The Instagram moment for software

I have been coding almost daily for the last 6 years (and on-off for last 10). Like most others in this field, have been in the thick of the AI wave for the last 4. In terms of speed of code writing, the last 4 feel like one has progressively been switching to sports cars on F1 lanes from Bangalore traffic. Starting with Copilot to GPT 3 to GPT 4 and now Claude Sonnet. Projects where I used to plan out work for a week now take an hour. My old self is now asking me – How much more acceleration can this field take before the cars or the tracks or the drivers run out.

The faith or fear in AI is well-founded at least for developers. You find quite a few discussion boards where those entering the field are asking if coding is even worth it for a new developer with AI possibly going to do all that in the next few years. Look at how software positions in has fallen off a cliff (Indeed is more for entry positions hence all the more relevant)

An AI coding agent Devin demo release had the coding industry gasping for breaths for a few days. Look at the top comments

The downside impact of AI on developers might be true however the upside on the world is another story. There’s a very interesting corollary that appears to be have been missed. The corollary is this: Is AI going to do to software what Instagram/Youtube did to entertainment

So what exactly did Insta/Youtube do? It enabled creation of micro/mini celebrities by giving distribution of  content to audience interested in it. Just 0.006% of Instagram accounts have more than a million followers, however at Instagram’s massive scale, that equates to more than 6 million Insta-celebrities. More than 200 million of Instagram’s users have more than 50,000 followers, the level at which they can make a living wage by posting on behalf of brands

So whats the corollary here. Why am I talking about Instagram in a post about AI and software dev. The point is AI is now enabling software development at a scale that rivals that of video by creators. Since there’s no distribution lock-in (the web is open unlike that of creator economy controlled by GOOG/META)  the floodgates of software development will now be open. There will be many single person (also called indie-hackers) or small teams who will reach the “million follower” equivalent of software development very soon.

This I believe, is going to be the next march for the world and its economy. Why?

  • The real world is massively  underserved by software. Its evident wherever you go. All kinds of small businesses are still running on paper and excel. Till date, the cost of software development outweighed the potential RoI from these micro-markets, however thats a thing of the past.
  • Software can now be built almost at an individual level in a much smaller timespan than needed to configure a general purpose software. Imagine what one can achieve with personalized productivity tools like personal CRM, memory etc. The list is endless

Finally what does this mean for software engineers. I think their role is going to transition to a maker. Stitching together components across front,back-end and maybe selling it as well. Very similar to the transition now seen in mechanical / power engineering where they dont build machines themselves but know enough about them to operate/develop them. What happens to the software engineering field is a tale for another day!