2018 Tech Predictions

It’s that time of year again… well, actually, a few days late, but I’ve been busy, I swear. As has become my tradition now for nigh-on a decade, I will first go back over last years’ predictions, to see how well I called it (and keep me honest), then wax prophetic on what I think the new year has to offer us.

As per previous years, I’m giving myself either a +1 or a -1 based on a purely subjective and highly-biased evaluational criteria as to whether it actually happened (or in some cases at least started to happen before 31 Dec 2017 ended).

In 2017…

Oh, my, it’s been something of a roller-coaster for all of us, to be sure. Even if we leave out some of the political mess (and Lord has it been a mess!), the tech industry has seen a huge element of chaos and uncertainty thanks to a whole slew of factors, some related and some not. Untangling all of this is going to take some time, but no better time than now, so…

First, let’s look at the personal predictions:

  • Ted will celebrate his one-year anniversary at Smartsheet in September. +1! I’ve now been at Smartsheet for a year-plus, and have no real desire to change my immediate surroundings anytime soon. The company is growing like mad, we just made our first acquisition, and my team is starting to go out into the world on its own. Management has its downsides, but it certainly has its upsides, too.
  • Ted will do less speaking this year. +1! And this will probably continue into the new year as well. As it stands, I’m probably looking at no more than a dozen conferences, total, through all of 2018.
  • Ted will not be renewed as a Microsoft MVP. +1! Despite some repeated promises from the MVP team that they would examine my candidacy once they had done some refactoring in the process, no new invitation to rejoin that program has come from Microsoft, and I strongly suspect that they will continue to ignore me. Fortunately, as I said last year, most of what I care about in the Microsoft world is already open-source, and the rest of it… meh.
  • Ted will look to engage with other tech companies beyond Microsoft. +1! Google and I have circled around each other for a year or so now, yet something keeps coming up that keeps me from being a GDE. Fortunately, like Microsoft, most (if not all) of the Google stuff I care about is also open-source, so the lack of the “GDE” credential at the end of my email signature isn’t really all that big a deal. On a related note, though, I did become an IBM Champion of Cloud… for a year.
  • Ted will continue to teach at UW. +1! Still going. Still loving it. Still looking to continue doing it through all of 2018 and beyond.
  • Ted will look to publish a few mobile apps. -1! Not a single one published. Kinda frustrated at myself over that.
  • Ted will continue to write for various tech ‘zines. +1! My column at developerWorks dried up, but CODE Magazine and MSDN are still going strong, and honestly, I’m OK with that—things at work have gotten really busy as I’ve taken on more “management” tasks and less “technical” ones.
  • And finally, Ted will try to blog more. -1! It’s been a busy year, and frankly I’ve been just too caught up in things to really make a good go of it. Looking to change that, boss, looking to change that.

OK, despite the +6 and -2, I’m going to reset the score back to zero, because, really, personal predictions are just not all that interesting to anybody but me.

Let’s get to the meat of it.

