Coding the Future

May 1, 2013

As a tech company we get very excited about news some people might ignore (or never even see). So unless you follow us on one of our social networks, you might have missed the news that the world wide web turned 20 yesterday.

Think about 20 years ago. Computers and the Internet were mostly relegated to the office or schools. Operating systems, PC software, and the web allowed people to use this new technology without having to learn programming or computer hardware.

Today smart phones and computers are fast becoming an essential part of everyday life. But underneath all the user friendly advances is still the basis of all computing: code. That foundation is also the means by which we’ll reach the future, not just for computers, but for every aspect of our world.

New advances tease a future where studying and healing biological processes are similar to current computer debugging methods. In fact, scientists have already encoded an entire electronic novel (including graphics, styling, and animation) in DNA. Just recently Wired reported on the Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology, where members are working to create a language that would directly program biological cells. A startup called Miinome is even betting that genetics will be the next big marketing frontier:

Through an open API, Miinome will combine genetic and environmental data mined from social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and run that through their proprietary algorithm to come up with a profile of you that’s richer than anything that exists on the internet today.

These are breakthroughs happening in real life, not science fiction. Sure, they’re currently only in lab environments, but like the Internet, that won’t stay true for long. In fact, these advances will probably prove disruptive to our lives far sooner than anything we’ve yet experienced.

Why? Because the time between technology introduction and mass adoption continues to shrink exponentially. According to data compiled by MIT, the original telephone took 25 years to reach 10% of the US population. By contrast, smart phones reached that level of penetration in less than 10 years. The contrast gets even more pronounced when examining the amount of time these devices took to grow from 10% to 40%: 39 years for the traditional telephone, less than 5 years for the smartphone.

This disruption and rapid change is certainly a challenge for us all. Just think about the ways smart phones have introduced new questions for how we should interact socially (both in the real and digital world). Now think about the processes of that phone truly becoming integrated with you as a person. It’s all a bit scary and definitely overwhelming.

But the future’s also got tremendous opportunity, and not just for those youngsters who will be sure to leap into this brave new world with reckless abandon. Our local university just released a study that found that older developers are just as good, if not better, than their younger counterparts, and research by Forrester shows that rather than staying buried in the past, the older generation is leading the charge toward new technology like cloud computing. As NC State’s Dr. Emerson Murphy-Hill put it,

We know certain things get worse, like your eye sight.... But it’s not all bad. You get better at some things, such as social and emotional intelligence.

One way to get ready for the new frontier of technology is to learn more about how it works. We’re not suggesting you learn the entire history of computing or attempt to build your own system (though we salute you if that’s your ambition).

Very few of us could build a car from scratch or explain in proper scientific terms how a combustion engine works, but most of us could change a tire in a pinch. Learning more about technology enables you to be a better informed customer, which makes the process of working with pros that much easier for all parties.

Here are some practical goals to help you get started:

  • Learn how to update your company’s website.
  • Attend a local meetup group about computers, apps, or anything related to the web.
  • Find someone (in person or online) to guide you through those advanced settings on your computer or smartphone.
  • Take a class or follow an online tutorial on writing a basic website or application.
  • Ask to be part of any technology training your business offers.
  • Offer to help the IT guys when they come by to install something new in your office (bonus: you’ll make a new friend who could help you learn more).

We know, we know: you barely have time to do your job as it is. How to fit any of this (hard! it sounds hard!) extra stuff in?

But if you wait until you’re forced to learn, it’ll be even more painful. A real key to inspire you to learn more is to tie to your own personal goals. Do you want to eventually open your own business? Maybe you want to spend time now learning how to work with a website. Want to move up where you are? Find ways to reach out to other people in the business like IT to learn more.

Ready or not, the future is coming, and it’s going to be code crazy. Learn something today to prepare, even if it’s just a very basic step forward. Who knows how that investment will pay off in the next 20 years of tech?