You have probably heard how tomorrow’s jobs will be very different from today’s. Of course no one has a crystal ball (that actually works) but various predictions of the future show that a significant number of the jobs that exist today won’t exist in 20-50 years’ time, or if they do they will require a very different set of skills to what they require now. You have also heard that coding, or programming, is a must-have skill for those who want to be competitive in the workforce of the future.
These two points are of course linked, as it is technological advancement that is the main driving force changing the types of jobs we all do, and coding is an indispensable part of technology. But how?
It is technological advancement that is the main driving force changing the types of jobs we all do, and coding is an indispensable part of technology.
Let’s start with the obvious: writing software. Our daily lives rely on several bits of software on our computers and smartphones, and the software we depend on today is not the same set of programs we relied on 5 or 10 years ago. Someone needs to write all this software, software developers are computer programmers, of course. Indeed software is becoming more ubiquitous not just because it can assist us with more and more of our daily tasks, but it is rapidly spreading from computers and smartphones to all sorts of appliances and devices, from watches to TVs, and ovens and heating systems, and cars and trains, and the list is growing rapidly. As the rate of development of new technology increases rapidly, the rate of computer programmers required will also increase.
Then there are the less obvious jobs that depend on programming skills. The easiest ones to discuss are the ones that exist already: the financial world already relies on armies of employees equipped with advanced coding skills. Of course coding skills are not sufficient for these jobs: often advanced mathematical/scientific skills are also essential. Large companies and corporations also already employ an increasing number of data scientists – a profession in which programming and statistical/scientific skills are combined in order to make sense of the large amount of data that is collected today, and trying to use that data to provide insights on improving the institution’s performance and efficiency.
Indeed data is what is changing our society and hence the jobs that will be required within it. Discussing data requires its own entire blog post (or ten); for the purposes of this discussion it suffices to say that it’s all the information that is collected everyday; and as modern technology makes collecting and storing data easier, more of it is being collected: diagnoses of disease, driving offences, Oyster cards being tapped on busses and tube stations, CCTV images, search terms on Google, orange juice cartons bought per day… the list is endless.
This will affect most, if not all jobs in due course. How? Well, we don’t know yet. But we can speculate. Let’s do so picking a few existing professions as an example.
Lawyers, judges and legislators: we can envisage computer programs that combine data relating to people’s behaviour relating to a certain aspect of society and the relevant laws and regulations. Such an algorithm could be used to highlight the likelihood of conviction based on existing legislation and precedent which could play a prominent role in the Justice system. As such the legal profession would have to rely on individuals with expertise in both law and computer programming to specialise in this aspect of the legal profession. Similarly, legislators could have algorithms that test various policy alternatives with real historical data to help assess which policy might work best, and indeed to detect changes in society that might warrant changes in policy. Yet again computer programming skills could become a key skill in legislative institutions.
Doctors and surgeons: Every day, millions of people are being treated using various medical techniques for dealing with numerous medical conditions, with each patient having a distinct history and different outcomes to their treatment. As these data become increasingly available, we can predict a version of the future when a doctor can rely on a computer algorithm that looks at all the past and present data to highlight what course of action might be most appropriate for each individual patient. Medical research would therefore require individuals who are capable of designing computer algorithms as well as understanding the medical implications.
Computer programming will no longer be a stand alone profession but it will become an essential skill alongside other skills required for performing a job.
Indeed we can think of a similar scenario for most existing jobs and professions, and for the jobs and professions that don’t exist yet. It is now clear that computer algorithms and computer programs will have an ever increasing impact in our everyday lives. And as this happens it is likely that computer programming will no longer be a stand alone profession but it will become an essential skill alongside other skills required for performing a job.