Software has evolved to the point where products can be built by taking Lego-like components and assembling them into a whole. So that begs the questions: Are engineers becoming a commodity? After all, the use of available modules to build solutions means startups require less capital to get going and engineers don’t need to have the same depth of knowledge in some areas as they used to. As Sam Gerstenzang, partner at Andreessen Horowitz, put it:
An individual can now scale a web app to millions of users with Digital Ocean, Heroku and AWS (perhaps coordinated by Mesosphere). It no longer requires a sophisticated understanding of MySQL parameters to scale a database on Google App Engine, just as it no longer requires a knowledge of the CPU chip it’s all chugging away on.
So companies can be built with fewer engineers, right? Indeed, Gerstenzang foresees a time when acquisitions are made that don’t include any engineers at all.
Not so fast, says Mike Kavis, vice president and principal architect for Cloud Technology Partners. Writing at Forbes, he says:
Sure a developer can go to AWS, create a multi-region auto-scaling database, deploy a LAMP stack and get all of the major pieces of an application up and running in hours. Standing up infrastructure and application software equals high scalability about as much as dropping off a truckload of tools and equipment at a construction site equals a house.
Kavis says Gerstenzang’s idea trivializes the hard work—not to mention the long hours—engineers at companies like Tumblr, Pinterest and WhatsApp have put in to get the scaling right. Empowered to make decisions and unencumbered with legacy technology, they have done amazing things—by starting with ideas and applying their brainpower to make them work, often pushing technology beyond where it could be expected to go.
“We may be headed to a future where robots can do many of the tasks that we do ourselves today, but we are a long way from replacing the need for brilliant engineers,” he writes. “There is no Lego for brilliance.”
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