This article continues the series where we present key analysis and insights from the latest State of the Developer Nation public report. You can read the previous 2 instalments on developer communities and developers working on everyday electronic devices. In this chapter, we offer insight into how developers perceive the future of generative AI; specifically how it relates to their role as a developer.
We all remember back in March when prominent leaders, researchers, and figures in tech, most notably Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, signed a letter advocating for a six-month pause of giant artificial intelligence (AI) experiments. Despite the letter prompting a wide discussion and raising both ethical and practical concerns that were acknowledged by many in the field, few were surprised that the letter had a negligible impact on slowing the pace of research.
Now, approximately six months following the letter’s initial publication, we check in with those who are among the closest to the subject in question: developers. In our latest Developer Nation survey, we collected insights, perspectives, and real-world experiences from over 17,000 developers worldwide, delving into the impact of generative AI on their careers and work now and in the future.
Various studies that measured AI’s impact on worker productivity in different roles have been published this year. In this chapter, we do not delve into productivity metrics, but rather, we present developers’ views and perceptions about how generative AI will affect their productivity, work, and the world.
80% of developers believe that Generative AI will increase their potential and productivity at work
Regarding AI’s impact on their work, developers are overwhelmingly optimistic. The vast majority (80%) of them agree or strongly agree that AI will increase their potential and productivity, while 70% agree or strongly agree that it will give them access to new programming tools. Throughout our many years of tracking and researching developers’ preferences and behaviours, we have found that the community is incredibly heterogeneous. There is substantial variation in developers’ educational backgrounds, technology choices, and professional preferences. Hence, this remarkable consensus regarding the impact of AI on their workflow is striking. It sends a clear message about generative AI’s positive potential: only 7% of developers disagree or strongly disagree that AI’s net impact on the world will be positive!
While generative AI’s potential is great, developers clearly still harbour some reservations as well. 61% of developers agree or strongly agree that generative AI raises many ethical concerns. While we did not ask our survey respondents to specifically identify which ethical concerns they are most preoccupied with, one of the primary ethical concerns regarding AI that has received considerable attention this past year is its potential to displace workers.
Developers are somewhat split about generative AI’s potential to displace them in their current roles. 32% of developers strongly agree that AI will surpass their skills and render their jobs obsolete, while 40% either disagree or strongly disagree that this is actually a feasible outcome. How developers feel about AI’s potential to replace their jobs depends on a number of factors, but one critical factor is their current role. In the following section, we examine the differences in perceptions across various roles.
Will Generative AI replace developers?
Segmenting developers by ten of the most popular roles, we examine which roles have the highest concerns about potential replacement. CIOs, CTOs, and IT managers are the most likely (40%) to strongly agree that generative AI could surpass their skills and render their role obsolete. Initially, this result is somewhat counter-intuitive as managerial skills are unlikely to be replaced in the foreseeable future by generative AI due to the variety and complexity of tasks that managers often face. However, these specific roles are frequently responsible for monitoring a company's technology, infrastructure, and data for – among other metrics – accuracy, efficiency, security, and efficacy; all of which are quantifiable.
While AI surpasses a human’s ability in terms of speed and accuracy of monitoring various quantitative metrics, we do not foresee a future where these roles are no longer present, rather, the technical aspect of the roles are altered; a notion supported by 41% of developers in these roles. These roles are more than likely going to evolve or be reimagined to compensate for the additional capacity granted by AI.
Developers working or studying as data analysts, scientists, and/or researchers make up the next three roles that are most likely (37%-40%) to strongly agree their skills will be surpassed and their jobs could be rendered obsolete. However, roughly an equal or greater number of developers in these data-driven roles strongly disagree.
Generative AI has made great strides in several areas, including data analysis and code generation. While the progress is impressive, what is equally striking is how difficult it can be to differentiate correct from false/hallucinated answers and incorrect analytical applications or interpretations, unless the developer has domain-specific knowledge. Hence, while these researcher and data-handling roles have already been substantially impacted by AI and will surely continue to be, developers are split on the future of these types of roles.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, architects and programmers are the most likely to strongly disagree that their roles and skills can be replaced by generative AI. The majority of these developers, 61% and 55%, respectively, feel their role and skills are safe from the threat of generative AI. These developers are some of the most likely to be technical experts and recognise that while AI can excel at quantifiable solutions, complex or multi-faceted problems are likely to continue to require substantial human input for the foreseeable future.
61% and 55% of Architects and Programmers respectively, disagree or strongly disagree that Generative AI will surpass their skills and render their jobs obsolete.
It is inevitable, however, that these roles will still feel its impact and influence in their work. Hence, in the next section, we take a look into who the developers are who feel that they can benefit from AI and gain access to additional tools through its use.
Will AI allow developers to access new tools and technologies?
One of the factors that significantly impacts developers’ perceptions on whether generative AI will allow them to use programming tools that they previously could not is their level of experience. Overwhelmingly, 80% of developers with less than a year of software development experience agree or strongly agree that AI will give them access to new tools that would otherwise not be available. The proportion of developers who agree steadily declines to 60% as developers gain more experience, where in turn, more experienced developers are more likely to strongly disagree with this sentiment.
More experienced developers also have greater programming skills and are therefore less likely to expect that generative AI will create new opportunities for them to access additional tools. It is not a new phenomenon that younger, less experienced individuals enter a field or company and are more open to learning novel techniques or new methods; some of which can be in contrast to the established, institutionalised way of doing things. This distribution of developers' AI perspective below conforms to this trend and demonstrates that less experienced developers perceive AI in a different light compared to the more seasoned ones.
However, a finding worth highlighting here is that the experts in the field – those with more than 16 years of experience – are the most likely (28%) to report being unsure, neither agreeing or disagreeing, about AI’s potential to provide them access to new tools. This degree of uncertainty from the most practised group of developers is a good indicator that the future of generative AI is still very much evolving and points to an exciting but somewhat uncertain future of how AI advancements will continue to shape the role of developers.
This article is part of the developer insights offered in the State of the Developer Nation 25th Edition. You can access the full report which covers:
1. Language communities - An update
2. Creating A Sense Of Community - How Developers Interact And Engage With Their Peers
3. How Generative AI Will Affect Developers' Work
4. Web3 Unveiled - Exploring The Diverse Landscape Of Web3 Development Projects
5. From Code To Consumer Magic - The Software Developers Behind Our Everyday Electronic Devices
6. What Are People Building In AR/VR?
Want to dive deeper into data on developer population, data and segmentation? Let’s talk.