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Michael Smith
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Thirty Years Writing Code: What’s Next in Software Development?

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I started out in the software industry in 1986, working for an aviation company. That’s 30 years doing a job I love so much that I go home on the weekends and code. It’s different now. Most people now carry a phone which would have been a supercomputer in the 1980s. The paper based information economy is almost gone. There is this expectation of connectedness that didn’t exist in the past, and this creates opportunities that didn’t exist before.

There is software in just about everything we use now. Not just the obvious things like our mobile phones. It’s in light bulbs, USB cables and train tickets. Our new highly integrated environment introduces us to Big Data. Hardly anybody processes small datasets anymore. There is very little you can’t find out now with access to the right data sets. Amateurs like me track airplanes with little radio receivers.

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Many people would have changed industries by now, but the fact is that mine has gotten better with time. There is more variety. Web development and SEO didn’t exist when I joined the industry. Buying a new computer used to take weeks, now it just takes five clicks on amazon and you can log right in and start work.

And for the future, the Internet of Things. The small computers living inside our devices will become more interconnected, and more powerful. Just as few people buy desktop computers now, the mobile phone may go the same way as people find less intrusive ways to access their information. My bet is on low power processors, pervasive networking and strong standards for data interchange.

When I started out, computers were machines that worked in isolation. They didn’t communicate because the standards didn’t exist to exchange data. Now our computers are only a small part of a global gestalt of information. Cloud services glue our systems together. You take it for granted that when you buy a new phone, its data will be restored when you log in, and that even if your phone can’t view a particular file, there will be a web service that can do it for you.

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Cheap, low power systems have also transformed the way we interact with our environment. We plug our phones in once a day and it’s online all the time. Cheap photovoltaic power supplies keep remote webcams operating 24/7. Devices like this used to require hundreds of watts to operate and were tied to mains power. Now, an internet node can be anywhere in the world. It will run all the time and works out of the box.

It’s a different, but much more interesting, world now. Another thirty years… I can’t wait to find out.

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By Michael Smith


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