Software Engineers: Is A.I. Raising your Stress Levels?

Losing sleep over the application upgrade you just released to your entire organization? How about that next development project that is already two weeks behind and you have not had a chance to begin gathering requirements or working on plausible Use Cases?


Many software engineers will explicitly state their definition of work stress as often having responsibility for a process or outcome that is completely outside their control. Dependency on colleagues performing tasks in a timely manner in order to move a project along often leads to frustration and project creep. High performing developers find a way to work through these internal stressors and keep the project moving forward. It is part of their job function and through repetition becomes ingrained in their engineering DNA. The key for them is to minimize the stress they are internalizing. (Zen anyone?)


What about the external stressors software engineers experience associated with developing their career paths via upskilling? I previously wrote about the time investment required of a software engineer to self educate to remain relevant and marketable as well as the increasing adoption of AI and machine learning in systems implementation. Perhaps there is a connection between AI and stress levels.


In a recent article in the IEEE Spectrum, the half-life of an IT professional’s career is identified at about 10 to 12 years or perhaps even less. Staying relevant for even that amount of time takes dedicated, ongoing self-education, also known as “upskilling.” The same  article states,” IT professionals need to spend seven to ten hours a week, 48 weeks a year, gaining new knowledge in order to stay current.”


Artificial Intelligence, mostly in the form of automation is increasingly making inroads into the operational, testing, and maintenance aspects of complex enterprise systems. We see automation companies such as Arago, IPsoft, and TCS offering toolkits and complete frameworks with deep knowledge bases developed to assist developers in testing as well as systems administrators, and database administrators in the monitoring of their systems. These knowledge based applications take corrective and evasive actions where previously routine manual intervention was required from a knowledge worker.


Interestingly, many software engineers believe their stress levels increase because of the rising influence of AI, yet another potential career disruptor that also resides outside their direct control.


These concerns are highlighted in a recent survey of 550 software developers recently released by Evans Data Corp.  When participants were asked to identify the most worrisome thing in their careers, the largest plurality, 29.1%, selected the answer “I and my development efforts are replaced by artificial intelligence.”


Additionally, that response was more worrisome than a more traditional response relating to development platform or framework issues. Developers are typically skill marketability focused and as such are concerned their current development platform expertise may become obsolete. This was the second most cited worry at 23%. Concern that the new development platform they are considering does not catch on came in at 14%.


“Another dimension to this finding is that over three-quarters of the developers thought that robots and artificial intelligence would be a great benefit to mankind, but a little over 60% thought it could be a disaster,” said Janel Garvin, CEO of Evans Data. “Overlap between two groups was clear which shows the ambivalence that developers feel about the dawn of intelligent machines. There will be wonderful benefits, but there will also be some cataclysmic changes culturally and economically.”


What do software engineers outside this research think about the premise of AI displacing their careers? Discussion forums at slashdot among software developers run the full range of responses, here are a few:


If you are worried about AI replacing you, you must be doing something very routine, not requiring anything new or creative.”


“AI taking over my job as a Software Engineer is the -last- thing I'm worried about. The developers who are afraid of such a thing must have no idea about AI. Developing complex programs is the -last- thing  AI will be able to do. They will be able to have conversations, walk, drive, bring your kids to school and pretty much do everything else before being able to write a typical, high complexity software program.”


“We haven't even successfully entered the technology level where systems are developed using *solely* high-level modeling languages (UML, state diagrams, Simulink, Modellica, etc) and produce production code for the whole system (not just parts that are then glued together by humans with special code), and now you want to replace everything with AI (whatever that means)? Even for established code, show me a fully functioning tool for suggesting automated bug fixes when the program crashes or has a race condition.” 

I think we can all agree creating complex systems, even those with A.I. and automation capabilities will require intelligent and diligent software engineers for many years to come. Stress from our workplace projects and external career influences are unavoidable. Good systems designs tend to lead to good implementations which will minimize your stress. Embrace your talented systems architects and software engineers for they can surely make all the difference.

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Bill has been a member of the technology and publishing industries for more than 25 years and brings extensive expertise to the roles of CEO, CIO, and Executive Editor. Most recently, Bill was COO and Co-Founder of and the parent company PSN Inc. Previously, Bill held the position of CTO of both Wiseads New Media and