Issue #34: Job Market,  Library

Chad Fowler

There was a time when I advertised my services as “Ruby on Rails” programmer. It was by that time that I got to learn the names and work of many people in that field; many of whom had come from the J2EE world, were tired of configuring everything in XML files, and preferred to use… YAML files instead. OK, I am being sarcastic here. Ruby on Rails was truly revolutionary when it appeared.

Chad Fowler was one of the names that popped up constantly in the Rails Galaxy. A prolific author between 2004 to 2013, musician and label owner, he later moved to Berlin where he took care of the late Wunderlist application until it was gobbled and discontinued by Microsoft.

Among his books, there are two that stand out, both flawlessly passing the test of time. The first being “My Job Went To India”, which is the subject of this article. The second one, “The Passionate Programmer” deserves a De Programmatica Ipsum Library entry of its own.

When I read the former for the first time in 2005, the hype of the moment in the Swiss software industry was, without any doubt, offshoring. Companies of all sizes were setting up development teams elsewhere in the world; Romania, Morocco, Ukraine, Vietnam, Peru. For a little while it seemed to me that my job as a developer was going to disappear overnight.

The title of the book was (apparently) a pun on an actual t-shirt sold by an American software engineer who had lost their job in 2004. But this is pure speculation. Said t-shirt was apparently made in sweatshops in Indonesia, a fact that sounded outrageous even at a time when there was not much awareness yet about the work conditions in those places.

Reading this book triggered me in various ways. I started marketing myself as an “Enterprise Architect” (whatever that means); I started working in technologies other than the ones provided by Microsoft (which had been my job up until that point); and I decided to study and get a Master’s degree. Which I finished three years later. I also devoted more time to study Mac OS X and Cocoa, a choice that would eventually prove fruitful as I started a career as an iPhone app developer in 2008.

(So, Chad, if you ever read these lines; thanks a lot. Really.)

The book is a collection of useful tips and tricks to restart our careers in the face of offshoring and outsourcing. You can read it in a mere afternoon, but be ready to take notes. There is a lot of insight in it. I am not going to enumerate them here. Get your copy and read it.

But I digress; looking backwards, at least in the Swiss market, the promise of offshoring was only fulfilled to a certain degree. Companies still hired developers in the local market, and in staggering numbers. Code is still being written in Switzerland, in collaboration with engineers somewhere else in the planet, certainly, but a lot of code is written here everyday.

But for how long?

As I write these words, GitHub Copilot has become the new sensation du jour in software engineering circles. Licensing issues aside, it represents a wake-up call for all of us in this industry.

The current version of Copilot is a work in progress, available to a select few who applied to the beta program. The results are pouring in on Twitter, and even if many choices made by its AI engine are laughable at best, it is the firm conviction of the writer of these words that it will inevitably get better. Due to public outcry, the licensing issues will eventually be ironed out, and the engine will get better over time.

Depending on how you look at it, Copilot could represent the Sherlocking of Stack Overflow. But this is a rushed appreciation. I think Copilot is actually more of the embrace, extend, and extinguish strategy used by Microsoft.

And this time, the target is Free and Open Source code.

I wonder if there would ever be an updated edition of this book, called “My Job Was Killed By Copilot”. But I do not think this will happen. Maybe Copilot will fade away, and developers will just have to correct the code generated by it? Maybe Copilot will face the same fate as offshoring in Switzerland? Maybe.

To finish these thoughts, I must say that I would personally have added one more item to this book; “Unionize”. You know that this magazine stands for and supports unionization efforts in our industry, and this is becoming more pressing and urgent every day.

Cover photo by the author.

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Adrian Kosmaczewski is a published writer, a trainer, and a conference speaker, with more than 25 years of experience in the software industry. He holds a Master's degree in Information Technology from the University of Liverpool.