  • The calendar year 2017 is going to be a wild one for the tech industry… +1! Oh, my Lord, was that a +1. The year opened with Trump’s “Technology Summit” with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, and within a month it was disbanded and completely discredited. I said “The man thrives on being unpredictable,” which was obviously spot-on, “and the techn industry… thrives on predictability.” The tech sector almost immediately distanced itself from Trump, and many companies have since found themselves in a position where they are actually sitting across the courtroom against his Administration.
  • The Congress will call for an investigation into the ‘hacking’ of the 2016 US election. +1! We’re all getting a little tired of the investigation, actually, but it’s not wrapping up any time soon.
  • Security becomes a HUGE deal for the industry. +1! If you weren’t convinced of the accuracy of this, allow me introduce you to my friends SPECTRE and MELTDOWN (which, I admit, is cheating a little since the news about them broke just after the new year). Coupled with all the other hacks—which, admittedly, we’re starting to get a little jaded about—it’s pretty clear that life as a security consultant is a pretty prime gig. Just ask Troy Hunt.
  • Apple continues to plummet. +1! MacBookPro’s continue to hover at 16GB max RAM. The iPhone X has a chunk carved out of it and Apple claims that was deliberate. Facial recognition, water resistance, and a few other “amazing!” features were all already invented and mass-produced by Samsung.
  • Apple doesn’t introduce any new products this year. +1! iPhone X doesn’t count, since it didn’t change the form factor. No new iPad. No new MacBooks. Nothing.
  • PC manufacturers double their efforts to build a MacBook Pro. +1! The MBP PC clones are becoming too legion to count—as a matter of fact, I just ordered a ThinkPad P51, 64GB RAM, 2TB SSD, and it’s not much thicker than my MBP 15” from 2012. You are falling way behind, Apple, and don’t think we all don’t notice it.
  • Apple rumors about Tim Cook’s departure begin. -1. If those rumors have circled, it’s not been anywhere I could hear them.
  • Oracle will continue to just write Java. +1! “… releases of Java just keep coming through both commercial and OSS channels.” In fact, Oracle has committed to a new and ridiculously short release cycle for JDK releases. There is zero evidence that they have any secret plans to screw the entire Java-based world over by charging licenses, so let’s put that one to bed already, shall we?
  • Oracle Cloud emerges onto the cloud scene in a big splash. -1. Oracle has a cloud? This was a pretty big whiff—Oracle’s cloud play, if anything, appears to be falling further and further behind the “Big Three” (Amazon, Google, Microsoft).
  • Salesforce makes a major database acquisition. -1. While Salesforce did eventually acquire Attic Labs, that didn’t happen until two weeks ago, and I would hardly call the Noms database a major database to boot. Good luck to them, but this is hardly a +1 for me.
  • Salesforce releases a new programming language. -1. Salesforce was actually pretty quiet through the calendar year 2017, probably trying to figure out what to do with all the companies they purchased the year before.
  • LinkedIn Learning starts to make a serious dent in online developer training. +1! LIL is growing their training curriculum, and while they’re not to the point of buying up ridiculous amounts of ad space online, they’re definitely starting to grow their online presence.
  • Swift doesn’t go to 4. -1. “Swift 3 held breaking changes from Swift 2, and the folks at Apple are not stupid. Swift 4 will be far, far down the horizon for a few years yet, given that each major version number bump has heralded incompatibilities.” Well, yeah, called that one way wrong, and what’s worse, Swift 4 had breaking changes from Swift 3. Swift is a cool language, but if they keep breaking it like this, it’s going to acquire a very nasty reputation.
  • Microsoft ships C# 7. +1! As a matter of fact, C# 7.1 and C# 7.2 came out as well. Microsoft seems determined to keep committed to a much shorter release cycle, so it’s reasonable to assume that C# will continue to ship once or twice each year.
  • No new Android version. -1. I got the code-name right (Oreo), but it shipped to the public in August.
  • Twitter will continue its slide into irrelevancy. -1. Whether for good or for ill, Trump is giving the world a view into his mindset every day through his Twitter account, and Twitter continues to love giving him that stage. I don’t know if it’s good for the Twitter brand to be so closely aligned with Trump like this, but they’re clearly not “irrelevant”.
  • The “Internet of Things” continues to draw hype, and continues to fail to deliver. +1! Sorry, but IoT continues to hover at this stage of “Honest, it’s going to be huge!” as it has for the last three years. There’s still no compelling “gotta-have-it” IoT toy or tool or app yet, and not for lack of trying.
  • Tech “unicorns” will start to watch the bubble pop. -1. Uber took some serious hits in 2017, but overall the unicorn bubble hasn’t started to pop yet.
  • Voice-controlled fart apps will emerge. -1. I’m thinking of writing one, actually.
  • Facebook will find that preventing ‘fake-news sites’ is a lot easier said than done. +1! As a matter of fact, Facebook’s latest suggestion (as of today) is to put a “credibility rating” on stories from various websites that’s based on a crowdsourced opinion poll—in other words, we’re going to let the masses decide what’s believable, because the masses are a good judge of what’s believable. (In related news, the Flat Earth Society has seen their membership numbers rise in recent years.)
  • A driverless car will kill somebody. +1! -1! I wrote “The circumstances may not be the software’s fault—and in fact it’s likely that it won’t be, when the final analysis comes back—but the headlines will scream, and the widespread fear of a human “not being in the loop” will set driverless cars back by years.” Well, it actually happened in 2016. What’s more, in 2017, the software was cleared of guilt in the crash. Despite the NTSB saying Tesla had some fault later in September, the public at large basically yawned and said, “So?” So I don’t get to claim a point for that one.
  • The topic of ethics and programming will begin to become fashionable. -1. The programming industry has started having some of these conversations among itself, but that’s hardly the kind of scope I was imagining.
  • “The cloud” continues to grow, even as consumers wonder what the hell it is. +1! Public comprehension of “the cloud” still remains pretty low—but what’s worse, what they do comprehend is actually pretty wrong.
  • “Blockchain” remains the most opaque ‘thing’ of the year. +1! Hello Holy Hype Machine, Batman!
  • Artificial intelligence will continue to remain a ‘future’ thing. +1! Alexa is an amazing thing (we have several Echo Dots in the house, mostly to use as an intercom system and alarm clocks), but it’s not really doing anything but a natural language parser so far. Now, I’ll admit, I’m a little behind the times in terms of wiring up my house, but I’m also at far less risk of having my house held hostage to a Russian hacker at the same time. AI is much more than just a voice interface, but right now that seems to be the extent of it to the rest of the world.

