Tech Workers: What You Need to Know in 2024
As we welcome the new year, what about the tech industry is expected to change? What will be more of the same?
Here’s what we’ve learned about the constantly changing market, and what we think tech workers need to know in 2024 — so you can prepare yourself for the worst, and find out why there’s still a good reason to hope for the best.
Generative AI: Start Experimenting. Now.
In 2024, the tech world will continue to try to answer: How best can tech workers invest time into generative AI — this technology that’s promising but still shy of a panacea?
“How seriously should we be taking it?” asked Tracy Miranda, a freelance tech lead specializing in open source, in an interview with The New Stack.
“Should we be re-skilling to get involved in those ecosystems? Or is this just yet another bubble that’s going to come and go, and potentially leave nothing behind?”
On the other hand, if you’re Gergely Orosz, author of The Pragmatic Engineer newsletter, it’s simply unpragmatic to not at least play around with GenAI.
“It’s not really smart to wait it out. It’s smart to experiment with these tools to see how they can make you more efficient right now,” Orosz told The New Stack, not just citing the broader ChatGPT but also Sourcegraph’s Cody coding AI assistant as promising AI productivity tools.
You need to experiment, he urged, “figuring out, can you integrate some of these [AI assistants] into your workflow to either offload some more repetitive things or to pick up new technologies faster.”
While use cases are still nascent, they are growing quickly and will grow even faster in 2024. So, he noted, it’s not about deciding if it works, but how it works for you.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the GenAI revolution is “far away,” he said. “Just try it out. If it doesn’t work for you, cool. But the reality is that there’s a younger generation coming into the industry — Gen Z, they’re eating and drinking all this stuff
“My sense is [AI tools] do make you more productive. And senior engineers who are refusing to use them because of principle or what not, in a few years they will be left behind by a generation who is now just more productive, working faster and, for the most part, with the same quality.”
Pick the Right Open Source Community.
No matter what the result of that GenAI experimentation is, it’ll continue to dominate the tech industry’s conversations in 2024. This is why tech workers will want to get involved not only as users, but creators.
It makes sense that Google Trends has seen at least a tripling of searches around terms like “open source GenAI,” as open source is a common, free pathway to experimentation.
“For open source, there’s a big question as [to] what direction will it go and what communities would you get involved with,” Miranda said.
It’s still so early in the GenAI movement that it’s hard to distinguish the signal from the noise in this sudden influx of open source GenAI communities, she noted. “People will be looking for what are the true communities they can get involved with, where they can build and they can collaborate, and they can be really innovative.”
For her, the first community that stands out with this open source spirit is AI Tinkerers, a series of meetups found in 21 cities across seven countries, dedicated to, as its website proclaims, “pushing the boundaries of large language models (LLMs) and generative AI.”
The community is committed to creating a safe place for participants to learn and share together, Miranda said, which is a central open source value.
“What’s nice about that group is it is focused on come and show your projects and show what you’re building, but don’t bring your startup pitches and your products,” she said.
But, relative to the number of open source GenAI projects that have cropped up over the last year or so, that’s still few to choose from. So, no matter if it’s in AI or more established communities, how can you spot signals of a more inclusive and diverse community? After all, open source contribution still remains about 95% male.
We’ve already spoken about how a code of conduct with enforcement outlined within is an essential signal for a safe community. Miranda also recommended, check out the leadership. Watch for signs of visible diversity or at least evidence that diversity, equity and inclusion are priorities in the community and reflected in the actions the group is taking.
“I think open source is still a really good way to learn quickly and get access to really good developers,” Miranda said, but she recommends being careful when choosing communities.
“Maybe you have a better chance of the community existing long term if it’s within a foundation, versus a community spun up by a VC-backed startup that may or may not be in it in the long run.”
Keep Improving, Continuously.
Want to future-proof yourself in this tentative job market? Want to be able to adapt to changing technology like generative AI? Problem solving will continue to be a highly sought-after skill in 2024. And now, more than ever, you need to be curious and open to these rapid changes.
“By nature, software developers are curious, solutions-focused people so continuous learning has always been a given,” Louise Ogilvy, recruitment director at Develocity, told The New Stack.
“In 2024, I believe employers will be looking for those who are driven to stay abreast of industry trends and adapt in order to utilize them, and this will be a key skill that they look for in the hiring process.”
Staying up to date isn’t just reading the news or your favorite tech blog. This industry is still about who you know as much as what you know.
