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What will developers do with 40% more time?

Those with tech skills are set to get a lot of time back when artificial intelligence writes the boring and repetitive code, writes Tommy Haviland, Senior Director of Enterprise, Digital and Financial Technology for Japan.

Close up shot of male wearing glasses looking to the right

The pessimists have got it all wrong. Artificial intelligence (AI) won’t take your coding job. On the contrary, there’s going to be a jobs bonanza. There will be more work, more interesting projects, and more time for programmers to do the things they really want to do. In short, despite big tech layoffs and panic in the jobs market, we’re on the verge of a golden age of work.

The machines are going to make our lives better. Chat GPT, Google Bard, GitHub Copilot and the rest will do the mundane tasks and the more tedious coding. That could eventually leave coders with as much as 40% more time. That’s time to focus on strategic and creative work, take on a greater variety of projects, or simply spend with their families and enjoying leisure.

And let’s not forget that AI will probably do all this while also making a huge contribution to solving some of society’s biggest challenges. It can help us make public services fairer, treat health conditions like cancer, develop new vaccines, reach net zero and scale up biodiversity.

Unpopular opinion: AI will create a lot of jobs

In the medium term there is going to be a jobs boom. AI is still in its infancy, and like any toddler it makes mistakes. From declarations of love to prompting suicide and sharing disinformation about 9/11, we’ve seen what happens when AI is left to its own devices. The prospect of machines writing industrial amounts of code will see companies scrambling to hire people with the skills to check what their AI is doing.

Some coders are already doing more interesting work as machines take on the boring tasks. By the time AI is smart enough to check its own code, human beings will have largely moved on. Unlike machines, programmers have a real understanding of human emotions and how people react to technology. We shouldn’t underestimate the potential of AI but it’s likely that they will always be needed to make sure AI-generated code works for other humans. And the more creativity a task requires, the more likely it is that human intervention will be needed to complete it.

We’re already seeing how this might work in practice. One of our clients in Germany uses Midjourney, a kind of Chat GPT for graphics, to develop initial protypes of video games, giving its programmers more time to focus on the highly creative aspects of game designs that add real value and ultimately drive sales. AI simply makes the programmers faster and more efficient.

Programmers themselves are feeling the benefit. GitHub surveyed 2,000 developers and 88% said they were more productive when using Copilot, its AI-assisted development tool. That was thanks to benefits like spending less time searching for code and getting stuck on, or bored with, repetitive tasks.

There’s a growing tech skills gap

While the opportunities presented by the technology seem limitless, a shortage of tech expertise could slow the shift to AI for many companies. McKinsey’s The State of AI report found that software engineers were in extremely high demand from those integrating AI last year. Data engineers, AI data scientists and machine learning engineers were also highly sought after. And with limited numbers of experts, they are becoming increasingly valuable.

And we’ve seen the rise of a completely new discipline, prompt engineering, based entirely on the need to correct AI’s mistakes and fine tune the weirdness out of the system. Prompt engineers help developers stress test their AI models using ordinary written or spoken language – not code – to find out why AI gets things wrong. Roles have been advertised for as much as $335,000, but it’s uncertain whether it’s a job that can survive the evolution of AI.

The truth is that prompt engineering itself will probably evolve. Rather than being a discipline in its own right, it will become part of every coder’s skill set. And it will increasingly be used at the start of the coding process to articulate to the AI what kind of functionality and product its code is expected to deliver.

How will we fill all the roles AI create?

So, the question is not whether AI will take programmers’ jobs. It is ‘how will we fill all of the roles that it creates?’ To reach AI’s full potential we are going to need a lot more people with coding expertise. McKinsey found that companies are already responding by reskilling both technical and non-technical staff. This is a very good approach since some jobs, such as data entry, and even accounting, are certainly under threat from AI.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report suggests that 85 million jobs may be displaced by the shift in the division of labour between humans and machines by 2025. It points out, however, that another 97 million new roles may emerge over the same period. Reskilling those who have lost out so that they can seize these new opportunities is essential. Experiential learning, self-directed online courses and certification programmes are already being used to bring existing employees up to speed.

It won’t be enough to fill the growing skills gap. Already, Boston Consulting Group research has found that companies that have scaled AI across their business and achieved meaningful value have invested heavily in people. They typically dedicate 10% of their investment to algorithms, 20% to technologies and 70% to embedding AI into business processes and agile ways of working. In other words, these organisations invest more than twice as much in people and processes as they do in technologies.

To match this kind of investment, businesses must leave no stone unturned in the hunt for talent. They will have to look everywhere from universities and technology companies to training academies, diversity focused programmes and professional organisations.

The future for tech professionals is brighter than ever before. As AI develops, its benefits will increase. Initially, those with coding skills are going to find themselves wooed by companies desperate to tap their expertise for AI integration. Over time, however, programmers are going to have to decide how to use all the extra time that AI gives them.

Learn more about SThree’s global brands recruiting right now for tech expertise.

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