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12 predictions for the future of programming

Peter Wayner | Feb. 4, 2014
If hitting a target is hard and hitting a moving target is even harder, then creating a new hit technology is next to impossible because the shape and nature of the target morphs as it moves. Think of building a swish new laptop just as laptops are heading out of favor, or a must-have mobile app just as smartphones plateau, or a dynamite tablet experience just as the wearable future takes hold.

The fact is, command lines are too flexible and too universal to be supplanted. Pretty GUIs with clicky interfaces and drag-and-drop widgets may get attention, but the programmers keep reverting to text.

Ease of scripting is at the center of the command lines' continual resurgence. While some companies such as Apple have decent tools for scripting GUIs, they've never been as flexible or as stackable as the command line. How many people write shell scripts for their Macs, and how many write AppleScripts?

The command line will live on because it's simple and extensible. If you have a script, you can easily extend it and glue it into other scripts.

Future of programming prediction No. 10: Dumbing it down will fail

For the past 50 years, programmers have tried to make it easy for people to learn programming, and for 50 years they've succeeded — but only at teaching the most basic tasks. Ninety-five percent of the world may be able to figure out if-then-else structures, but that's not the same thing as being a programmer.

That won't prevent well-meaning folks from trying to dumb down programming even further so that everyone will be able to do it. Evangelists will sell big dreams of a world where everyone programs, and they'll wheedle big grants with claims that the only way country X can stay ahead of the game is if every citizen in X learns to program Ruby or their VCR.

Alas, true programming means understanding the unseen numbers dancing around in the little box. It means understanding the conventions for creating software and for partitioning responsibility, so the software can run cleanly. Only a few brains seem to be able to handle this work, and it seems unlikely that the proportion of people with this ability will change markedly after 50-plus years of trying. Teaching everyone to grok if-then-else clauses is a nice idea, but it's not the same as creating more programmers.

And no, developing languages whose syntaxes are more "English-like" won't help either.

Future of programming prediction No. 11: Outsourcing and insourcing will remain deadlocked

One standard prediction is that all programming work will flow to countries with the cheapest wages.

This bold law of economics is mirrored by the prediction that low-end work will be replaced by automated tools, and the real jobs will be for those who understand the business.

Both will continue to be true. Outsourcing teams will win jobs with low bids but be squeezed by new automated tools. One set of websites makes it easy to hire low-wage workers across the globe. Another set of sites is making it easier and easier to go from 0 to 60 without hiring teams of people. Squads that depend on outsourcing contracts will find themselves bidding against internal teams of people who know the business and don't need help.


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