The shortage of skilled developers has been growing for years and is only expected to get worse. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the worldwide shortage of software engineers will grow 25% by 2031, a growth rate far outstripping all other fields.

Because many businesses are working on digital transformation projects that will have them increasingly relying on software and the cloud, developers are in critically high demand right now. And those jobs offer plenty of rewards — U.S. News and World Report ranks software developers at the very top of its Best Jobs list. But not all developer jobs are the same. Emerging trends in technology reveal where businesses and other organizations are focusing their strategies for success, and the fields that will offer developers the best opportunities.

AI Comes to the Fore

After years of impressive, if at times excessively hyped, advancements in fields ranging from medical diagnoses to self-driving cars, artificial intelligence (AI) has suddenly gone mainstream. It is present to one degree or another in business processes, giving rise to AI-native software developers.

Perhaps the greatest impact has been seen with the advancements in Open AI’s GPT-3 and ChatGPT, both of which build on developments in natural language processing (NLP). GPT-3 (third-generation generative pre-trained transformer) is a neural network model that uses deep learning to create human-like text.

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot that has quickly become something of a sensation. It’s been used by businesses, students, real estate agents and even software developers (although its propensity for wrong answers prompted the developer site Stack Overflow to ban its use). ChatGPT even has Google worried that it could overtake their company’s search engine popularity. The competitive landscape is putting pressure on Google, Meta and others to open their own large language models to the public.

ChatGPT’s impact may have seemed sudden, but the trend was already underway and shows signs of continuing. O’Reilly’s Tech Trends for 2023 report found that, among AI topics, NLP was the most viewed, showing a 42% year-over-year growth, followed by deep learning, at 23%.

Security Is Still Paramount

The importance of cybersecurity has never been far from mind, but it has become a more urgent topic in the past several years, as a result of high-profile attacks on infrastructure and software supply chains, as well as the rampant spread of ransomware attacks across the spectrum.

The continued movement of enterprises into the cloud and the growing sophistication of attacks has made security an even more complex issue. Cloud computing moves systems, transactions and critical data outside the perimeter of a traditional network. The explosion of mobile devices and remote work also complicates security. But a big part of the problem is that many organizations still fail at the basics. According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, 82% of data breaches start with phishing, in which bad actors trick users into giving up their login credentials.

The focus of security is now on identity-related breaches, which has raised interest in Zero Trust, which secures distributed systems by continual authentication and authorization of users and other network identities. Zero Trust grew by 146%, according to the Tech Trends report. Another significant area of growth was secure coding, which grew by 40%.

Soft Skills Take a Bigger Role

With the growth of cloud apps and services, DevOps teams are now spinning out new functionality on a regular basis. Technology also permeates every corner of organizations, and software development has become more of a business function. Soft skills are becoming a bigger priority for software engineers and tech leaders as they look to attain leadership and management roles within the business.

Contrary to the old idea of information technology (IT) being a separate, siloed domain populated by tech nerds on the other side of the wall, organizations are stressing the importance of communication, leadership and mentoring throughout the enterprise. It’s teamwork, and not a superstar 10X developer, that delivers the best results at most organizations these days.

Users have shown increased interest in professional and management skills. Project management grew by 47% year-over-year, according to the Tech Trends Report, followed by professional development, which grew by 37%. Use of content around the project management professional (PMP) certification grew by 36%, while communication skills jumped by 26% and leadership grew by 28%. IT management (21%) and critical thinking (20%) also drew increased interest from users.

All these positions require soft skills (i.e., communication, interpersonal skills, leadership, problem solving, etc.) and are evidence that developers and IT operations employees see tech leadership roles such as project manager as the next step in their careers. With a recession looming and many companies laying off workers, it is also far-sighted; developers are still in high demand, but people can never have too much job security.

Motivation To Improve Programming Practices

A developer’s job still relies on coding, and while the programming languages Java and Python continue to lead the pack, there are some trends worth watching. According to O’Reilly’s report, the usage rates of Go and Rust have increased sharply, putting them on track to challenge Java and Python before long. Interest in coding practices also is strong, showing 35% year-over-year growth, indicating that software developers are highly motivated to improve their practice of programming. These include topics around software maintenance, test-driven development, maintaining legacy software and pair programming. Of note, usage of content around the open-source repository Git increased by 21%, while content on QA and testing increased by 78%.

Preparing Workforces for What’s to Come

Whether we see it in the rise of AI, treacherous new wrinkles in the cybersecurity landscape, or turbulence caused by an uncertain economy, the changes happening in technology today will have an impact on operations tomorrow. Keeping abreast of current trends can help business leaders set themselves up for success in both the short and long term.

Part of that process entails preparing workforces for what’s to come. As technology permeates organizations, reskilling or upskilling teams will be necessary to keep businesses competitive.