2019 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 2018 ended). And, to be fair, while I only posted the 2018 predictions a few days ago (I hadn’t realized it, but my CI system for the blog was down, which goes to show you, it helps to verify your CI system every so often), I actually wrote it a year ago, so it’s still legit.

In 2018…

At the start of 2018, I wrote, “Oh, my, it’s been something of a roller-coaster for all of us, to be sure. … [T]he tech industry has seen a huge element of chaos and uncertainty thanks to a whole slew of factors, some related and some not.” And although I didn’t know it at the time, that was going to be well true of 2018, as well, thanks in no small part to the huge privacy and access scandals that have rocked Facebook and other companies to their very core. Let’s go back and see what I predicted, though, and see where I came out in the face of all that…

In 2018, I wrote…

  • … that SPECTRE and MELTDOWN are going to ripple through the hardware in a big way. I’m sorry, spectre-who? Meltdown-what? The two hardware-based “side channel” attacks made a big splash at the time, but after that, there really wasn’t a whole lot of response or concern beyond “Wait, you mean my CPUs aren’t going to go as fast anymore…?” To be fair, though, much of that lack of concern was (I think) rooted in the more fundamental concerns around, “Wait, Facebook sold my data to whom, again?” or the much more bluntly-wielded, “Wait, China has slipped what additional chip onto our motherboards…?” I might have called the idea that there would be a ripple, but I got the reason way wrong. Score: 0. I get no point, but lose no point.
  • … that Apple will still not ship anything new. Let’s look at the record: They revamped the MacBook Air, they revamped the Mac Mini, they revamped the iPad Pro, and they…. yeah, that was it. Score: +1 for me.
  • … that Tech unicorns are going to feel a lot more pressure. The Uber thing definitely started having some level of impact, but to be clear, it was by far more the recorded visual of Mark Zuckerberg staring into the headlights of a Congressional inquiry that really rattled a few peoples’ heads, and made a number of folks in the tech sector begin (alas, only “begin”) to realize that some of the stuff they are playing with is actually fire that can burn them, not just fire to drive passions or whatever. Just when GitHub got acquired by Microsoft, Airbnb started feeling heat from various lawsuits, and suddenly, the whole “tech unicorn” thing became less of a mark of success than a brand that companies were not quite so keen to burn onto their own flesh. Uber even began running commercials from their new CEO to try and reassure people that Uber wasn’t made up of immoral monsters… even as they still tried to make profits off the backs of the “side hustle” and the “gig economy”, which are code-words for “let’s not treat people like actual employees”. Score: +1.
  • … that Voice-controlled interface design is going to go out of control. Not yet. I was probably a few years premature with this one, but more importantly, the fascination with the voice-control doesn’t seem to be expanding much—yes, companies and developers are beginning to explore what more we can do with voice, but so far, it doesn’t really seem to be taking root in the populated world beyond shopping and simple home automation. Score: -1.
  • … that The Javascript SPA Wars will rage on, with new players entering the mix. Angular is on the downslope of the Gartner Hype Curve; VueJS is still being lifted to the top; React, meanwhile, is sitting at the top of the Hype Curve Rollercoaster, and oh, my, here comes a new challenger in Mavo. Some wars just don’t know when to quit. Score: +1.
  • … that Android will release a new version, and it will be called Pecan. Ha! “Pie” shipped in August. Score: +1 (out of a possible 2).
  • … that Kotlin will become the first-class citizen for Android development. Kotlin is now included in the text of the documentation of “Build your first app”, and if Java is still the language used for the majority of the samples, well, Java’s been the front-and-center for Android for the previous 27 releases, so you’ll have to give Google a little time to get everybody to the point where they can forget Java like the passing of a bad migraine. Google is firmly committed to Kotlin as the language of choice for Android, it seems. Score: +1.
