The Coding Gold Rush?

2017-07-19 at 21:15 Leave a comment

I’m enthusiastic about computers, and have been since the late 1970s, when my buddy Patrick (now an expat in Amsterdam) brought me to the Vogelback building at Northwestern, where he somehow had access to an account that let us play a Star Trek game and try our hand at programming in B.A.S.I.C. (Output was on large sheets of fanfolded paper, rather than a video display. I apologize to all the trees that died along with the imaginary Klingons.) Late 1970s personal computer with integrated mini-keyboard and video display And I was thrilled when my high school math department bought a handful of Commodore P.E.T.s for student use in my sophomore year.

One thing that has remained consistent over the past three decades is the predicted shortage of workers qualified for the predicted vast number of tech jobs.

I wonder to what degree it’s true? To me, it kind of smells like a bubble.

In the late 1980s, some of my cousins were caught holding “investment homes” at the top of the market, and it took years for them to recover. One thing I remember about that time is the glut of people selling information on how to become a real estate professional. I saw that again in the early 2000s. My suspicion is that professional real estate people decided it was more lucrative, easier, and/or less risky to make money by selling information than by selling real estate.

Pause for dramatic effect, and to let that sink in. Real estate seminars evidently were more reliably profitable than actual real estate.

A similar phenomenon attended the California gold rush of the 1840s and 50s — it was less risky and more profitable to sell equipment to gold prospectors than it was to actually go prospecting for gold. Likewise, in the 1890s, Seattle businesses made oodles of money outfitting prospectors heading to the Klondike.

Now I’m thinking about a career change involving my love for computers, and I see dozens of schools and coding boot camps, in all price ranges, offering to prep inexperienced people for work — as front end web developers, full stack devs, white-hat hackers. I remember what acquaintances told me 10 and 15 years ago about how hard it was to get a job programming. And I think, “If there’s so much money to be made coding, how come you guys are starting schools instead of working as coders?” (There are philanthropic explanations in some cases.)

And I think, “If companies really need web devs, why don’t they train them in-house the way they do with other technical skills they need?” And I look at the several YouTube channels of people talking about how they went to a coding boot camp, and how wonderful it was because it helped them become full-time vloggers; and I wonder if there’s really more money in a YouTube-affiliated channel than in working as a dev.

I think about how word processing software put millions of typists out of work (while expanding the workload (but not paychecks) of everyone else). I notice that artificial intelligence is poised to render millions of truck drivers unemployed, with predictions that knowledge workers’ jobs are next. And I wonder whether prospective coders are this generation’s real estate investors (or gold prospectors), with coding schools and camps filling the role of house flipping system trainers (or suppliers of prospecting equipment). Are we near the top of a coding bubble?

Of course, typists weren’t put out of work overnight, at least not en masse. Truck drivers will be replaced by A.I. somewhat gradually too, as laws and liability issues get worked out (the usual blanket disclaimer probably won’t cut it) and prices, relative to human drivers, seek equilibrium. (What will that be — an annual base subscription, plus commission per mile, per delivery, percentage of the value of the cargo, all payable to IBM, Google, or Amazon? Some kind of site licensing scheme? Will companies roll their own, or use illegally copied software?) And I don’t expect A.I. to replace human web devs all at once.

So, do I join the code rush, or do I look for something safer like teaching others to code? –MMlvx

Update 2017-08-01: I recently heard that Iron Yard coding bootcamp and Dev Bootcamp are going out of business. “Eli the Computer Guy” says he told us the coding boom too good to be true for long, and he actually makes a reasonable point about how, in just 3 years, the demand for new coders could not expand quickly enough to accommodate a 600% increase in supply. –MMlvx

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