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How AI will impact the developer experience

Ever since the launch of generative AI tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E, the world has been abuzz about AI, and rightfully so. We’ve seen how AI can be used to create movie trailers, write content, and can even pass medical, law, and business school exams. Its capabilities are undeniably impressive and expected to have a huge impact on almost all aspects of how we live and work. 

In the developer world specifically, AI has been steadily gaining prominence over the last decade. The technology has been a part of software development and IT workflows for some time, mostly in the form of simple code completion and task automations. But recent advancements have sparked a reimagining of the role of AI within software development and how it will be leveraged. For example, new applications like OpenAI Codex and GitHub Copilot now have the ability to write code.

As AI continues to advance at an exponential rate, companies are racing to implement this technology into their workflows. It’s clear that AI is poised to have a sweeping impact across industries—software development included. We’ve already been given a taste of generative AI’s potential to advance software engineering and disrupt software development processes. Here’s how I believe this emerging technology will impact the developer experience in the years to come. 

Fear not, developers, AI isn’t coming for your job

First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge the fear that ripples through AI conversations today. The recent explosion of generative AI has made many afraid that they could lose their jobs to this technology, including software developers. However, I do not believe that AI will be replacing software developers any time soon. 

In reality, AI represents yet another advancement in a long line of tools that have changed the way developers work. For example, when code generation features in IDEs first came out, they were initially met with skepticism. Developers saw that this technology could generate, test, and run code and feared that it could make their jobs obsolete. Today, these tools are widely embraced for their ability to make developers’ jobs easier by automating tedious tasks and freeing them up to spend more time on innovating and building. 

Similarly, AI is another productivity tool and should be seen as an addition to the developer’s toolkit, rather than a replacement for developers. A developer’s expertise and experience will be needed to leverage this technology effectively. Additionally, developers will still need to think strategically about the business problem at hand—a part of the job that AI isn’t suited to handle. 

AI will free up time for higher-level tasks

While AI will not eliminate the jobs of developers, but it will change the developer experience as we know it. Just like with any new productivity tool, developers will need to learn and refine new skills in order to leverage AI effectively. A good analogy is the advent of internet search engines like Google back in the 1990s. While these search engines alleviated a lot of the up-front work in researching, users had to learn how to search for the right terms and sort through all of the results. While generative AI can take care of repetitive tasks—like writing boilerplate code or documentation—developers must be able to sort through the AI-generated code and apply it in a meaningful way.

Additionally, by handling a lot of the “busy work,” AI will allow developers to spend more time on higher-level tasks and innovation. We’ve already started to see this with the use of machine learning in features like predictive test selection, which saves testing time by identifying, prioritizing, and running only tests that are likely to provide useful feedback during test runs.     

How IT leadership can get ahead of the AI curve 

Using generative AI will likely result in development teams creating more code more rapidly. This means there will be more builds and tests, leading to longer build and test cycles. These longer feedback cycles will create bottlenecks and disrupt developers’ creative flow. IT leadership needs to be proactive about investing in the right tools in order to reduce the time spent on the build and test cycle, and to troubleshoot build and test problems.

Additionally, as developers start to spend less time on mundane tasks and more time on creative and cognitively taxing work, it will be crucial for companies to provide their developers with a great work environment and an efficient tool chain to prevent them from burning out. Soon, there will be a competitive divide between companies who do this well and those who do not.

It’s becoming more and more urgent for companies to make developer experience a priority, and the integration of AI in the software development process will further exacerbate this need. One way to do this is by adopting emerging practices like Developer Productivity Engineering (DPE) that focus on the toolchain and developer happiness.

The bottom line is that AI is not the first new technology that has changed how we work, and each time we’ve adjusted. As AI technology continues to evolve and mature, AI will continue to impact our daily lives in almost every aspect. But, rather than fear this new technology, software development leaders must embrace the change and consider how it can positively impact their workforce or else risk falling behind. 

Trisha Gee is lead developer advocate at Gradle.

Generative AI Insights provides a venue for technology leaders to explore and discuss the challenges and opportunities of generative artificial intelligence. The selection is wide-ranging, from technology deep dives to case studies to expert opinion, but also subjective, based on our judgment of which topics and treatments will best serve InfoWorld’s technically sophisticated audience. InfoWorld does not accept marketing collateral for publication and reserves the right to edit all contributed content.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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