  • … that Swift 5 will come out, and it will break against Swift 4. Sooooo close. Swift 5 development has preview snapshots that were out as late as December 27, but it hasn’t shipped as part of Xcode and other packaging channels yet, so I don’t get points. Swift 5 is trying to set a higher bar for source incompatibility with previous versions (yay), but hasn’t ruled it out entirely (sigh). Details here. Still, no points for me—Swift 5 isn’t expected to ship until early 2019. Score: -1.
  • … that Bitcoin will collapse into the obscurity from whence it came. It’s been falling pretty much continuously since the end of 2017, and there’s no signs it’ll rebound. It may not ever reach a $0 valuation, since some fools (like the state of Ohio) have put at least some amount of faith into it (albeit probably as a way to attract additional hi-tech interest; that same article reports “In the same month, Ohio lawmakers also pitched their state as a future hub for blockchain, hoping to both attract companies in the space and blockchain talent to the jurisdiction.“), and there will always be those who will always continue to support it, just like some folks still insist that OS/2 is still a real operating system. Score: +1.
  • … that C# will reach an 8.0 release. Nope. C# stopped at 7.3 (in Visual Studio 2017 15.7), and probably won’t ship until Visual Studio 2019 ships, which will probably happen in… yeah, no points for me on this one. Score: 0.
  • … that Java v.Next is going to confuse the hell out of everyone. So much so that Oracle abandoned the proposed versioning scheme and went back to “Java10”, “Java11”, “Java12”, …. Score: +1.
  • … that Javascript releases will start to fade into obscurity. Quick, which version of ECMAScript (which is, remember, the proper name of the language) are you using in your version of NodeJS or Chrome? ECMAScript 2016? ECMAScript 2017? ECMAScript 2018? ECMAScript 6? ECMAScript 7? Most people, I venture to guess, are running on ECMAScript v.“Who-cares-so-long-as-my-code-runs”. (For the record, the latest adopted standard is ECMAScript 2018, or the 9th edition of ECMA-262, and introduces “support for asynchronous iteration via the AsyncIterator protocol and async generators. … four new regular expression features: the dotAll flag, named capture groups, Unicode property escapes, and look-behind assertions. … [and] includes rest parameter and spread operator support for object properties.” In case you were curious.) Score: +1.
  • … that Tim Cook rumors begin. As in, the rumors of his upcoming demise as CEO. And still, yet another year, and no real call for his resignation. I almost think the Apple community wants him to be the next incarnation of Steve Jobs that nothing short of getting out of tech completely and becoming the next Dunder-Mifflin paper producer would actually get them to want him out. Score: -1.
  • … that Some startup will emerge claiming to fix the “fake news” problem using AI. Seriously? It took less than a month. One of them even uses blockchain for maximum buzzwordiness. Score: +1 (I really shouldn’t, since this one was so easy to predict, but….)
  • … that Salesforce starts making some acquisitions again. They picked up five, some of which were technology companies, and one of which (MuleSoft) definitely had some “splash” impact, valued at US$6.5 billion. Called it with a major flourish. Score: +1.
  • … that Docker hype starts wearing off. Well…. not really. Some of the shine is coming off of Docker, but not necessarily with Docker itself. As more and more companies (and cloud providers) are adopting it, we’re all finding some pretty big limitations with it, which is why much of the conversation isn’t about Docker itself, but how we can put groups of Docker images together into a larger unit—as in, in Kubernetes clusters or some of its competitors. Which means the hype around Docker isn’t causing us to abandon or question it, just… work around it. Score: -1.
  • … that Microsoft will continue to push Amazon in the cloud world at every step. Look at the Microsoft Azure blog. Look at the list of features and products offered by Azure. How anyone can keep track of this is anyone’s guess. By some measures, Azure is ahead of AWS; by others, AWS is leading. It’s a tight race, by most peoples’ estimation, and there’s no signs of it letting up. Score: +1.
  • … that Amazon will start to get into the developer tools game. Last year, I wrote

    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.

In some ways, I was a bit off, because Amazon announced Cloud9 in the previous year, which I missed, but strangely enough, Amazon seems to be content with leaving it there, which I don’t understand. Definitely missed something here. Score: -1.

