Steve Ranger's Notebook: Will the Lego app-building phenomenon make us all the CIOs of tomorrow?
One unexpected consequence of the cloud could be the death of programming - and that could mean one day, we'll all be coders, writes silicon.com editor Steve Ranger.
We've been promised all sorts of benefits from cloud computing: faster development, cheaper applications - and even a recession-friendly switch from capex to opex for IT projects.
All of this is marvellous news for the CIO, but could it be that the cloud is anything but good news for the humble techie?
Certainly those IT workers who spend their time taking care of rickety, homegrown enterprise applications will find their jobs automated when the business moves to cloud applications instead. But as cloud computing matures over the next few years, could the impact on tech workers be even greater? Could the cloud really kill off programming altogether?
In this new cloud computing world, so the argument goes, any element needed to build an application will already exist on the web somewhere, so all that will be needed is for someone to connect up this series of ready-made modules and APIs in order to create a new application.
In this scenario, no coding is required, or at least not at the level that it is done today - we need architects, but can do without builders.
"People fundamentally don't realise where cloud computing is going to wind up," Don Ferguson, CTO at CA Technologies told me at the company's customer conference earlier this week.
"We aren't going to write programs anymore, we are going to find something and configure it. No more programming - that's the way IT is going to be."
If this does come to pass, we won't need programmers because, in a sense, we will all be developers, able to create our own applications from the Lego-like code we find on the internet.
In the same way the web has changed from being a read-only experience to being something we can also write, edit and contribute to, thanks to the rise of what was once called web 2.0, so we will stop being passive consumers of apps and start being end-user programmers - or, as Ferguson puts it: "My daughter might not want to be a programmer but she will be able to do it."
The seeds of this phenomenon have already been sown. Even today, setting up a software-as-a-service application is often about configuring the options, rather than actually doing any hardcore coding.
And, in the same way the nascent BYO device culture is turning end users into consumer hardware experts, so the cloud will soon turn us all into reluctant applications developers.
There's a second unintended consequence of the cloud - that if we are all programmers now, then the idea of a company having a user interface for its customers to access its services through is no longer a meaningful idea.
If, for example, I am taking the data from my airline and having it automatically inputted into a personalised app which will co-ordinate information about my flight, my accommodation preferences, details of all my meetings and transport plans, and then throw in a couple of dinner suggestions, I'm unlikely to care about what the airline's site or app looked like in the first place - I just want a stream of data I can use as I choose, not an interface that makes me interact with a service in a manner not of my choosing.
I'm not entirely sure all the elements are in place to let non-technical users build their own apps from the software equivalent of Lego quite yet, and I'm not entirely sure many workers are willing to try, either. However, it's entirely possible that in a few years it could become the norm.
So what does this mean for IT skills in the UK? We've spent a lot of time bemoaning the declining number of entry-level programmer jobs available here, largely because it makes it harder for new entrants to progress up the career ladder when the first rung is missing. But if the role of the programmer goes away, perhaps we'll have to rethink career progression in the IT industry.
And an even more worrying thought - if we're all going to be developers, does that make us all the CIOs of tomorrow?
Steve Ranger is the editor of silicon.com and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, culture and business for over a decade. You can find him tweeting @steveranger.