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11 predictions for the future of programming

Peter Wayner | Jan. 10, 2017
Our coding crystal ball clues you into the twists and turns your programming career may take in the years ahead

It won’t happen overnight, and it’s not clear exactly what shape it will be, but it’s clear that more and more business plans depend on machine learning algorithms finding the best solutions.

UI design will get more complicated as PCs continue to fade

Each day it seems like there is one fewer reason for you to use a PC. Between the rise of smartphones, living room consoles, and the tablet, the only folks who still seem to cling to PCs are office workers and students who need to turn in an assignment.

This can be a challenge for programmers. It used to be easy to assume that software or website users would have a keyboard and a mouse. Now many users don’t have either. Smartphone users are mashing their fingers into a glass screen that barely has room for all 26 letters. Console users are pushing arrow keys on a remote.

Designing websites is getting trickier because a touch event is slightly different from a click event. Users have different amounts of precision and screens vary greatly in size. It’s not easy to keep it all straight, and it’s only going to get worse in the years ahead.

The end of openness

The passing of the PC isn’t only the slow death of a particular form factor. It’s the dying of a particularly open and welcoming marketplace. The death of the PC will be a closing of possibilities.

When the PCs first shipped, a programmer could compile code, copy it onto disks, pop those disks into ziplock bags, and the world could buy it. There was no middle man, no gatekeeper, no stern central force asking us to say, “Mother, may I?”

Consoles are tightly locked down. No one gets into that marketplace without an investment of capital. The app stores are a bit more open, but they’re still walled gardens that limit what we can do. Sure, they are still open to programmers who jump through the right hoops but anyone who makes a false move can be tossed. (Somehow they’re always delaying our apps while the malware slips through. Go figure.)

This distinction is important for open source. It’s not solely about selling floppy disks in baggies. We’re losing the ability to share code because we’re losing the ability to compile and run code. The end of the PC is a big part of the end of openness. For now, most of the people reading this probably have a decent desktop that can compile and run code, but that’s slowly changing.

Fewer people have the opportunity to write code and share it. For all of the talk about the need to teach the next generation to program, there are fewer practical vectors for open code to be distributed.


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