  • .. that Quietly, more and more companies will start looking to build “Developer Relations” departments. If this is happening, it’s happening too quietly for me to see with any great confidence. I believe it to be happening, based on casual conversations I have with various folks in different parts of the country, and certainly LinkedIn shows close to 600 open positions around “developer relations”, but it’s still mostly with technology companies (those that sell to developers and/or the IT side of a company). It was probably folly to expect to see it “explode” within a single year, and I still have faith it will, but for now…. Score: -1.

Eleven “+1”s, to five “-1”s. Not bad, better than my average (which is usually right about a push). Can’t get too upset about those numbers, really. For comparison, last year’s were 15 +1s. 10 -1s, which again confirms that my skills as a psychic are definitely not going to keep me and the family fed.

But that’s the past, and most people are interested in…

In 2019

As an awkwardly-named decade (“the teens”? “the 2010s”?) draws to a close, a number of interesting things are going to start shifting the industry around in some very interesting—and potentially scary—ways.

Here’s what I mean:

  • Blockchain might actually start being understood. (Probability 0.4) Blockchain itself is not going away—if anything, companies seem to be putting more resources into it, not less—which suggests that enough people are seeing something of value buried deep (very deep) inside the hype. It may not be clear yet what it is, but that message is going to start trickling and filtering out and a few people might actually start to clue in on how best to use it.

  • AI and ML will begin to start separating… a little. (0.6) There’s lots of things that fall under the umbrella term “artificial intelligence”, and machine learning is only one of them. As we get more experience with ML in practical usage, we’ll start to see that the different branches of AI are useful for different things, and we’ll begin to use those terms a little more carefully. Look for “natural language” and “expert systems” and “machine learning” to start getting used independently, rather than the catch-all “AI”. What’s more….

  • AI will start to move out of the startup and into the enterprise. (0.7) Lots of people have kicked their AI startup off, and lots of big companies have started AI initiatives within their own companies, and they’re all finding… this stuff is hard. And what’s worse, the kind of skills required to do “AI” (whichever flavor you care to name) are rare, and those departments simply will resist scaling to the rest of the company. What usually happens after that first wave of interest, however, is that a small group of companies start to figure out how to apply AI to more mundane and practical purposes inside the big companies’ IT space, and that’s where the serious money lives. Sure, there’s going to be some flashy bits about robots and image recognition and stuff, but the real money is waiting to be made in machine learning being used to discover patterns in the data that up until this point mostly got discovered by accident. Look for a few companies to start selling AI not as a raw technology, but as part of a toolchain that a company can buy to do “something else”.

  • Amazon gets hauled in front of the DOJ. (0.8) If it doesn’t happen this year, it’ll happen in 2020. Jeff Bezos has been doing a great job of staying out of the limelight when it comes to the ugly whispers of “monopoly”, but good Lord, folks, Amazon is clearly making no secret of the fact that it wants to take over the entire retail experience—and when you couple that with the fact that Amazon is now opening brick-and-mortar stores, there’s not a huge leap from “Company using its monopoly power to drive competitors out of business by taking losses on sales” to “Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was in Washington DC today to sit in front of a Congressional inquiry…“. Particularly when Amazon just bought Whole Foods, a non-technology company if ever there was one.

  • Facebook undergoes some kind of radical transformation. (0.8) Zuckerberg is on the ropes, whether he realizes it or not. People are quitting the app in droves. Milennials aren’t taking it up. Every single day, various political groups scream about Facebook’s censorship of their particular pet issue, and the shine has come off of Sheryl Sandberg’s star. Facebook’s various other branded platforms, notably Instagram, are also starting to come under fire as people begin to openly question exactly how much influence these “social media influencers” have on them—or should. Congress may or may not get involved here, but either way, what was once pretty much a lock on a market has shown some serious cracks, and I suspect several competitors will start sharpening their knives, including several startups that may or may not already exist. Zuck will need to show some determined leadership and strike off in a bold direction, or the calls will come for his head faster than they did for any of IBM’s CEOs in the 90s.

