Why Today’s Developers Might Be Programming Themselves Out of Tomorrow’s Jobs

Christopher Kahler is a co-founder and CEO of Qriously, a service for measuring real-time public sentiment by replacing ads with questions in smartphone apps. Follow him on Twitter

In late 2010, Apple approved 14-year-old Robert Nay’s app, Bubble Ball, for publishing on the App Store, where it quickly racked up 2 million users and, for a short while, even wrested the ever-popular Angry Birds from its perch at the top of the download charts. It’s a staggering achievement for a young teen with no formal programming experience -– never mind education. No skills. Nada. Zip.

Nay used an application called Corona that essentially allows users to build smartphone apps using a graphical interface, eliminating the need of any coding skills. He’s a pioneering user of the next generation of platform dependencies — innovations upon which further innovations can be built.

The term “platform dependency,” referring to products and services that are symbiotic with an existing platform (FarmVille on Facebook, Tweetdeck on Twitter, Rapportive on Gmail, and so on), has been discussed at length in several recent blog posts that weigh its dangers and opportunities.

While these relationships are not unique to “our” industry, the heady pace of evolution in the information sector, modeled with equal parts idealism and fantasy, is pointing toward some fascinating outcomes. The most fascinating of these is also the most paradoxical: The smartest kids are coding themselves into unemployment.

Before I’m viciously indicted with committing the Luddite fallacy, give me a chance to qualify: Smart kids code platforms that are making it increasingly redundant to know how to code — look at Nay for instance. As such, coding as a skill is becoming a casualty of efficiency, which is a beautiful thing. Coding is a means to an end, and if new methods are developed that enable us normal folks to achieve comparable results, then that’s a win in my book.

To a certain extent this is already happening, albeit to a less romantic degree. Take Google App Engine for instance. Instead of needing to set up whole server infrastructures, you just upload a simple web app and Google handles everything else, from load-balancing to scaling. Many companies don’t even go that far. A Facebook Page, with its built-in tools to distribute content, advertise, promote and engage with an audience, is often all you need.

Beyond the purely technical realm, services and layers are appearing to make aesthetic skills more and more redundant as well. Enterprise software company Cloudera used 99designs, which recently scored $25 million in funding, to crowdsource its logo on the cheap. And apps like Instagram and Retro Camera that allow users with little “skill” to take brilliant photographs.

Eventually, you won’t need to have any technical knowledge in a world increasingly defined by technology.

Rather, the only thing you will need to have is an idea, and having good ones will be the only meaningful thing setting you apart from others. I like to think of it as the triumph of creativity over learned skill — a change that some believe has ramifications for formal education as well.

The only remaining question is: Where are your ideas going to bubble up from?

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