The 7 Most Disruptive Software Engineering Trends of 2021

Advice to Help Develop Careers and Engineering Capability

As we begin our journey into 2021, we thought we’d investigate the trends that are most likely to disrupt software engineering in the coming months. To help us do so, we enlisted the experience and knowledge of Dr. Jeff Jensen (CEO & Co-Founder of Keto AI and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering) and Martin Do (Software Solutions Architect, and Ex-Microsoft Engineer).

Here are the seven software engineering trends that they discussed with us, and that they see evolving the market this year.

1.    Think-Less and No-Code Will Gain Traction

It’s not going to be a smooth journey, but the world will increase adoption of and adaption to No-code and Think-less infrastructures. This will enable employers to improve their process and procedures by engaging employees in problem solving. These employees may not be highly adept with coding, but increased use of No-code and Think-less platforms will mean more work can be done without IT support.

Dr. Jensen says:

“The rise of no-code and think-less infrastructure, Dynamics, Firebase, and Bubble are all going after a bigger market catered towards designers, spreadsheets, content creators, and employees that want to solve problems quickly and cost-effectively without direct IT support. I expect no-code cross-platform apps to become stronger enterprise contenders while B2C apps will remain more integrated coding solutions like Firebase.”

2.    The Internet of Things Will Continue its Path of Growth

The growth of the IoT has been forecasted for several years, and this year could see that growth accelerate.

In 2018, a Bain & Company report predicted that the IoT market would grow to $520 billion by 2021. That forecast has been usurped by analysis by Mordor Intelligence that estimates the global IoT market was valued at $690 billion in 2019 and will balloon to more than $1.2 trillion by 2025. Statista goes even further, with a forecast of a global market valued at $1.6 trillion by 2025.

The driving factor here may be people wishing to improve the quality of their life – especially as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. The adoption of IoT devices will, of course, spill over to industry, and sectors that include logistics, construction, and manufacturing, as well as healthcare and telehealth.

3.    React Will Gain in Popularity, and Flutter Will Fly

Web development will be shaped by React, the open-source JavaScript library for building user interfaces, with frameworks such as Next.js, Gatsby, and Remix (all of which are built on React) gaining greater followings. However, Dr. Jensen forecasts that new cross-platform tools will prove to be popular, too.

“Flutter,” Dr. Jensen says, “I think Google is throwing a lot at mobile and web development of the Flutter framework and Dart language. From the support and usability of the tools, I expect the Flutter community to grow exponentially and begin to embrace what we saw with the early days of React/NPM.”

4.    AI and ML Will Power Up as Big Data Gets Bigger

Big data is going to get bigger. Especially as we work our way through the pandemic, big data will be collected and collated to search for healthcare solutions. As well as being used by businesses to help define customer journeys, needs, and wants, we are also likely to witness increased use of big data to direct research into climate change.

Social media, documents, and mainstream media datasets will need to be processed in larger batches than before to enable the IoT to produce its expected benefits.

This will be aided by increased penetration of artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. Companies will collect increasing amounts of data, enabling acceleration of automation of workflows. Expect, too, a greater adoption of digital assistants that enable executives to work more effectively and productively.

Software engineers and data scientists will be in demand as companies seek to streamline their operations, reduce costs, and improve the quality of their products and services.

Martin Do suggests ML will be one of this year’s major trends. “This technology is already pervasive, even for normal everyday use such as voice recognition, facial recognition, and natural language perception being used by many consumer products,” he says. “Also, as the number of IoT devices grow, so will the data created by them. Machine learning will be helpful to mine them for data.”

“AWS released Timestream, which was a solution aimed at solving data cleaning priorities and just having a timeseries database that just ‘works’,” comments Dr. Jensen. “I predict that many companies will continue to focus on remote monitoring, IoT, AI, and that adaptable infrastructure offerings like Timestream will force more developers to build application interfaces that complex infrastructures to manage data at scale.”

Martin concludes, “Many of these trends are already in the mainstream. Machine learning is being used by many consumer devices, and companies are finding many needs for it as well. According to LinkedIn, there are 9.8 times more machine learning jobs in 2020 than five years ago.

“Both data science and machine learning are generating more jobs than candidates right now, making these two areas the fastest-growing tech employment areas today.”

5.    As the Cloud Continues to Expand, The Role of DevOps Will Evolve

The expansion of the cloud is also on the radar of our experts. Martin Do points out that, “Forrester predicts that the cloud market is poised to achieve new heights in the new year. The IT market research firm predicts that the global public cloud infrastructure market will grow 35% to $120 billion in 2021. This will bode well for job seekers with skills in cloud technologies.”

The expansion of the cloud as preferred infrastructure may evolve a reshaping of technology jobs, and Dr. Jensen considers that DevOps engineers may be reduced in numbers with roles changing.

K8s, Rancher, Redhat – who’s driving the Docker ship?” asks Dr. Jensen. “Containers, microcontainers, and container management for business doing cross-cloud infrastructure at scale is starting to get really interesting based on support, usability, and minimizing DevOps resources to run company apps.

The ‘death of the DevOps engineer’ is one of TechCrunch’s predictions as it discusses four enterprise developer trends that will shape 2021. It suggests that “the future will bring ‘DevOps’ back to its original ethos, and give birth to the infrastructure engineer focused on building infrastructure through code.

6.    Remote Work Will Flourish

As the pandemic has evolved, companies have introduced more of their employees to remote working. It is now more readily accepted as a viable way of operating, and those working from home have largely found it to be more rewarding.