  • Google will look to capitalize on Facebook’s struggles… and fail miserably. (0.8; 0.6) This is another two-fer. Right now, deep in the heart of Menlo Park, a Google executive is putting the finishing touches on a presentation to the Alphabet board around building yet another social media network app, complete with numbers about how many GMail users want to see a union of their email and social media profiles, and how that could drive additional AdWords revenue, and…. And the people to whom that presentation is shown will nod sagely, approve the effort, and…. Google will announce the beta of yet another Google social media app that will somehow be different than all the other social media Google-branded apps, because this time, it will be different… somehow…. And yet, it won’t, and it won’t, and somewhere in 2023 Google will kill it because this time, it’s replacement will be different….

  • Microsoft will, too. (0.6) Unfortunately, here in Seattle, a Microsoft exec is putting the finishing touches on almost exactly the same presentation. With any luck, Satya will toss the whole idea out the window before the presentation is even finished, but….

  • Uber is going to struggle even more. (0.8) Uber was once the darling of the Silicon Valley and Wall Street—now, it’s having a hard time getting the time of day from either group. This past year was not kind to them (a net loss of close to US$3 billion, if we leave out one-time investments), and people have figured out that Lyft and other Uber-competitors are just as convenient, but without the soul-selling that using Uber brings to mind. Uber Eats might be a saving grace here, but again, lots of competitors, and those competitors don’t have the “Uber” logo that is increasingly turning from balloon to boat anchor around their branding.

  • AWS (and Azure) will only continue to add services. (0.9) There’s no end in sight! AWS already has ten database services, but is there another angle to data storage that needs to be in the cloud? Go create it! Brand it! Sell it! Turn it into a thing that Bezos can show off at re:Invent 2019! There’s no end in sight! In fact….

  • Calls of “enough already!” will begin to echo in the clouds. (0.9) It’s becoming far more than anyone can keep up with. AWS, Azure, Google, all of them have way too many services for anybody to reasonably keep track of, and as a result, we will start to see a new industry of “cloud advisors” begin to form—speakers, online courses, and the like—simply geared to guide people through the choices of which of Amazon’s dozen or so data services you might actually need to use.

  • C# 8.0 will ship in Visual Studio 2019. (0.9) This one’s a gimme, but I’m never one to take a free point or two.

  • Java12 will ship. (0.9) Oracle has announced that they want to move to a six-month release cadence, so given that Java11 shipped in September of 2018, it would make sense that Java12 will follow in March of 2019. One thing that needs saying, though: it’s not clear what features would actually ship in Java12, particularly since some of the proposed features could take a year or two to ensure that they meet the high quality bar that a language and platform as widely-used as Java requires. (Note that the same thing is true of C# and .NET, but Microsoft hedges their bets some by doing major releases as part of the two-year release cadence of Visual Studio; Oracle lacks that “ship vehicle” channel, since they don’t really own a widely-used IDE—and no, sorry, NetBeans doesn’t count there.)

  • Android ships… Q-something. (0.8) Android definitely seems on a 1-year release cadence, but hell if I can think of a dessert that starts with “Q”. Fossbytes suggests names like “quarabiya” or “quince”, but only one of the names is actually found inside the US (“quesito”, from Puerto Rico), and all of Android’s previous code-names have been US-centric names (with one exception, the “Petit Four” release, 1.1, which was also before they started using the alphabetical order, too). OK, OK, I know, “Eclair” is technically French, but it’s widely-known and -recognized in the US, so it counts. So Android has to come up with a “Q”-based dessert that is widely-known in the US and won’t be impossible to pronounce…. or they just skip it and go to “R”. Either way, I don’t envy the person who has to make that decision.

  • iOS 13 is skipped, and 14 ships. (0.4) Hey, nobody in the Western world likes the number “13”, and Apple is not one to try to convince them otherwise. Look for Apple to pull another marketing shift and try to call iOS 13 “X3” or something, just to avoid the superstitious’ wrath.

