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The Future of Software: Less Code, More Impact, and More Programmers

Photo by Marta Branco

“Software is everywhere these days,” said Andres Angelani, CEO of Cognizant Softvision, kicking off the panel on “The Future of Software” that helped launch Softvision’s 7th annual Programmers’ Week. Software now, he said, “is a vehicle to reimagine industry.” Much of the rest of the panel was devoted to the dramatic implications of that statement. Joining Angelani in this high-level, high-energy discussion were Ursula Morgenstern, president of global growth markets for Cognizant, and Rajesh Nambiar, Cognizant’s president of digital business and technology. “We’ve evolved from a utilitarian view of software back in the day,” Angelani explained. But now, he said, “software has transformed money, banking, experiences, connections–absolutely everything.”

The pandemic has underscored software’s centrality in modern business for just about every company, explained Nambiar. Organizations “got a lot more digital a lot sooner than they would have done otherwise,” he said. “It has pushed companies to do things they’d never thought of. We were trying to get them into being more digital. But now that transformation has been hastened by about five years.”

Morgenstern said she watched previously-conservative companies switch “in two days” to remote working from home. That disruption helped many of them see more clearly that software is not just for the back office. “It’s not the finance system,” she explained. “It’s not the HR system. It’s integral to the products of our customers, and to the way our customers deliver their products to their clients. That really brings software into the heart of every modern business.” Nambiar agreed: “Now every company will have to be a software company.”

Techonomy’s Kirkpatrick (upper right) moderated the session, with Cognizant’s Ursula Morgenstern (top left) and Rajesh Nambiar (lower right) and the event’s host, Cognizant Softvision’s Andres Angelani.

Software developers like those at Cognizant have to “give you something fast with high quality,” explained Morgenstern. That’s because “the world is going faster and getting more complex.” Part of the problem, she noted, is that “Covid led to the big resignation in all industries”—increasing turnover in people which compounded an existing major shortage of talented developers. Even as software is more central to how business and society functions, far too few people today are trained to create it. “The talent gap is increasing,” said Angelani.

For Softvision, as software product engineering specialists inside the vast 300,000-person Cognizant global technology machine, this all means change in how software is built, who builds it, and the methodologies used to build it.

The variety of people who can create software is going to expand significantly, these leaders said. The kinds of people who build software in the future will not only be classic nerds and math geniuses. Morgenstern described three basic types of programmers who will be needed–those who “understand deeply a tool or domain”; “people who can hold it all together–the architects”; and “people who are really good at explaining how technology can work in a business context, in a specific industry.” Nambiar, who sees the problem from the perspective of all of Cognizant’s global clients, pointed to an essential skill every software team will need: “What we value as an organization and as an industry is the ability of people to learn. Learnability is a skill by itself, because technology changes so fast.”

The processes for developing software are changing quickly, too. “We built software to help us build better software,” Angelani continued. “This is very new, but it’s going to be very trendy.” One such “playbook,” called Game of Pods, was launched separately at Programmers’ Week. Angelani said it will help larger groups,      including people outside of Cognizant, contribute to the creation of software for clients.  “We believe there is a future in codifying what we build so well,” he said. “We can send out pieces of software to be built by the world community.”

Automation is coming to the creation of software, too. Angelani said the so-called “no code/low code” movement will enable nontraditional programmers to build software out of components that are increasingly modular. Meanwhile, “AI is going to help eliminate or reduce tedious tasks,” like analyzing algorithms to find inefficiencies or errors. “Double checking? The machine will do that for us,” he said. Nambiar elaborated: “Automation and the AI capability will only augment the programmer…to make a programmer about 100 times more productive. There’s a revolution going on in terms of how this reduced amount of code is written and assembled.”

Different kinds of programmers will need to think differently, and take into consideration different, sometimes urgent priorities like energy efficiency and sustainability. “In the past we used to look at hard skills for programmers like analytical math skills…but soft skills are so important right now,” said Angelani. He said the ability to communicate will often matter tremendously, as well as maintaining a team culture. And Morgenstern added that programmers will need to be aware of how much energy software and the IT industry are consuming. But she is optimistic about what will be possible: “Complex problems like climate change and weather forecasting will be addressed with quantum computing.”

“We’ve invested a lot in creating playbooks that are more inclusive,” said Angelani. “Not only is the traditional coder part of the team. We’re also including other disciplines in the creation of software.”

Cognizant, Nambiar explained, is a unique organization for its ability to span both the newest ways of creating software at Softvision as well as understanding the huge amount of older legacy software still operating at companies. “This is now going to be a marriage between how we do traditional and how we do modern digital in a world-class agile way,” he said. “That is a unique talent few companies possess like Cognizant.” In order to ensure it has all the capabilities it needs, Nambiar continued, Cognizant has bought 19 companies in the last several years for more than $3 billion.

“You’ve got to solve a business problem for the client,” Nambiar said, “irrespective of how much coding you’re doing or how wonderfully you do it.” That’s a challenge Angelani’s Softvision embraces: “This is how companies are going to start distinguishing themselves from others.” And Morgenstern ended the session by summarizing why all this rethinking is necessary. “We are in a world of change,” she said.

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