By John Sonmez June 29, 2015

Your Job Is Going Away and You Won’t Get a Retirement

The world is changing—rapidly.

Not too long ago, you could reasonably expect gainful employment at a single company for most of your life and then enjoy a nice pension or retirement plan later in life.

It wasn’t too long ago when most software developers might be expected to work for the same company for at least five to ten years.

But, now the norm is to switch jobs every three to five years—with five being on the longish side.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of software developers who have worked at the same company for many years (or perhaps even decades), but it is becoming more and more rare.

Rarer still is the expectation that an employer will take care of your retirement for you.

In the US, pension plans have been mostly replaced by 401ks and IRAs.

Even employer-sponsored healthcare seems to be going the way of the Dodo.

I predict the future is going to be a much different place.

The end of the information worker

JoblessMost jobs today are… well, jobs.

But I predict that is going to change.

Fewer and fewer companies are going to hire full-time software developers, and instead will count on the services of contractors and freelancers to do most of their work for them.

As competition gets fiercer, technology increases, computers get smarter, and more rapid progress is demanded, there is less room for slack.

It’s a trend that’s been slowly pushing forward and I don’t see any reason why it won’t continue.

But you have to ask yourself: where does it end?

Just as we traversed from the agricultural age, to the industrial age, and finally the information age, we’ll traverse again into a new stage of human development.

What this new age will be is anyone’s guess, but I bet it will involve the end of information workers and the rise of entrepreneurs.

The days of relying on someone else to provide a paycheck, health care, and vacation time for you are coming to an end.

Soon it will be your responsibility to create and sell your own value.

(Check out “The Lean Startup” for some idea on this, or even “The $100 Startup.”)

The distribution and decentralization of services

You can see the trend already in many areas.

DriverUber provides a cheaper and more convenient transportation service in many areas of the world, and does so through a completely freelanced fleet of drivers.

Airbnb has allowed property owners to rent out their homes or rooms to travelers without incurring the overhead of becoming a hotel or setting up complex rental management agreements.

It’s become easier and easier to find and offer freelance services through sites like Upwork, Fiverr, 99designs, and more.

Even marketplaces are decentralized. Amazon offers many goods for sale, but individual sellers own and ship many of those products. I frequently sell my own used items on Amazon.

Everywhere you look, you can see this trend of distributed services and decentralization.

It’s no longer necessary for one large company with an army of employees to provide a service or even to create a product.

Take a look at all the Kickstarter projects where one- or two-person companies are bringing products through an entire manufacturing process on a shoestring budget.

Access to the Internet and the ability to easily conduct commerce on the internet has lowered the barrier of entry to almost nothing.

What does this have to do with software development?

It’s a fair question, but the answer should be somewhat obvious by now.

As companies change and become more nimble and flexible, as business is conducted in a more decentralized manner and distributed amongst many providers of services and values rather than a few, the traditional office worker starts to greatly lose his or her value.

It may seem like companies will always need software developers, but that is only partially correct.

Companies will always need software development services, but those services don’t necessarily need to be provided by full-time employees or even long-term contractors.

Not only will companies not need to—nor desire to hire—full-time software developers in the near future, but it won’t be as necessary to have such large teams to develop even the most complex software.

Already, lone software developers in their parent’s basements are creating more and more services that, just a decade ago, would have required the work of an entire team of software developers.

As technology improves and our techniques and tools improve, the leverage increases for the individual software developer to create and achieve more.

Plus, just like everything else, software in general is changing.

No longer are we building massive applications that can do everything. Instead, specialization in many fields is causing the need for specific software designed to do a single designated task, and to do it well.

As more and more professions become highly specialized, more opportunities will abound for individual software developers or small teams of software developers to build applications that cater to those specialties.

Want a few examples?

Just in the Internet marketing domain itself, there are actually highly competitive, specialized software suites designed to do the following tasks:

  • Create landing pages for collecting email addresses
  • Optimize customer conversion rates on sales and landing pages
  • Process payments and deliver digital products
  • Display a pop-up modal dialog for capturing email addresses
  • Display a ribbon at the top of a web page for capturing email addresses
  • Create give-away contests for growing email lists
  • Track and create sales funnels

The list could go on and on. And remember this is just one software domain—that of Internet marketing. And all of these highly specialized software solutions have multiple competitors.

Can you imagine how large the need is for highly specialized software is across the entire gamut of industry?

Can you imagine how much it will grow?

So much need likely exists for highly customized and specialized software that just about every programmer in the world could eventually create their own software company to fulfill those needs.

Will we all become entrepreneurs?

futureI can’t say for sure, but I highly suspect it.

The future certainly seems to be heading in that direction. That’s part of the reason why I’ve spent so much time preparing software developers for this likely future.

I’ve been talking about the commoditization of the software developer as we know it, for quite some time, and I’m seeing more and more evidence of it.

It’s no longer good enough to just be a software developer. You also have to learn how to market yourself and build your own branding around your name.

Right now these skills will help you to get a better job or a raise, but I predict that in the future, they will be absolutely necessary. The day is coming when we will all be entrepreneurs or freelancers.

(By the way, if you want to jump into this mindset already, I highly recommend The Millionaire Fastlane. It’s one of my favorite books and shatters many people’s beliefs about what the safe road in life truly is.)

It’s not that far-fetched of an idea. Not too long ago, most people were independently employed. Blacksmiths, candlestick makers, bakers, butchers, shoemakers, and just about all trades were not centralized, but were all entrepreneurial enterprises. It’s not a stretch to imagine a future where the pendulum has swung back in that direction.

So, the question remains for you…

What are you doing to prepare for the future?

Will you be ready for a future where there are no “jobs?”

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."