Ask HS: What will programming and architecture look like in 2020?

This topic has been ripped directly from Lambda the Ultimate's What will programming look like in 2020? post. They are having a lively discussion and if you are interested in flexing your holiday thought muscles we might have a good discussion too.

Eight years is a difficult prediction horizon. It's too short to simply project out current trends and it's too long to discount potential technological breakthroughs coming to market. There's the challenge.

Some of my lousy predictions:

  • Programmers Will Form Guilds Around New Gamified Training Hubs
  • The Web Will Become More Closed Before it Becomes More Open
  • Not Everyone Will Become a Programmer
  • Focus Will Shift to Creating Bigger People Instead of Chasing Big Ideas

Programmers Will Form Guilds Around New Gamified Training Hubs

I was reading a book called The Merchant of Prato, the fascinating story of a rich merchant during the Renaissance, drawn directly from his own voluminous records and letters. His was a turbulent time. A time of constant threat from plague, incessant war, and political intrigue. Our world is a flat lake in comparison.

However different his world was from ours there was also a familiarity.  He complained about taxes levied for war and tried to bribe his way out of them. He spent years designing and building his magnificent house (he of course had problems with contractors). Double entry book keeping had just been invented so he spent countless hours keeping the books for is far flung enterprises. He had a farm, grew food, wrote letters, kept detailed books, celebrated marriages, made investments, bought clothes, complained about his neighbors, drew up contracts, and a hundred other familiar things.

Much was different as well. Religion was everything. He spent a lot of money on the poor, building churches, and other devotions...and not just because he had to. He signed his correspondence with something like "For God and Profit." Communication was slow and lossy. Mail had to be sent along multiple routes to make sure it would eventually arrived. Food was surprisingly spicy, filled with cinnamon, cardamom, and other products o international trade. It was in everything. Medical treatment was barbarous and expensive. There was a constant preoccupation will all types of ailments with little hope of relief. Family was far more encompassing than it is in our age. As the rich head (capa) of the family he was directly responsible for a very large family tree of cousins, friends, and even the relatives of the people that worked for him. The free and easy use of slaves was jarring as were religious based laws and wars. Trade was much riskier in his day as his partnerships were completely responsible for losses. Today corporations enjoy many government provided protections that were unknown in his time. Also a curiosity was the long sales cycles associated with long distance trade and the surprisingly low profit margins. Buying wool in England, transporting it back to Italy, making it into saleable goods, and then getting the goods to market, could take three years! And for that the return was calculated to be 10%. Astonishing.

One thing I noticed was the extensive role guilds played in their economy. If you were part of a trade you were part of a powerful guild. I can see the potential for new guilds forming around online schools like Coursera that will train people in exchange for hiring them out to companies. Today we are in the process of inverting the evolution made during the renaissance of craftsman to artist. Programmers were once artists of a sort. Now we want them to become craftsman, trained by guild schools with a specific skill, to be hired out by the job.

Historically programmers were often self trained, coming from diverse backgrounds. Even university trained programmers still had something of a generalist education. But the idea of developing well rounded people, capable of being ruled by the rule of law, through a liberal education, has taken a hit as specialization becomes over valued. This is a worrisome development.

Guilds could form through the power of evolved authority and authentication. The assumption is that the role of the University is reduced and education becomes more specialized and short term results driven. In that world how do you know who has real skills?

With Cisco training, for example, your Cisco certifications are your credentials. We haven't seen this model of certification move to programming in general. We probably will as these new training hubs form and begin to monetize through being a body shop rather than through fees. A few Guilds will become popular and their certs will have more value. Some Guilds will gain credibility through association with the old order, for example, they will have a Stanford provenance. Other Guilds may form around Hacker Spaces. Still others will form around even more radical organizations serving a more specialized clientele.

Via small networks potential programmers will flock to these Guilds and the phenomena becomes self-reinforcing. Guilds may specialize around certain subjects, as guilds did in the past. These Guilds will recognize their power and monetization opportunities and take a greater and greater role across the entire value chain.

The scalability of online training means vast numbers of potential programmers can be filtered out and stratified into various skill levels and specialties, much like a MMORPG across a vast virtual world. Programmers will gain experience points by being apprenticed on projects that have been bid out. Each project can be thought of as a quest. As new skills are required the Guild can bring on new training and integrate it into the game, quickly creating pools of new subject matter experts.

This will be cheap labor and will be highly profitable. Masters will evolve that can access large pools of labor. Specialized tiger teams can form to solve difficult problems, all mediated by these new training Guilds as the Game Master controlling their Game World.

Virtual economies can evolve around code and skills. Each Guild may evolve their own infrastructure, code banks, tools, styles, networks and processes that will make bootstrapping new projects even more profitable. Instead of GitHub we'll see Guild Hubs. Instead of the Amazon Cloud we'll see Guild Clouds. Instead of Frameworks we'll see Guild Frameworks. These will not be open as they will be used as a competitive advantage as the open source community is compelled by game mechanics to become part of a Guild.

Will guilds, like in the Renaissance, be formal parts of the government having government enforced powers and benefits? It's not hard to imagine, especially if privatization becomes more popular. But even without the government picking winners, through market forces very powerful actors can emerge by controlling the supply of a necessary good.

Will this happen? Who knows. That's why it's a prediction :-)

The Web Will Become More Closed Before it Becomes More Open

In the late nineteenth century the international economy was growing thanks to technological innovation and a relatively free trade policy. Then prior to WWI empire building became the prime monetization strategy and protectionism ruled the waves. The world economy sucked. It wasn't until after WWII that there was a conscious move back to a system of world wide free trade, which resulted in another era of solid economic growth.

We have a similar situation on the web. A once open and free web was a tide that raised a lot of Adam Smith's boats. Instead of recognizing that this wealth did not arise from any sort of technological exceptionalism, but an ecosystem of open and free innovation, empire building has once again become the preferred monetization strategy. We will all suffer from it. A rising tide generates far more value than empire, but the empire's can't, in their lust, see that. It will take a while, but a lot of boats will sink and then everyone will hold hands again and we'll all get along. Those war impulses will once again be sublimated in to real competition instead of concentration, where they belong.

Not Everyone Will Become a Programmer

With some frequency there are recommendations that everyone should learn to program. In the same way not everyone will become a master chef or a brain surgeon, not everyone can program. Programming is hard. Programming is a disciplined mode of sustained thought and world simulation that requires a well practiced talent to do well. It’s not about a language or a computer or HTML. This won't change by 2020...if ever. Sure, we may have the programming equivalent of easy to cook frozen meals, not that's not exactly Iron Chef.

Focus Will Shift to Creating Bigger People Instead of Chasing Big Ideas

A lot of hype surrounds chasing the next Big Idea. A goal most people must necessarily fail at achieving. We will instead find value in making Bigger People. The Big Idea is an end without regard to means. Bigger People are the means. If we make Bigger People then the ends will take care of themselves. And everyone can become a Bigger Person.

What do you think the future will look like?