IT Employment

Two programmers speculate on the future of software development

In 10 years, will most corporate software development be completed outside the United States? Two veteran developers explore this question and consider other possible industry trends.

During an interview with, former CNET developers Dan Seewer and Kevin Cobb discussed the future of software development, from offshore development to the possibility of developers earning licensure. Dan has more than 17 years of experience in software development, including Perl, C, Java, and C#. Kevin has more than five years of experience and is a Sun-certified Java programmer. In broadest terms, where do you two see software development heading in the next five years?

Dan: I feel there's still a major movement in the industry to shift software engineering jobs offshore.

Kevin: I see that in some places as well. It's kind of like the auto industry or like moving jobs out of the country because, to be blunt, they can do it cheaper elsewhere. So do you feel the mainland developer is endangered?

Kevin: I'm not sure I would use the word endangered.

Dan: However, top-level business leaders can't ignore such a "value" proposition.

Kevin: Especially in today's economic environment. Are we just talking about bulk-level coding going overseas or are high-level architectural functions also moving offshore?

Dan: Lots of major software development companies have set up development shops in [for instance] India.

Kevin: But I have to wonder what kind of quality companies are getting overseas.

Dan: It has evolved from maintaining legacy software into "owning" a software product entirely. That is, they're developing it from start to finish. This segues into the next question: Where do you two stand on prepackaged vs. in-house software? If the major commercial developers are going overseas, will in-house development also be exported?

Kevin: Why not? If they can get things accomplished for prepackaged stuff, why not move the in-house stuff over as well?

Dan: I think this area of software engineering will be safe. Smaller development shops and startups won't be able to easily interface with the offshore companies. Do you two expect offshore vs. mainland software engineering competition to increase?

Kevin: Yes, but we could see shops that exist out of the United States that specialize in the smaller, in-house applications. So how long before you guys move to India?

Dan: I don't think it will come to that, but I have considered taking some language courses in Hindi. I do believe the movement is gaining momentum, but time will tell if it's sustainable.

Kevin: I'm not really worried. I think that more and more companies will ship things offshore, but I believe that there will be plenty left for quality SEs like Dan and me. Let's move on to the issue of documentation. Do you foresee any obstacles to repurposing code developed overseas, considering that some of the documentation may not be in English?

Kevin: Documentation? We don't need no stinkin' documentation!

[Laughter] So you wouldn't have any concerns about using a library that was developed overseas?

Dan: I don't think that will be an issue. For the record, I've never worked with an offshore development company, although I'd love to hear from members who do have experience in that area. Now on to something more technical: Do you two expect any other significant software engineering shake-ups in the next five years?

Kevin: I don't expect much to change.

Dan: I'd love to see the title of "software engineering" carry some meaning, possibly even an actual regulated professional title, like a real engineer in some states. It would require passing some sort of licensure.

Kevin: A friend of ours started a discussion some time ago about this topic. He drew the analogy of building a bridge and the need to have bridge architects who have degrees and are certified in their field. I don't think it's necessary for the entire industry to move toward a mandatory certification or licensure system. But a couple of examples I could see where it would be necessary are for people who design and write air traffic control software and for the many software products that run medical equipment.

Dan: It's tough to require a specific language since there are so many that are still actively in use. You don't see this as similar to passing the bar exam, where you can't practice without licensure?

Dan: Bingo! I think it would be a more difficult "exam" to formulate. Anyone who is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) should check out the excellent article on licensure in the November 2002 edition of the Communication of the ADM magazine. Would you suggest regulating certain projects that would require a licensed software engineer?

Kevin: Yes, I would agree with that.

Dan: I would agree that it would be tough to require it, but if you establish it, it could be one of those things that you can say, "Why don't you have your license?" If they're willing to overlook it, so be it.