There’s nothing beyond automation but possibility

The Web is going to have a great deal of custom-application software to write. You’re not just going to be able to buy something off the shelf. You’re going to have to hook the Web into you order-management systems, your collection systems. It’s going to be an incredible amount of work.

The number of applications that need to be written is growing exponentially. Unless we can find a way to write them in a tenth of the time, we’re toast.”

Steve Jobs, ruminating on software, about 21 years ago.

He was right. He was talking specifically about ecommerce. That incredible amount of work was largely done by Amazon, to support their rapidly growing business. AWS was a by-product, that heralded 1000′s of new startups (and custom software).

In the meantime, developers also found ways to write better software. Javascript libraries and cheap servers (again, thanks to Amazon) means it’s never been faster or easier to build and deploy a web app to the entire world (and scale it up if it gets traction).

Now, where do we go from here?

Over the past 6 months I’ve been exploring the world of code, and I’m really intrigued with the mindset of skilled software engineers. This post is inspired by a chat with resident magician Leejay Xia.

Let’s squint into the future.

I’m long software. 

Let’s assume the cost of building customizable software will continue to drop, like it has been for the past decade.

Just like developers no longer need to rack servers, or hand-write css, they will continue to move onto higher levels of abstraction.

What do developers do when software writes itself? 

You’ll probably still need someone to shepherd that creative’ process. Someone, or something that says no to things, tells a story, stands out from competitors, orientates around people and does unexpected or interesting things. 

So at that level, you still need to ‘design’ it. I’m using the verb design as it’s second definition there, “purpose, planning, or intention that exists behind an action, fact, or material object”. 

There’s two sides to this future of work.

One is positive, one is negative.

The positive is the possibility of automation. We tend to think of automation as cheating, or as non-creative. That’s wrong.  The way I see it is there’s really nothing beyond automation, but infinite possibilities. When software eats the world, we’re saying everything is automated.

The negative is, that ‘shepherd’, that thing in control of the process of creation might not be human.

September 29, 2017