JAVAONE - Developers' role shifting from apps to platforms

Untrained workers are moving into app dev space, pushing career developers into the platform space, a Sun engineer noted at JavaOne

A word to professional developers: Your job is being taken over by untrained neophytes, but you still will have plenty to do to keep yourself busy and employed.

This was the message for developers during a presentation by Sun engineer Todd Fast at the JavaOne conference last Friday in San Francisco. Fast argued that with applications having a shorter lifespan and non-professionals getting into the application development space, career software developers will increasingly become platform builders rather than application builders. He focused on the burgeoning Web development space.

During the presentation, entitled "Applications for the Masses by the Masses: Why Engineers Are an Endangered Species," Fast presented these three primary propositions: Software engineers will be an endangered species. High-school and college students will take over the jobs of software engineers. These engineers will not mind, because there still will be plenty of work.

The fact that students will take the reins of software development is "kind of scary," Fast said. But taking a lighthearted approach to his presentation, Fast said developers are not like other people and that has an impact. Developers have above average intelligence, do not dress well, and like weird things like Monty Python.

"We're at the edges of the population curve as software engineers," Fast said.

He cited the impact of social networking applications and Web 2.0 and how these trends are drawing more non-trained persons into software development. Social network applications are becoming the dominant way in which certain age groups interact.

Casual developers, those who do not identify themselves as engineers, can use templates in PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) and play around in MySpace, blogs, and RSS feeds.

"This is just kind of normal thing for them," Fast said. But these casual developers now are entering the workforce and also are building out the next-generation Web.

Meanwhile, applications are being built out of existing applications, and the need for software developers cannot keep up with the increasing demand.

"There aren't enough of us to actually produce the cool stuff that people want," said Fast.

The traditional perspective of an application is a program that solves other people's use cases and is big, difficult to write, and takes time. Only highly skilled experts can create them. Java, for its part, is rich platform geared toward solving difficult problems, but it also is very complex, Fast said.

But today, Web applications are being built to solve short-lived needs. There has been an explosive growth in non-traditional Web applications, such as widgets, social applications, mashups, and situational applications.

"The definition of applications is changing, the common perception of applications is changing," said Fast.

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Paul Krill

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