“More than ever, networking will play a crucial role in keeping informed about industry trends and finding out about new opportunities,” Michelle Bakels, program director at G2i, a hiring platform for remote engineering jobs, told The New Stack.
You don’t have to be fluent in or even have tried all the new shiny tools, but you have to have thought about them and how you could use them to solve problems and collaborate in the future.
“This covers understanding how new developments in AI can be applied to their work for analytics, decision-making and automation,” Ogilvy said. “Furthermore, tech professionals, including managers and leaders, need to have the flexibility and wherewithal to pivot from one specialty to another and use new technologies that become crucial for success.”
When everything is changing so fast, you can no longer afford to even appear to be resistant to new technologies. But you also cannot be willing to just adopt anything shiny. The very human, critical eye is more important than ever. Especially, Orosz said, with AI, where you need to be aware of the limitations and why LLMs are still hallucinating.
“I think there’s going to be a big emphasis on using technology ethically and responsibly,” Ogilvy said. “Those in tech will be expected to be aware of and engage in discussions about data privacy, ethical AI and the broader impacts of technology on society.”
And these discussions will likely happen in tech job interviews — and if they don’t, that could be a red flag that your prospective employer is worryingly behind.
Just don’t work and study non-stop at the risk of your mental and physical health. Burnout in software engineering continues to be endemic to our industry.
“Our industry has always valued problem-solving, so sharpen your ability to communicate and tackle complex issues,” Bakels said. “But equally important is prioritizing your mental health; learning to balance work with the roles we cherish most – like being a parent or a partner — is vital for sustaining a career, especially in uncertain times.”
Return to Office? Not so Fast.
Remote work for the tech industry literally kept the world going during the Covid pandemic. Yet the last couple years have found tech companies trying to force return to office on their unwilling employees. In December, Amazon had a bunch of high-profile workers quit after an internal memo warned that people who didn’t work from the office three days a week would not be promoted.
It looks like 2024 will see this battle, of in-office versus remote work, continuing at many organizations.
And it’s not just about flexibility in terms of where to work. As budgets remain tight and many hiring freezes are in place, employment agreements will change.
“We’re going to see more efforts to blur the lines between full-time employment, freelance, fractional and agency-provided services,” Gabe Greenberg, CEO of G2i, told The New Stack. “The mass layoffs in 2023 highlighted a need for companies to have a more flexible workforce so that they’re able to bring in specific skills for critical projects or interim positions without the cost of a full-time employee.”
This combination of project-based work and outsourced hiring allows for companies to hire the right people from anywhere for as long as they need — or can afford — them. It is also a way to bring someone in who may be specialized in a new technology to help upskill the team.
Of course, for tech workers based in the U.S., where health insurance is tied to full-time employment, this flexibility comes with the risk that they don’t have medical coverage, paid time off or other benefits.
Full-Stack Developers Are Making a Comeback.
The new year will find the tech industry, 18 months of tech layoffs in, still reeling back from its over-hiring in 2022 (and cutting back after mergers and consolidations.) That leaves smaller teams with more work to do.
“I sense that we’re going to see a lot less growth and it will be important to figure out how to be more productive,” Orosz said. “The prediction is that we’re going to see more and more companies not hire as fast and rely on smaller teams that might even get smaller. And more engineers might be starting to use multiple technologies at the same time.”
Essentially, he is already seeing the full-stack developer — one who is able to work on both the front- and backend— making a comeback at some companies, and predicts that will happen more in 2024, as teams downsize while the tech stack continues to scale.
He pointed to Stripe as a place that, for years now, has been full stack for both building and maintaining. Most roles still explicitly lean to the front or the back, but, he wrote in his newsletter, “it’s rare that an engineer does only backend, frontend or data. It’s much more common for new joiners to take on the work their team needs.”
That doesn’t mean you have to specialize in both ends. But, as tools are making it easier for you to embrace full stack, Orosz thinks that, in 2024, there will be more pressure from business to just hire one engineer instead of two.
“So if you start to become better as a backend engineer doing a little bit of frontend, or as a frontend engineer doing a little bit of backend, that’ll give you a professional advantage,” he predicted. “With AI tools, it’s actually surprisingly easier to learn how to do this or to have a generator explain frontend or backend code to you.”
This is just another way that, while companies will expect their teams to do more in 2024, the surest way to build a career in tech is to focus on being flexible and continuously learning.
As Orosz said, “Changes are constants in tech, and it’s good to understand what changes can you use to your advantage.”