Total score: 15 +1s. 10 -1s. Like most years, a mixed bag. I sincerely hope my future as a manager is bright, because clearly I will not make for a good psychic.

2018 Tech predictions

The computing world in 2018 is going to see some interesting changes, I think. Here’s what I mean:

  • SPECTRE and MELTDOWN are going to ripple through the hardware in a big way. (0.8 probability) These attacks go after the speculative execution nature of modern CPUs, and frankly if the chips can’t be fixed to correct for the flaw (and there appears to be some debate about that), then this means that an entire branch of hardware optimizations are going to go the way of the DoDo bird. That is not going to be easy for us as an industry—accustomed as we are to “everything doubles every eighteen months”—to get used to.
  • Apple will still not ship anything new. (0.6) Apple desperately needs a reputation recovery after the whole battery fiasco, but they aren’t ready to ship anything with major “pop” yet. The new MBPs won’t be ready to go this year, I’m guessing, particularly since Apple will want to see how the SPECTRE/MELTDOWN thing plays out, and it takes a fairly long lead time to make any sort of hardware changes before they roll out.
  • Tech unicorns are going to feel a lot more pressure. (0.7) After Uber’s mishaps at the C-level thanks to their toxic CEO and their questionable business practices, a lot of investors are going to start taking a much harder look at what’s going on inside the companies they’ve invested in. Expect to see more than a few “unicorns” having their “bro” CEOs replaced by actual adults who have actual business models.
  • Voice-controlled interface design is going to go out of control. (0.8) Like it or not, the voice thing is here to stay, and the “or not” part of that statement comes when everything is voice-controlled. Why is this an issue? Think about this—when working with an application on your desktop or a tablet or phone, the application that currently has focus—the one in front of you, selected, responding to your mouse or touch—is the only one that gets access to the input that you provide, whatever that may be. But voice applications, they can’t tell when they have focus—as a matter of fact, the whole point of them (as evidenced by the commercials) is that you can be doing something entirely unrelated, and just toss off an “Alexa, drop in on Master Bedroom…” and suddenly you can be doing something on the Internet or talking with somebody else a whole house away. So what happens when you have two or three devices all listening simultaneously, and what happens if you refer to them by name during casual conversation? More than once, my family and I have been talking about our Echo devices, and suddenly Alexa pipes up with, “I didn’t know you felt that way” or “I can’t find camel sushi on the Internet.” (I have no idea, either.) The proliferation of voice devices is going to vastly exceed our ability to regulate between them, and that’s going to create some serious chaos in the household and the workplace.
  • The Javascript SPA Wars will rage on, with new players entering the mix. (0.7) In the beginning, it was AngularJS. Then React. Then Angular. Then React countered with ReactNative. Now VueJS is tossing its hat into the ring, and the Javascript developers of the world are still fighting about which is the best single-page application framework to use. They will probably be fighting about it long after we’re all dead, too, by the way, if the Java Web framework wars are any kind of history by which to guide us. Honestly, VueJS shouldn’t even be considered a competitor to these, since it’s not really a SPA framework but more of a “page” framework, but does that stop people from lumping them all together and demanding a casualty count? Nope.
  • Android will release a new version, and it will be called Pecan. (0.8, 0.4) I’m giving myself two probabilities here, one that a new version will come out, and one that it will be called Pecan. Android seems to be trying to aim for a yearly cadence, and for the most part they seem to be reaching it, but again, whether a new Android release comes out and whether a new Android release is made available for your device are two very different (and seemingly unrelated) stories. Oreo will probably just be reaching general availability by this time next year, it seems like.
