Will There Be A Post-Pandemic IT Boom?

For billions of people around the world, things are pretty uncertain now. Hundreds of millions have lost their jobs. Businesses of all sizes – but especially smaller and newer businesses, many start-ups – are in trouble. Many have already folded.

The experts predict a recession the likes of which we haven’t seen in anyone’s lifetime. But there may be one sector that – as the dust settles – might even grow faster as a result of the pandemic.

Information and communications technology has come to the fore as country after country locked down, commanding businesses who could to let their employees work from home. This would not have been possible a generation ago for the vast majority. Most homes did not have computers, and almost no homes had Internet. Now, it’s the reverse.

While some household name brands have run into serious difficulties, new brands have become household names in the last 3 months – companies like Zoom, for example. “Zooming” is now as much a thing as “hoovering”.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of established businesses have had their digital transformations stress-tested for the first time, and have found them wanting. From extreme cases like UK retailer Primark, who effectively had no online capability, to old hands in every sector who’ve invested billions in digital over the last 30 years, it seems most were not quite as “digital” as it turns out they needed to be.

From customer-facing transactions to internal business processes, the pandemic has revealed gaps that were being filled by people necessarily co-located in offices and shops and factories and so on. A client of mine, for example, still doesn’t have the ability to sign up new suppliers without a human being in the accounts department to access the mainframe via one of the dedicated terminals. They are rushing now to close that gap, but their mainframe skills base has dwindled to the point where nobody knows how. So they have to hire someone with COBOL skills to make the changes on that side, and C# skills to write the web front end for it. Good luck with that!

I’m noticing these digital gaps everywhere. Most organisations have them. They were missed because the processes still worked, thanks to the magic of People Going To OfficesTM. But now those gaps have been laid bare for everyone to see (and for customers and suppliers to experience).

Here’s the thing: thing’s aren’t going back to normal. The virus is going to be with us for some time, and even after we’ve tamed it with a vaccine or new treatments, everyone will be thinking about the next new virus. Just as COVID-19 leaves it mark on people it infects, the pandemic will leave its mark on our civilisation. We will adapt to a new normal. And a big component of that new normal will be digital technology. As wars accelerate science and technology, so too will COVID-19 accelerate digital innovation.

And it’s a match made in heaven, because this innovation can largely be done from our homes, thanks to… digital technology! It’s a self-accelerating evolution.

So, I have an inkling we’re going to be very busy in the near future.

The Most Popular Programming Language in 2019? You’re Not Going To Like It…

I threw a curveball on Twitter yesterday.

I’m not at all surprised to see SQL scoring so low, with many folk asking “Why is SQL on this list and not Java?”

It depends, of course, on what we mean by “popular” (and by “programming language”). If we mean “liked by developers”, then I’m frankly surprised SQL scored as high as it did. I’m certainly no fan – always looking for ways to write no SQL at all if I can help it – and I know many devs are none too keen, either.

But if you ask employers, it’s a different story. In the UK, for example, SQL is the most in-demand programming language recruiters ask for. According to itjobswatch.co.uk, more jobs advertised over the last 6 months mentioned SQL than any other language. (When I searched some of the top job sites in other countries, the trend was the same: more results returned for “SQL” than any other language.)

And this makes sense, when you think about it. While, these days, most jobs don’t specifically ask for a “SQL developer”, many developer jobs do ask for some proficiency in using relational databases and in SQL. It’s a forgotten language, but still very much alive and in current use.

Some question whether SQL’s really a programming language at all – GitHub certainly don’t seem to think so. I guess it depends on the dialect of SQL we’re talking about: Transact-SQL, PostgreSQL, MySQL and PL/SQL have all of the features we’d expect from a programming language – variables, I/O, functions, control flow, etc. And I still see applications where more than half the code is written in stored procedures – though I certainly don’t condone that. But, yes, in those cases I think we have to concede that they are programming languages – every bit as much as Fortran and BASIC.

So, there you have it – the ugy truth. SQL is the most in-demand programming language. It might not be the one most developers want on their CV, but it’s one very many developers need on their CV.