Are we doomed?

Is History Repeating Itself?

About one hundred years ago blacksmiths were considered a highly skilled occupation and like software development, it was labor intensive.  While the blacksmith had been around for centuries, it was the Industrial Revolution that created a rapid growth in employment from 1880 and  1915[1].   The blacksmith was critical to the Industrial Revolution, and the software developer is a critical component of the information and knowledge revolutions.

If, in 1915, someone would have suggested to the million plus blacksmiths employed in the industrialized economies they would be obsolete in less than 50 years, they would have thought that person crazy.  The idea of working with metals, fabricating metals, did not evaporate; it was the role of blacksmith that became obsolete.    The role of blacksmithing turned into ironworkers, and those blacksmiths that did not learn the new skills of ironworkers were not able to find employment.

Instead of creating everything from scratch metal workers (weldings) began to assemble parts and pieces together.  We are seeing this same basic trend in software development today.

As software development rolls down the road of progress, the programmer will become obsolete; and the idea of software developer will continue into the future.  I imagine there are those reading proclaiming, “You will always need someone writing code,” and I am sure there were those blacksmiths who could not imagine a world without them, either.  It will be a combination of automation and outsourcing that will make the Western programmer obsolete.

The story of the blacksmith does not end with the decline of employment.  Today blacksmiths are artists and a novelty profession.  The British Artist Blacksmith Association (BABA) continues blacksmithing as an artist profession as well as offering courses on blacksmithing, and they have regular events..   It has nearly 700 members worldwide and their members create brilliant works of art.


[1] United States Statistical Abstract 1915.  Page 233 Table 158
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Your article makes a very good point.
    We human first nvented machines so that we dont need to do things manually (and offcourse to give jobs to blacksmiths)
    Once machines could do things that were earlier done manually (the job blacksmith did can be done automatically) so no need to hire blacksmiths

    We then moved to IT or Computations to develop systems that helps calculate or mental jobs automatically (and to give job to software developers)

    We then developed system like AI or Computer Aided System so that it can develop softwares automatically… so no need to hire developer…

    Waiting for next thing to do….

  2. Is there an agrument to say that sophisticated builds will still require highly skilled practitioners? Yes you can now buy a prefab piece of ironwork, but to get something customised or something changes the smith is still required.

    It may be that the prefab development techniquies will become so easy to “tweak” that the customisation is not needed anymore, but I think we have a few years before the developers become lego brick contructors, rather than developers – and the ability to create your own custom bricks in the machine process will still be valuable.

    So I agree with the comparison, but hope it is not as significant as you suggest soon. Great article!

  3. […] Analysis as a method of estimating the scale of software development, I came across the blog of David Longstreet – a darn well written and clearly topical and productive blog which seems to focus on […]

  4. You make good points David. I think you’re spot on as far as the futures of pure programmers and software writers are concerned.

    As “color by numbers” software development becomes more popular I think we’ll see a large scale retreat to the bastion of management as people try to preserve their marketability.

    Very insightful article.


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