  • Kotlin will become the first-class citizen for Android development. (1.0) This is a no-brainer to me; between Google’s choice of JetBrains as the backplane for Android DevStudio, and the fact that they really want to be rid of the whole Oracle lawsuit baggage as quickly as possible, it seems to me that it’s a no-brainer that Google will basically deprecate all of the Java toolchain they can, get Kotlin to produce ART bytecode natively out of the compiler, “hide” the existing Java libraries behind Kotlin standard libraries, suggest that Kotlin’s Java compatibility provides a “legacy access” feature for “legacy” libraries, and essentially move the whole developer ecosystem over to a Kotlin- based one for all future Android development. Note that this process will take years (if not a full decade) to complete, but 2018 is the year Google starts making that move really hard to ignore.
  • Swift 5 will come out, and it will break against Swift 4. (0.6) It’s the dumbest thing Apple and the Swift community could possibly do at this point, but that hasn’t stopped them from doing it three times already (from 1 to 2, from 2 to 3, and from 3 to 4), so why buck the historical trend? Sure, just break all that code—it’s not like people have legacy code bases in the mobile world, we’re all just writing everything new and from scratch anyway, right? (Incidentally, I think this is part of why Swift is having such a hard time spinning up a huge component/package ecosystem the way Ruby, Node, Java and .NET have all managed to do. Yes, Cocoapods is a thing, but it’s a lot smaller and less active in many ways than its peers in the other ecosystems are.)
  • Bitcoin will collapse into the obscurity from whence it came. (8.4) Bitcoin is a currency that is based on nothing more than the faith of the people who buy into it, and that’s an extremely weak basis upon which to build a currency. Supporters of bitcoins will say that all currencies are based on faith, but that’s not entirely true—faith in a currency is based upon faith in the strength of the government that backs that currency. A US dollar is worth anything at all because we trust the strength and faith of the US government. This has been true of every currency ever issued by any nation (or other non-national organization, such as the Confederate States of America) throughout history, and simply wanting it to be different won’t make it so. People put trust and faith into a government; they don’t (or simply can’t) put that faith into cryptography, particularly since it’s not obvious to them how the whole crypto/bitcoin thing works in the first place. Coupled with the increasing costs (in power and heat, both of which are starting to have environmental impact) of generating bitcoin and the huge time sink involved in transferring bitcoin from one party to another, this whole thing is basically a scam, a sham, and a Ponzi scheme. The sooner it dies the better. Now—all of that said, the reason this is a 0.4 probability is that people have (literally) bet their life savings on this, and those who have invested that heavily will not want to see it go down without a fight, and will be struggling like mad to keep the house of cards upright. Couple that with the back that the bitcoin exchange sponsors are making out like bandits, and you have a ripe situation for exploitation and outright criminal behavior—which is precisely why governments are starting to take notice and take action.
  • C# will reach an 8.0 release. (0.4) It’s possible, but not highly likely; the smaller, more incremental releases of C# actually work against this, since they can release (literally) one new feature at a time, and thus avoid the need to do a major-version release. If C# doesn’t reach 8.0, it’ll probably end the year on a 7.3 or 7.4 release, however.
  • Java10 will ship. (0.0) Ha! Fooled you. No, the real prediction is….
  • Java v.Next is going to confuse the hell out of everyone. (0.9) Oracle has said that there will be no more numbered releases of Java, and that they will move to a YY.M versioning scheme of Java. This means that in March, Java 18.3 will ship, and in September, 18.9. The goal is the same as Microsoft’s—frequent incremental releases—and I think the reaction will be much the same: confusion, chaos and frustration from their principal user base as everybody tries to figure out what the hell it is they’re running and what the hell it is they need to run in order to use some particular tool or library.
