Will AI Replace Programmers? Navigating the Future of Coding

By Andrea Siedsma


In today's rapidly evolving technological landscape, concerns often come up about the future of various professions. For programming enthusiasts, a common question is: "Will AI replace programmers?"

To delve deeper into this topic, we've collaborated with Norman McEntire and James Gappy, esteemed instructors at UC San Diego Extended Studies specializing in programming courses. Together, we explore how AI might impact the work of programmers and strategies to stay ahead in this dynamic world of evolving technologies.

What Is [Generative] AI?

To better answer the question of this article, let’s first dive into what Generative AI is. Generative AI encompasses artificial intelligence that can create various forms of content. These systems can generate a wide range of material, including pictures, poems, recipes, and, you guessed it — code for various applications and tasks. From simple algorithms to complex software solutions, AI can assist in programming tasks and automate code generation processes. Some of today's most notable examples include ChatGPT and DALL-E, which have garnered significant attention worldwide for their content creation abilities.

Limitations of AI

When addressing AI and its impact on programming, it's essential to recognize its incredible capabilities. AI has already revolutionized various industries. However, amidst its capabilities, some significant limitations deserve attention.

One primary concern is the potential for what's called "hallucination." This means that while Generative AI can create genuine content, there's a risk of generating misleading or inaccurate information, which raises questions about reliability and precision.

Another crucial point is the legal aspects surrounding the use of Generative AI. As this technology advances, issues like copyright infringement, intellectual property rights, and ethical considerations become more complex, calling for clear guidelines and regulations to navigate these challenges effectively.

Additionally, the quality of the output heavily depends on the input data. If the data is insufficient or biased, it can lead to skewed outputs and inaccurate predictions. This underscores the significance of robust data collection and preprocessing techniques to ensure the accuracy and integrity of Generative AI's results.

How Will AI Affect the Work of Programmers?

Norman McEntire, an instructor for Extended Studies, founded Servin Corporation in 1995 to provide computer training, consulting, and software development with a focus on Android, iOS, Java, Embedded C, Linux, and Machine Learning. With more than 25  years of experience, he has designed both hardware and software at all levels, from embedded Linux to enterprise software.

The biggest change the industry veteran has seen in the field is the impact of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Notably, he said, it has a considerable influence on both computer hardware and computer software and more importantly, can have a significant impact on programmer’s workflows.  

“The possibilities are vast and exciting, from automated code generation to intelligent debugging tools, from predictive analytics to personalized coding assistance,” says McEntire.

Streamlining Routine Tasks Through Automation

According to McEntire, programmers must understand fundamental coding knowledge to collaborate with AI effectively and to communicate these technical concepts to stakeholders. 

Although he feels current and future programming careers are not at risk, there are ways AI can affect your workflow, McEntire said. 

One way is by streamlining routine tasks through automation. Far from being a threat, AI is a valuable collaborator for programmers. Many routine and repetitive tasks can be automated, allowing you to focus on more complex problem-solving and creative aspects of coding.

Take, for example, code optimization. AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data to suggest improvements, enhancing the efficiency of your code. This saves you time and allows you to allocate your efforts to more meaningful aspects of programming.

Additionally, AI can assist in the debugging process. Advanced debugging tools powered by AI can quickly identify and rectify errors, making the development cycle faster and more efficient. These efficiencies allow programmers to become more like strategists, guiding AI tools to achieve optimal results and having more time for problem-solving.

By embracing AI as a collaborative partner, programmers can enhance their capabilities and productivity, ultimately becoming more proficient and well-rounded.

The key to staying ahead of the curve is to keep learning, McEntire said. McEntire currently teaches one of Extended Studies newest programming courses, Embedded Machine Learning

Increasing Your Productivity

In today's tech landscape, leveraging AI empowers programmers to achieve unprecedented productivity. AI can quickly help with tasks like providing syntax suggestions, software maintenance, code review, and offering insights into best coding practices.

"By using AI as an assistant, you can accomplish more tasks in a shorter period. Everyone works faster, so we have more time to focus on solving more problems and producing innovative technology. With AI, existing programmers can produce new and improved code faster. And others who perhaps were hesitant to program can now use AI to help with coding," says Norman.

Future Proofing Your Programming Career

Programming in the age of artificial intelligence is all about embracing the future. 

McEntire said the key to preparing for AI is to use it. "You can start immediately by using OpenAI's ChatGPT or Google's Gemini. Begin by giving a prompt like ‘Show a C language hello world program,' and see what it generates."

James Gappy,a seasoned programmer whose industry experience has included stints at Hitachi, FICO, Sony PlayStation, Zybooks, and Tealium, said the best thing programming students can do is to produce assignments on their own and then generate an AI solution to compare the versions—and then optimize the assignment to get more familiar with the tool. "They will still need to know how to run and compile the app, which AI can't do for you," he said

Needless to say, Gappy is optimistic about future programming careers. He agrees that AI will not replace programmers, but there are several ways to future-proof your programming career, such as staying ahead by adopting a continuous learning mindset. Keep yourself updated on the latest developments in both programming and AI. Online courses, workshops, and coding boot camps are excellent resources for acquiring new skills and staying abreast of industry trends. The ability to adapt to emerging technologies is also a valuable asset. Be open to incorporating AI tools into your workflow and understand how they can complement your skills. This adaptability makes you more versatile and showcases your readiness for the evolving demands of the tech industry.

"I had a student recently ask me if AI will take over the need for programmers," said Gappy, who currently teaches Introduction to Java and Java II. "In the dynamic field of programming, understanding the basics is key, especially when deciphering the output of AI. As a professor, I'm constantly brainstorming ways to infuse AI into my courses, aiming for a blend of fundamental programming principles and innovative AI applications. Teaching students about AI isn't just important—it's crucial. Those who fall behind on this front could find themselves struggling in the future job market."

"Even though you can use AI to generate all these assignments, you will still need all the fundamentals we are learning in class,” Gappy added. "How are you going to pass a technical job interview? AI will not get you the job. But, it's important to understand the concept of AI."

He said the ones who will be successful in programming are those who are efficient at using AI tools and understand the code it generates at the same time.

"In the near future, programming classes still hold immense value," Gappy remarked. "If students embrace their coursework and utilize AI to enhance their projects, they'll not only grasp the material better but also become adept at integrating AI for code validation.”

He compared AI's importance to the widespread adoption of Google in its early days. "AI is like the new Google; it's here to stay, and we need to learn how to work alongside it. Ignoring its impact isn't feasible."

Generative AI - A Collaborator, Not a Replacement

In conclusion, in the fast-evolving landscape of technology, it's common for concerns to arise about the future of various professions. The looming question for incoming students passionate about programming is often, "Will AI replace programmers?" 

The short answer is no. The future of programming is not a battle between humans and AI; but rather more of a collaboration. By understanding the complementary nature of AI and programming skills, you can position yourself as a sought-after tech professional. Embrace AI as a partner, not a rival, and seize the opportunities it brings to elevate your programming career. 

Remember, the key lies in continuous learning, adaptability, and embracing the evolving landscape of technology. Your programming journey is just beginning, and with AI by your side, the possibilities are limitless. 

Whether you're a seasoned professional, a current college student, or thinking about switching careers, UC San Diego Extended Studies offers several programming courses, including languages such as PythonC#C/C++  and Java, to elevate your current and future career.

Posted: 3/22/2024 10:08:30 AM with 0 comments

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