The future of programming? To provide the means for creating innovation.

I recently ran across an Information Week article called The Future of Programming that forecasts a drop in the demand for programmers along with a drop in their stature withing companies. They described off-shoring and the fall-off of the Internet Boom as reasons for the decline.

I’ve been programming for a long time. Most recently I worked for a company that implemented a new platform for getting student leads to colleges and universities. The platform we built there worked so well that the company was sold after less than three years in existence for over $100 Million.

That doesn’t seem to me to be evidence of the decline in the value of custom-programmed business solutions.

In fact it seems evidence of the opposite — given the speed of business today, being able to implement a new business platform quickly has increasingly greater value. And creating new business platforms is the work of programmers.

Off-shoring can work, but it’s much more risky for a lot of reasons. And some things are much harder to off-shore. More importantly, however, off-shoring a project slows it development pace in almost all cases. To go fast and ‘do it right the first time’, the best bet is to have programmers local and embedded directly in the business.

In the end, there will always be competitive advantage to be had by companies ‘rolling their own’ applications — otherwise you can only get the same features that everyone else has.

And those who embed application developers in the business units so that they understand the business and are long-term members of the business will have an advantage over those who look at programming as a commodity.

For my part, I think that off-shoring in many ways has been a boon since there are many development projects that otherwise would be too expensive to develop.

A great programmer/programming team embedded in a business unit that has the vision to lead an industry will continue to be the source of real innovation for the foreseeable future.

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  • foo

    Recently? That article is from 2003! I thought we’re in 2009 now.

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  • Kevin

    True, it’s an older article — I ran across it posted to reddit tho just recently and didn’t realize how old it was. (Note to self: never write new posts before coffee…)

    Thanks for pointing this out — but I’ve heard a lot of similar criticisms more recently as well and I think the points are at somewhat relevant today.

    The earth is not as flat as the Friedmans would have us think. And closeness to the customer and the business context are attributes of a successful development effort that are too often overlooked as people simply focus on per-hour labor costs.

    Thanks for reading and for your comment -

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  • Marcus Adair

    I’ve heard this lately too, and I agree, it’s quite hollow when you consider the sheer value that’s created despite the incessant complaining about programmers in general. Personally I think it’s a red herring and that companies need to think about a whole lot more about how to have higher standards for middle managers and project managers more than anything else. The rarity in my experience of actually effective software development managers is unbelievable.

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