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Will Software Engineers Be Extinct in 5 Years?

software engineers vs AI

The fall of software engineers due to artificial intelligence (AI): Is the rumor greatly exaggerated, or is there a real threat?

“If AI can make software engineers 2x more productive, then companies now only need half as many software engineers,” a Google employee theorizes on the career platform Blind. “It won’t make us extinct, but it’ll kill many of us off, which will also lower pay due to high supply and low demand.”

That’s just one opinion. But a casual Blind survey asking, “Are young SWE f*cked?” showed that many in the tech industry feel the same: Last time we checked, over 41% said yes, 37% said that, no, there have been no changes in opportunities and money, while about 22% see encouraging opportunities and growth ahead.

The Mixed Bag

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is on the side of optimism. Overall employment of software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers is projected to grow 25% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. A now-classic 2017 prediction by Gartner says that while AI will eliminate millions of jobs, it will also create two million net-new jobs in 2025. More recent 2023 data from Goldman Sachs estimates that 18% of jobs globally could eventually be eliminated by AI technology. At the same time, “breakthroughs in generative artificial intelligence have the potential to bring about sweeping changes to the global economy,” Goldman Sachs economists point out. “As tools using advances in natural language processing work their way into businesses and society, they could drive a 7% (or almost $7 trillion) increase in global GDP and lift productivity growth by 1.5 percentage points over a 10-year period.”

So where does this mixed bag leave software engineers?

“Problem solvers will be eternally employable…The best you can do is adapt and use what is available to increase your effectiveness,” says a Microsoft employee on Blind. A Roblox staffer agrees, “The world needs problem solvers and task executioners. Prepare yourself as [a] problem solver, and AI becomes a tool for you.” A Fidelity Investment employee puts pleasantries aside by adding, “I am sure the engineers who are only capable of copying and pasting code without understanding what they were actually writing are very worried about being replaced.”

“The reality is that AI and software engineering are already working together in several ways,” says The HT Group Senior Technical Recruiter Kristine Metcalfe. “AI can improve software testing by automatically identifying bugs; it can take care of tedious and time-consuming tasks such as testing and debugging as it is freeing up developers to focus on more high-impact work. AI can also improve code by identifying potential vulnerabilities and recommending changes to improve its quality.”

In Other Words

“AI is unlikely going to replace high-value software engineers who build complex and innovative software. This may be a positive thing, as skilled developers can focus on higher-level tasks,” Metcalfe adds.

In fact, we’re seeing small shifts in hiring software engineers and software developers that move them from execution to the early stages—even pre-development—alongside executives in the boardroom.

As Greg Orosz, who is an advisor at and blogs as The Pragmatic Engineer, further explains, Silicon Valley success stories are ahead of the curve in seeing this value: “…For the most part, engineers are expected (and encouraged!) to figure out the ‘how’ of the work, including making larger decisions… it is uncommon for managers to tell engineers what exactly to do, to break down their work into small chunks or to micromanage them…I’ve talked with people at a bank that had six levels of project management. Developers were at the bottom two. Decisions were [made at] level three. Basically, those doing the work did not have a say—by design. Need I add that this bank was struggling with how their software department was (not) working? Compare this with places where engineers are recognized to have the ability to solve problems on the ground better than anyone else. Leaders know that it’s in the best interest of the business to share all relevant business context with them and give space for execution.”

Ari Joury, Ph.D., a particle physicist and tech consultant, feels that while AI is arguably better at things like scalability and testing through automation, software talent is “getting a chance to get more and more creative…Sure, in a decade — in a few months even — you’ll probably be doing things that you can’t even imagine right now. But that doesn’t mean that your job will go away. Rather, it will be upgraded.”

Dare we say that AI is leading to better-quality jobs for software engineers? As Faros AI Co-founder Shubha Nabar explains, attrition might be at stake in some organizations, but maybe that’s only because software engineers deserve better work.

“Engineering leaders have only one way to grow: hire people. They also only have one way to cut costs: fire people. They have bloated teams—many of which are overwhelmed with dependencies or tech debt—and not enough visibility to provide timely support. Constant reorgs are a typical symptom of this dysfunction…Constant reorgs and layoffs do not make engineers happy,” Nabar says. She suggests that while organizations should run like well-oiled machines, treating software engineers as cogs in the machine is a mistake. “Software engineering is a creative craft. Some operational metrics may be ‘big brotherly’ and would stifle the creativity that leads to innovation.”

Our Tips

Whether you’re a software engineer or someone who employs them, it’s important to understand that:

  • Skills should evolve. Holding on to a niche specialization that doesn’t move forward with the times really does limit your options. Software engineers should never stop learning.
  • Ignoring AI won’t help. Understanding automation, machine learning, and generative AI can only help software engineers in their careers. Even if it’s simply experimenting with AI for more mundane tasks to become notably more productive and more available for creative projects.
  • Embracing AI is even better. We love this advice from Clockwise: “As a software engineer, you might be concerned about the future of coding as a relevant skill. We have good news for you: The emergence of no-code and low-code platforms gives software engineers a lot of space to do what they do best – solve problems and power innovation.”

Above all, notice how job descriptions and recruiter advice are changing as they relate to software engineers. You may notice that software engineers are being asked to fulfill objectives and complete tasks that are different than how they were traditionally treated inside organizations. Soft skills that can’t be reproduced by AI are taking precedence. Both job seekers and employers alike should set aside their assumptions and figure out how to embrace these changes in a way that will benefit them.