digital passports, requiring developers to become highly specialized in these fields."

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