  • Security is going to quietly become a must-have skill. (0.6) The public is tired of the bleeding. Companies are tired of the scrutiny and managing PR fallout. Developers are tired of the second- guessing and accusations. Everybody is tired of security holes biting them in the ass. Slowly, quietly, companies are going to start demanding their developers be held accountable somehow—either in interviews or in internal code reviews or in any other form they can actually use—to make sure code doesn’t get compromised. It’s become clear that the hackers are only getting more and more organized, including state-level backing, and that “thoughts and prayers” are not effective as a security strategy any more than they are as a gun strategy.

  • More security legislation like GDPR will come. (0.7) For the same reason as the previous one, governments will start laying down regulations about data privacy and use, and many of those laws will be contradictory to one another, if not to itself. (Even GDPR has a few edge-case flaws inside of it.) What’s worse, because it will be new legislation, and the penalties will be stiff enough to merit actually doing something about it, lots of companies will find it impossible to understand what to do, obtain help from “experts”, and choose to take the most conservative route that will only make end-users’ lives harder—much like what happened with GDPR. (You think accepting the privacy-policy-to-use-cookies messages are bad now—just wait. This is only getting started.)

  • Developers start finding their voice on ethics. (0.7) It started with Microsoft and Google, but it won’t end there—more and more developers are finding that they have a certain amount of power at their fingertips, and that unlike a number of their non-technical colleagues, if they threaten to abandon work on a project, their employers will listen to them. (So long as the demand for developers exceeds the supply, this will continue to hold true.) While there will always be some numbers of developers who will not care what they work on—so long as the checks cash—a similar percentage of developers are growing more and more aware that what they do could be used for less-than-innocent purposes… and will start to become an active voice. Look for a few more attempts (successful or otherwise) at coordinated walkouts by developers and other IT staff over easily-identifiable egregiously-unethical uses of some technology or other.

  • Developers are going to start a backlash against coding-school graduates. (0.5) This is one I hope I’m wrong about… but I’m guessing I won’t be. Here’s the thinking: More and more, “coding” is being seen as the next-great-way-to-get-out-of-poverty by millions of people who have little to no idea what “coding” means. They are, however, putting thousands of dollars onto credit cards and loans in an effort to learn “coding”, so that they, too, can get at this untold paradise of billions of dollars that we technology-types have been enjoying for the past two decades. But, as any average economist will tell you, the equilibrium point depends on the intersection of supply and demand—and so long as the demand for software was high, and supply of those who could deliver it relatively low, then the price (the equilibrium point) would stay high. Floods of new developers threatens to increase the supply—shifting the supply curve to the right—and bring down the equilibrium (price) point. Salaries will fall. Developers’ power relative to the rest of the company will fall with it. And developers are analytical enough to know this, see through how the rest of that story ends, and look to take steps to solidify their “hold” that they’ve enjoyed for so long. (For the record, I believe this has already been happening for several years now—why else would we as an industry be so concerned with discerning between the true “craftsmen” and the casual practitioner of code?) Look for more and more tech-minded folks to start openly resisting the idea of hiring and mentoring junior developers as they start to figure out (or guess) that their position and high income will be threatened if they don’t.

Lastly, one more:

  • Ted will write another one of these in a year. (0.99; it should be a 1.0, but there’s always the chance that the whole country will undergo some kind of apocalypse, thanks to the orange buffoon who sits in the White House, that would keep me from writing this.)

I was pretty terrible about blogging in 2018, largely because I was pretty well-occupied with a number of different things in my life. Some of that is getting straightened out now, and frankly I felt an “itch” every so often to write something in the blog—but couldn’t thanks to the aforementioned “things”, mostly due to lack of time—that I think will force itself to the surface more often in 2019. I’ll probably be shuffling some of my various IT properties around a bit, too, so don’t be too surprised if in 2020 this blog is split between my professional site and a more personal one (which would remain tedneward.com, but with an actual website at that domain name instead of the silly placeholder that’s there now).

Thanks for reading. Have a happy, prosperous, and adventurous 2019, and feel free to drop me comments or feedback in the comments below.