With the use of automation becoming increasingly prevalent in the software development space, concerns are being raised about the future career prospects for IT graduates.
Traditionally, IT graduates have tended to initially be put to work writing code and undertaking a range of low-level tasks within corporate IT departments. As they gain experience and knowledge, they've gradually risen through the ranks and attained more senior positions.
However, this career progression now appears to be under threat. A new generation of development tools are automating an increasing proportion of the software coding process. What once would have been completed by a human can now be done faster and more cost effectively by a computer or a robot.
At first glance, this appears to be rather grim news for graduates seeking to establish themselves in the IT industry. Instead of being confident of securing a role once they complete university studies, many are wondering if they will have any future in IT at all.
The prospects appear even bleaker when you consider the amount of coding work that is being sent offshore. Keen to have work completed in the most cost effective manner, companies are outsourcing their development work to programmers in countries such as India. This, in turn, means there appears to be even less ongoing demand for domestic IT graduates.
The changing role of the graduate
Despite these seemingly alarming trends, the future for IT graduates is still bright - it's just evolving. Rather than focusing on coding activity, they will shift their focus to undertaking higher-level functions within their chosen organisation.
Instead of writing code, graduates will become more involved in understanding the business processes that will be affected by the planned software under development. Their efforts will be focused on design and logic rather than on the code itself.
While an increasing proportion of code writing will be completed by tools, there will still be a portion sent offshore to be completed by lower-cost professionals. However, over time, these roles too will also feel the impact of automation.
Preparing for the change
To ensure they are best placed to deal with the changes that will be caused by widespread software development automation, IT graduates need to think carefully about the nature of the subjects they study while at university.
While an understanding of the coding process will remain important, other areas should also be added to the mix. Graduates should consider subjects that cover areas such as system integration methods, IT security and data management and analytics.
Other subjects outside traditional technology degrees should also be incorporated. This include areas such as business strategy and management, basic economics and even human psychology. Each will add to the skill set of the graduate and allow them to slot into different positions within an organisation.
While many universities already offer subjects in these areas, more emphasis will have to be placed on them in coming years. There will also need to be put in place ways in which subjects from one department or school can be more readily mixed with those from another.
Hybrid degrees that are built by mixing and matching subjects from a range of disciplines are likely to become more prevalent over time. The result will be more rounded graduates who are well placed to add business value to their future employers.
For employers, the changes will compliment their existing strategies of sending low-level work offshore. Being able to tap into a supply of well qualified graduates who understand challenges from a business perspective will improve flexibility and ensure the organisation is better able to adapt to changing market conditions and new competitors.
Rather than being a negative force on IT graduates, automation can actually offer significant benefits. The IT graduates of tomorrow will be well placed to have long and successful careers in their chosen profession. It just might not involve writing code.
Michael Horton is senior vice president and country manager – Australia and New Zealand at HCL Technologies.