  • Javascript releases will start to fade into obscurity. (0.5) Not the language itself, but the different release versions of Javascript. Or, rather, ECMAScript, since that’s its proper name. Proof: which version of the ECMAScript standard does Node 8.current implement? 2015? 2016? 2017? 2018? Answer: none of the above—it’s a mix of each. Which then suggests the question, why have “bundled” language releases described in documents like the ECMAScript Specification documents at all? Before the end of 2018, the general Javascript population’s concern for ECMAScript specs, if there ever was any, will be almost entirely gone.
  • Tim Cook rumors begin. I still think this is going to happen soon.
  • Some startup will emerge claiming to fix the “fake news” problem using AI. (0.7) It will be big news, it will make a huge splash, it will get snapped up by Facebook, and it will turn out to be entirely worthless in the long run.
  • Salesforce starts making some acquisitions again. (0.7) I suspect that Salesforce will start looking around for some larger companies to acquire to bring them into some fields that they currently don’t have much play or reputation in. Some will be technology, some might be product/platform vendors. But Benioff’s going to do something in 2018, probably starting around April or May.
  • Docker hype starts wearing off. (0.6) Look, it’s the natural cycle of technology, and now that Docker has made its impact on the world, people will start using it for things that Docker was never meant to do, fail miserably and publicly, and claim it’s Docker’s fault. People who’ve ever been burned by it will jump onto that train, and Docker will take a fairly large PR hit, the same way MongoDB did in 2016 and 2017.
  • Microsoft will continue to push Amazon in the cloud world at every step. (0.6) Azure has, despite all predictions close to a decade ago when it got started, managed to close the gap with AWS in terms of both features, size and profit, and Satya doesn’t show any signs of cooling off on it. Microsoft is going to meet AWS feature-for-feature, and since Microsoft has a few things that Amazon itself lacks (such as a development toolchain, among other things), Azure is going to start drawing some attention away from AWS so long as it doesn’t do something stupid. For that reason….
  • Amazon will start to get into the developer tools game. (0.4) Amazon can’t let Microsoft continue to have a real or perceived advantage in terms of the tools and development experience for building in the cloud, so I expect within the next year or two Amazon will announce or acquire a development toolchain specifically for building cloud applications. Were I a betting man, I would guess they will announce something entirely new and put a ton of marketing and branding behind it, and that it will be some kind of combination of object- and functional, with perhaps some security features built in, but it will have “cloud” (and therefore “services”) as a key component laced within it. This will be Amazon’s “Apple/WWDC announcing Swift” moment, and they will play it as a signal that Amazon is ready to go toe-to-toe against Microsoft in developer tools.
  • Quietly, more and more companies will start looking to build “Developer Relations” departments. (0.9) With the acceptance that HTTP-based APIs are here to stay, more and more companies are going to start putting together APIs to access and/or interact with the data they store. If “the new oil is data”, as many economic periodicals are now claiming, then the new wells will be APIs, and those wells will need to be advertised and explained by people who are familiar with talking to developers, even if the company doesn’t sell to the developer crowd. Think Ford, or Netflix, or even Zeek’s Pizza, a Seattle-local pizza chain that now has a website that will allow you to order pizzas online. If Zeek’s had an API, we could actually automate the ordering of pizza for user groups, which would save my team at Smartsheet a ton of work—but somebody would have to be able to explain those APIs to the developer community, serve as some level of technical support on those APIs, and so on. With the rise of “software platforms” behind these APIs will come the need for people who can talk to the developers (and their bosses), hence the need for more DevRel departments.

Some of this is stuff I plan to blog on more in the coming calendar year. For now, thanks for reading, thanks for staying tuned, and talk to you more in 2018.