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If You’re an Engineer, You Need to Get Better. Quickly.

Phil Bennett Posted by Phil Bennett in The Future 6 min read

Both of my parents were Software Engineers. When I was younger, they did nothing to pressure me into following their career path. They might have dropped a few light triggers into my lap in the form of a ZX Spectrum computer, a very early home computer, when I was very young. 

And those triggers worked. As a little boy, I diligently copied code from magazines (yes, that was a thing. No, I’m not THAT old) into my Spectrum to play silly little games. I had started down the software development path. 

Naturally, almost exactly on the morning of my 13 birthday, I did what every self-respecting teenager would do and decided that following in my parent’s career footsteps was ‘ewwww’, and I rebelled against becoming a Software Engineer. I saw it as boring. 

I over-corrected slightly, then decided I was going into the arts instead! I selected to study drama and art instead of technical subjects. 

I became interested in music as part of this drive to artistic self-enlightenment. At this point, our home computer had developed from a ZX Spectrum into something more powerful. Our new computer could run a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation); software that allowed me to start creating music. 

I was terrible at it, but it led me to discover Virtual Studio Technology (VST), which completely changed my life. VST allows you to virtually model musical effects or instruments on a computer, things like audio effects and instruments. 


I realised that pure software engineering was indeed quite boring, but what you could achieve by building software wasn’t! By writing some code, I could create something creative that had some impact on the world. 

I had heard that the VST plugins were written in C++. I asked my father how you would go about learnings this language. At the time I didn’t notice but, knowing him more since that point, I’m pretty sure the smug look of glee on his face as he handed me a copy of Borland C++ would have been unbearable. 

And so started on the engineering journey that has brought me here. 

Buckle Up

So why am I telling you this story? Because I feel that my excitement about the impact/results rather than the technology I’ve built over the last 30ish years is what’s kept me relevant and, more importantly… employed.  

I also hope it will keep me employed through what I suspect will be a rough ride for developers over the next few years. Two real things are definitely happening, and one possible thing that might happen is going to directly impact how easy it is to remain employed as a software engineer. 

1. Supply Increase

When I went to University, Software Engineering was seriously uncool. Additionally, career prospects seemed limited to working for large boring corporations. I didn’t go to Uni to study software; I did a business degree. I was not the only one. 

In the late 1990s, people weren’t particularly interested in studying software, partly due to stereotypes and partly due to educational establishments needing to improve their teaching practices.  

As the need for engineers increased, it simply outstripped the supply. This made it a buyer’s market from the engineer’s side, which has driven engineering salaries to astronomical levels. 

But this has changed as salaries increased and cool tech startups showed in the media what you could achieve with the knowledge of how to build software. More and more people have started to learn. Some have decided to learn through the traditional university route; others have taken new opportunities like Academies, Bootcamps, and self-learning. 

There are now many more engineers than before, and younger generations seem much more interested in learning how to build software. 

2. Demand Decrease

The global economy has been incredibly excited about accepting the risk of building new technology for the last few decades. Funding for tech startups and scaleups has been driven by industry hype. 

As global financial belts tighten and recessions start to pop up globally, the risk appetite in the tech funding scene has dropped significantly. 

There is simply a lot less money being pumped into speculative product building. For the last few decades, the tech science motto was “Get the users; we’ll work out how to make money later”. Almost overnight, this switched to hard focuses on profitability and sustainable growth. 

Less money to build equates to fewer engineers needed to make things. 

3. Grunt Work Decreased (Possibly)

So already, points one and two dictate that there are more engineers and fewer things to build. It will undoubtedly make it harder to get engineering jobs. 

But we sit on the precipice of an unknown dawn; many talks of a future where Artificial Intelligence has taken engineering jobs. There are so many complicated inputs, unanswered questions, and variables in this conversation that I find it hard to trust anyone with a definitive view.  But it looks pretty likely that AI will have some impact on engineering roles; for now, I will leave it to you to decide what that might be, but it seems silly to ignore that it will have some kind of impact. 

What To Do?

So we are left with a situation where over the next couple of years, getting engineering roles will be much more challenging. So what options are an engineer do you have to secure your career future?

In the words of Scoobious Pip, there seems to be only one option. Get Better, Quickly. 

The most impactful way you can do that is to stop making the act of engineering the goal.

Then start focusing on what the impact you’re delivering is.  

Finding a purpose in what you do as an engineer will unlock your full potential. As a baseline focusing on the impact that you have will do two things:

  1. Allow you to choose the right engineering solution. (which frequently involves a lot less engineering than you think)
  2. Will help you focus on building something the world needs? 

These two things will make you incredibly valuable to a business because they will likely push you towards building profitable products. All a business wants is to make something that doesn’t cost more than people are willing to pay to make. 

Sir Spam-a-lot!

I have a lot going on right now, so it feels like I’m trying to promote something. I’m not; I like talking to people about things I care about!

But please check out the following: