programmersI talked with several of my former students who are database programmers over the past few weeks. More and more of them are looking for work. There seemed to be a general consensus that these jobs would reappear as soon as the economy recovers. I hated to be the bearer of bad news, especially since I did my best to make them database programmers when they were my students, but these jobs aren't coming back.

The world has changed. It's not that the need for data collection and processing has diminished; it's that in large part, these jobs have been automated out of existence. Ten years ago, if you needed a million lines of database code to support a large database, several programmers worked more than a year to create that code, and often several programmers were needed permanently to maintain that code. That is simply not the case any more.
In the last ten years, code generation has come of age, and the first places to be impacted are the coding activities that followed simple processes. In 2000, a million lines of code represented ten programmer years and an expensive management structure. Today, one programmer can create that same structure in a few hours. The job now simply requires that one lay out the data structure and push a button. Instantly, you have either a complete application or at least the basic structure that everything else will be built upon. If the customer doesn't like it, I can go back to my computer, work for an hour, and show them a completely different implementation.

There are at least a half-dozen commercial products that do this job, and I have written several variations myself. It's a little tedious (like most programming jobs), but nowhere near as tedious as writing database code by hand. Not only does the customer save a fortune on programming costs, but programming errors with expensive consequences rarely get introduced into the automatically generated code.

I would think that any database programmer who has ever seen a code generator work would immediately strive to develop a different expertise (code generation, for example), but the more typical reaction is to assume that the same people who wanted their skills in the past will want them in the future. They are not actually hungry because they have made a good living for many years, but they are going to be very lucky to get anymore income out of their current skills.

The same thing is happening in all kinds of programming. I watched a demo from Alphacet last week which was quite impressive. We had a simple system consisting of several rules, and the Alphacet representative was able to turn those into an automated system AND do some simple backtesting in less than ten minutes. I could easily come up with rules that I would still have to program by hand, but they were prepared with all of the common structures and market data cleaned and organized. I could get the code generated in my choice of six different languages. The bottom line is that another world of good paying jobs is going to disappear.

What is on the horizon that will replace these jobs? I have no idea, but I spend more and more time thinking about code generation and how to maximize its use. We used to have several programmers on staff, and now we do all that work ourselves. For us, that made the difference between able to survive this downturn (so far, knock on wood) and drowning in our own payroll. For my friends in the programming community, it means that there are hard times ahead.



PipeA roofer came here last year or so to give me his bid to re-roof my carport. He slipped a contract down on my dining room table, all pre-prepared while he sat in his really, really expensive pickup truck outside.

He wanted me to sign a deal for $2,500 for the job. The carport is 20 x 10 feet. 200 sq ft. So that's $12.50 per sq ft. I declined. He said I could finance, I looked at the finance charge and it amounted to about 20% — and that's how inflation is created. People buy stuff, order work done and use finance — instead of using self-discipline to say no. And I said no and did the roof myself at less than $200 but I did injure a knee carrying a 50 lb bucket of tar up the ladder to the rooftop.

This week I asked a plumbing company to send a guy over because I have smelled sewer gas during the night, somewhere in the system a problem exists and although I am pretty good at copper plumbing work I am not a drain-waste-vent person. Don't like to deal with the stuff that goes down drains.

Anyway, the plumber was a master at his trade and an all around good fellow to get acquainted with. He could not find the problem for certain but suggested a code violation in regard to the washing machine waste discharge which if corrected probably would solve the sewer gas issue.

He bid $1,500. Well I had to decline that also. The parts for drain-waste-vent work are cheap, just plastic. The job is like cut and paste on a computer in that one measures pipe and cuts it for the purpose it's to be used for then you use a common glue to paste the parts together.

Yesterday I went to a new Barnes & Nobel store with a coupon they mailed me and bought a Crack & Pecker plumbing book that details exactly how to work with plastic pipe for drain-waste-vent systems; cost me $23 with the coupon. I will do this job for a few bucks worth of plastic pipe.

That's how inflation comes to us. We are lazy, don't want to learn how to do things for ourselves, pay exorbitant finance charges and increase inflation, because, you see, inflation if created out of debt, and I can prove it because I have done my job, research.

Dan Costin writes:

I live in the UK. Had an Indian fast food dinner last night with my wife, two chaat appetizers and a prawn curry, a lassi, a glass of mediocre wine: £30. Under £5 if I'd made it myself. Then went to see a movie: £20. £4 if I'd watched it at home. I drove there, gas is over $8/gallon. Could've walked an hour. Or stayed home and fixed the toilet. But I'm letting the plumber do it. Who knows how much he'll charge. But it keeps everyone happy. Skill specialization is the only way we can get a complex civilization like ours to work. Otherwise I'd be busy making jams for the winter about now, trying to figure out how to keep my corn dry, and my cows happy. Then there'd be no time for trading, the ultimate specialized trade, at the pinnacle of our civilization.

Russell Thomas adds:

I also live in the UK. I was thinking only yesterday about some building quotes of around thirty thousand pounds for a dormer extension to my bedroom and a small utility room, which are situated effectively in my roof. I would gain an upstairs bathroom situated on existing floorspace , and an extra eleven metre square of standing room for this cost. I appreciate that time, knowledge and tools come into effect, and hopefully over the years an increase in property value. But at most the raw materials of such work would be five thousand pounds. That leaves twenty five thousand pounds labour for a four-five week project. Now if I added that thirty thousand pounds total to my mortgage like most people do in the UK. Over the term of my twenty year mortgage, I will effectively be paying sixty thousand pounds for the whole project! In a nutshell, the builders walk away with 25k after a few weeks work and I am left with a debt to pay over the next 20 years which will effectively double the initial amount paid. Anyone know any hardworking migrant Polish builders?


Resources & Links