A Gartner survey conducted in 2020 found that 80% of companies plan to allow employees to continue to work from home at least part of the time after the pandemic, and Martin agrees.

“The pandemic has shown businesses that the strategy of using remote workers is viable,” Do says. “Technology to help workers to enhance productivity will continue to grow as the number of remote workers grow.”

Helping this continuing transformation of the remote workplace will be the further development and integration of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. Martin expects greater traction outside of gaming, with remote workers enjoying more immersive environments and real-time interaction. Analysis by Juniper Research has led the company to forecast that there will be 10 billion AR applications by 2024, with the size of the AR market growing to almost $44 billion from $8 billion in 2019. It predicts that three quarters of all MR-enabled apps will be delivered via mobile by 2024.

Martin continues, saying, “Applications in the automotive, remote work applications are just some of the areas seeing uses of these technologies. Apple has hinted that the Apple glasses will be in the works.

“In many cases it’s easier to continue the status quo rather than invest resources in a new way of doing things. However, engineering leaders would be wise to at least explore these technologies which have great potential to increase a company’s competitiveness.

“While using a technology just for the sake of using it is not a good idea, those that pass them up without at least looking at them may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage against those who do.”

7.    Cybersecurity Is a Challenge That Must Be Overcome

Many of the software engineering trends that we will experience through and beyond 2021 will present increasingly difficult challenges to businesses, public bodies, and governments.

According to Statista, the global cybersecurity market will total almost $250 billion by 2023, and $300 billion by 2024. Among a list of cybersecurity priorities, the global CIO survey published by Statista finds that significant investment increases are planned in:

  • Cloud security
  • Threat intelligence
  • Data privacy
  • Data encryption

It’s clear that several of the tech trends noted above are driving increased need for investment in cybersecurity, especially trends in:

  • Big data
  • AI and ML
  • Cloud-based infrastructure
  • Remote working

The threat of cybercrime to the global economy should not be underestimated. Cybersecurity Ventures has forecast that cybercrime will cost the global economy $6 trillion in 2021, and that cybercrime will grow by 15% every year through to 2025 when it will cost $10.5 trillion globally.

With such huge potential costs, we shouldn’t be surprised if investment in cybersecurity grows even faster than estimated.

Software engineering in this area will focus on integrating security solutions to prevent fraud, data theft and leaks, malware, ransomware, phishing, and social engineering.

High-profile breaches are thought to have impacted thousands of businesses as well as federal agencies – focusing attention on how vulnerable U.S. computer systems are.

Consequently, Martin is confident that there will be rapid job growth within cybersecurity. “The latest labor statistics suggest that the growth of cyber-security jobs will increase by 30% over the next decade,” he points out. “And this doesn’t take into account the additional attention of the needs for these jobs after each high-profile security breach.”

How Will These Trends Impact the Software Engineering Landscape?

We asked Dr. Jensen for his views on how hiring of software engineers will be impacted by these developing trends. Here’s what he had to say:

Companies will continue to hire traditional software development skills and hire folks with computer science-based problem-solving skills.

“Being able to solve data engineering problems and develop backend infrastructure scripts in Python which demonstrate a depth of applicability for individuals will be huge strengths, as this is quickly becoming a new definition of ‘full stack developer’.

“Expect companies who embrace newer technologies like Flutter and AWS Timestream to have smaller development teams due to the fact that these don’t require specialized knowledge for specific operating platforms and tooling.”

What Should Software Engineers and Engineering Leaders Do to Take Advantage of These Trends?

Dr. Jensen makes several recommendations for software engineers to develop their careers aligned with these trends.

“Python continues to be one of the most up-and-coming languages and will continue to be a language that data engineers, data scientists, and full-stack engineers will continue to embrace. If you’re learning to code or need a language, Python will still be the thing,” he says.

“Therefore, for software engineers, I strongly recommend that you continue to pursue Python as something to have in your toolkit if you don’t have it in your toolkit already.

“If you’re wanting to seek new opportunities at companies, continue to immerse yourself with some of the new PaaS offerings from cloud providers like AWS, as many mid-market companies that are not strong in technology are willing to bet on cheap, quick-moving architecture pieces to make ‘sense’ of their data.”

And for engineering leaders?

“I believe engineering leaders should continue to figure out frameworks on how to bring these new technologies into their teams,” Dr. Jensen says. “Using proof of concepts, R&D projects, or smaller hackathons to test the technologies will be appreciated by developers and could lead to solid breakthroughs on new tech to use to boost the organization.”

Before We Go, a Contrarian View

We also asked Dr. Jensen and Martin Do for contrarian perspectives about software engineering trends and other predictions in 2021. Both gave sage advice.

Dr. Jensen said:

“Full-stack engineering is too conflated with an individual who can do data science, engineering, run K8s and design an interface in React. Full-stack in my mind is better viewed as an individual who can see the pieces needed and know what needs to be put in place.”

Martin Do had a word of warning for those seeking new opportunities and career growth during the coming months:

“While these trends show great promise and will likely have tremendous growth, those that blindly use them may find little to no benefit in them at best or waste time and resources at worst.”

We would love to hear from you. What trends to you see developing in 2021 and beyond?

If you are a software engineer or other technology professional seeking to develop your career in this exciting evolution, or a company seeking the very best talent in this space, please get in touch with Kofi Group today.