Most people think of technological advances using the eureka metaphor. But software doesn’t work like that. Take a clear technological advance like a self-driving tractor. They are on the market now but there was no eureka moment, no sudden breakthrough. Self-driving technology just advanced to the base level required for tractors on clearly mapped fields, then a team of software engineers built a working system over several years.
There’s no invention or breakthrough moment, just a slow build in none software capabilities than an investment in building out software to leverage those capabilities.
There were no software engineering advances that enabled the self-driving tractor. Instead machine vision improved until it was good enough to unblock the software solution.
What advances in software are in sight?
Reproducible builds are one of my favorite advances in software recently. Strictly speaking reproducible builds have been available for quite some time, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a real advance. Having a trustworthy build environment where you can debug the inputs vs the outputs for different machines is a big benefit. Without reproducible builds software engineers end up spending extra time fixing build failures and figuring out dependency resolution overrides.
Golang is in my opinion an advancement in software engineering. Instead of focusing on productivity for a single or small number of engineers, Golang is focused on maximizing productivity for large software projects with thousands of engineers. It does this by simplifying the language as much as possible to ease readability and eliminate magical effects. Everything in Golang is very procedural and easy to follow.
Easy to use gradual typing is a more recent advancement in the Python and Ruby worlds. You can now build your MVP in a dynamic quick evaluating language and then after you reach product market fit you can add types to the code base. Typing is no longer and either/or thing but a sliding scale where you can chose the most opportune time to transition. Overall I think gradual typing has huge advantages compared to the old standard of rewriting the codebase in Java.