Oct 30, 2020 - Valerie Silverthorne    

Future-proof your developer career

Roles are changing and AI is coming. We asked 14 DevOps practitioners, analysts, and GitLab execs how to future-proof your career.

This is the fourth and final part of our series on the future of software development. Part one examined how the software developer role is changing. Part two highlighted “future” technologies likely to impact the way software is created. Part three looked at the role artificial intelligence (AI) will play in software development.

Changing roles, emerging technologies, and the promise (or threat) of artificial intelligence are colliding, creating a critical question for software developers: how should you future-proof your career?

Anyone in the technology industry knows change is both swift and expected – remember Moore’s Law? But there’s change and then there’s a “big C” Change that would impact skills and potentially careers. The World Economic Forum, writing on the Pluralsight blog, shared a worrisome observation about the future: “Across nearly all industries, the impact of technological and other changes is shortening the shelf-life of employees’ existing skill sets… ”

So what skills will be sufficient to navigate the future? We asked 14 DevOps practitioners, analysts, and GitLab execs for their best advice.

Embrace the soft skills

In our 2020 Global DevSecOps Survey, developers, security pros, ops team members, and testers were unanimous in their choice of the most important skills for the future: communication and collaboration. It’s not particularly surprising – DevOps team members are increasingly finding themselves working even more closely together and often in different or new areas of the company. Communication and collaboration in those cases can be the difference between success and failure.

“You can’t have one brain that knows it all,” explains Darwin Sanoy, senior solutions architect, Americas, at GitLab. “You need communication and collaboration to work together.”

One way developers can fine-tune collab skills is to use their open source skills within their organizations, a practice known as “inner sourcing,” says Jose Manrique Lopez de la Fuente, CEO at Bitergia, and also a GitLab Hero. “You’re not doing open source alone,” Manrique says. “There are hundreds of developers worldwide also doing it. So, with those skills I learned working with other developers, how can I be transparent with people who are not only connected to my team? How can I get more involved with what’s going on in the company?” The more developers practice this skill, the easier it will get, he predicts.

It’s not just about tech

Although this seems counter-intuitive, future-proofing your career doesn’t necessarily mean boning up on new technologies. In our survey, 28% of developers said AI was an important skill to know for the future (and they’re probably not wrong), but most experts think it’s not wise to place all your energy in just a single specialty.

“It’s best if you migrate your career from specialty to specialty trying to ride the wave,” Darwin says. “Take a look at what is picking up momentum but is not bleeding edge yet.” GitLab’s director of product management, CI/CD Jason Yavorska suggests polishing up the basics. “You want solid tech skills like trouble-shooting, a current knowledge of modern stacks and a lot of basic things,” Jason explains. “You want to be a little bit more of a generalist than an expert in one field.”

This is definitely a time to take step back and look at the bigger picture, suggests Philip Lamb, global partner senior solutions architect – DevOps at Red Hat. He’s also a proponent of the power of generalization. “Focus less on specific tooling, software, and instead focus more on process and establishing a clear understanding of the sea changes DevOps brings,” he says. And don't forget that DevOps is going to look different for every organization.

Choose wisely

But if there’s one thing to keep in mind, above anything else, it’s this: “Avoid what AI is going to be good at,” Jason says. Forrester Research (and many others) think AI could be creating code in 10 years or less. “AI and machine learning could be the most disrupting things to come to your career,” he explains. “If you’ve built your job out of basic things you could find yourself redundant. Focus on things you (as a human) are capable of.”

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