The impact of AI on application developer skills

Find out which skills every app developer should learn now to be ready for the future.

Few recent advances have as much potential for disruption as artificial intelligence (AI). Combining automation, machine learning (ML), deep learning, natural language understanding, and more, AI is evolving at an astounding rate—in terms of both capability and availability. And as AI becomes more ingrained in how the human population lives and works, its effects on the job market are becoming increasingly apparent. One such area is application development.

In this case, disruption does not necessarily mean displacement. New research from Pearson, in partnership with ServiceNow, takes an in-depth look at how AI and automation are poised to affect the economies of six countries (U.S., UK, Germany, India, Australia, and Japan) and how certain tech-based roles are likely to adapt. Application developers in particular are expected to survive and thrive alongside AI, with increased demand brought on by emergent technologies necessitating approximately 95,000 new application developers within the next five years.

But this workplace transformation is not without its challenges. To remain relevant in an AI-enhanced workforce, app developers need to understand how their responsibilities and roles will change and the training they need to make themselves future-ready. 

Currently, application development skills are in high demand. The average annual salary for a U.S.-based application developer is $95,000, which is hardly surprising given how ubiquitous software applications are.

Today’s application developers create and maintain the software applications we depend on for work, play, communication, and so much more. They are responsible for designing, coding, testing, and implementing apps to meet user needs across various operating systems and hardware, including smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, and internet of things (IoT) devices.

Application developers use coding languages to construct software solutions that meet users’ requirements. To do this, successful app developers rely on a specific set of core skills. These include:

  • Proficiency in programming languages (Java, Python, C++, Swift, etc.) 
  • Knowledge of development frameworks (React Native, Angular, NET, etc.)
  • Experience with database management systems (MySQL, MongoDB, PostgreSQL)
  • Familiarity with application architecture (MVC, SOA)
  • Understanding of user interface design (for creating intuitive and user-friendly interfaces to enhance the user experience)
  • Knowledge of version control systems (to manage code changes and collaborate effectively with other developers)
  • Testing and debugging skills (to ensure that applications function as intended)
  • Communication skills (for understanding requirements and requests and collaborating across departments)

Application developers bring concepts to reality. As such, developers will always be in high demand. What it means to be an application developer, however, will shift dramatically within the next few years.

And that number jumps to 17% for tasks that are at least partially augmented by AI. This is expected to save application developers as much as 4.2 hours per week—time they can dedicate to more complex tasks.

The technologies that will play the most prominent roles in this change are:

Process automation: Code programmed to complete predefined logical and rule-based processing tasks

Solution discovery: Agents using reinforcement learning (RL) and sensors to digest and solve unstructured, complex problems 

Predictive analysis: Tools that reactively use ML to conduct narrow analysis and make related predictions

Sensory perception: Systems that use ML and sensors to detect and extract meaning from external stimuli

ServiceNow/Pearson research indicates that within five years, 2.4% of application development tasks will be automated

Additionally, the ServiceNow/Pearson study identified 10 application development tasks that will see at least some augmentation from AI and automation technologies within five years. Of these, the three that will experience the greatest changes are:

1. Storing, retrieving, and manipulating data for analysis of system capabilities and requirements

2. Conferring with systems analysts, engineers, programmers, and others to design systems and obtain information on project limitations and capabilities, performance requirements, and interfaces

3. Recommending purchases of equipment to control dust, temperature, and humidity in the area of system installation

Perhaps most noteworthy is that the AI augmentation is expected to reduce the hours currently dedicated to the top application development activity by nearly 64%.

As AI becomes increasingly intertwined with application development, app developers must evolve their skill sets to remain valuable in the job market. Industry leaders must establish learning and development programs capable of guiding this talent transformation—upskilling, reskilling, and recruiting talent to match evolving needs.

Among 32 capabilities deemed critical for all future positions and roles, the five areas in which application developers will need to be highly proficient by 2027 are:

1. Retaining and improving foundational IT skills

2. Working with statistics and predictive models

3. Understanding how to apply ML and AI

4. Developing, maintaining, and improving cyber awareness

5. Programming

An application development will always play a vital role in IT functionality, but this role is expanding beyond foundational skills and programming. 

From working with intelligent systems to placing greater emphasis on cybersecurity, the application developers of tomorrow will operate alongside AI and automation technologies to continue to push the boundaries of technological capability. IT leaders must support this transformation by identifying proficiency gaps, understanding changing skill requirements, and creating relevant training programs and upskilling opportunities to better support application developers.

Find out which skills you and your employees need in your career to prepare for the future.

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