The Sequel to SQL

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SQL (originally SEQUEL) was envisioned as a fourth-generation declarative language that would require minimal training and that anyone could use to get information from databases. I remember reading the marketing froth when it was introduced. I was impressed. The concept was very much the zeitgeist, in the eighties and nineties. A Basic generator was released optimistically called 'The Last One' (it wasn't). Visual Basic was going to do away with all the labour of C or C++ programming (it didn't). 4GL languages (e.g. BusinessObjects) were developed that generated SQL under the covers. Breathlessly, the marketing men said it would put an end to SQL coding (it hasn't).

The industry is pock-marked with failed attempts to do away with the need for skilled professional developers. You'd have thought that anyone who popped their heads up above the parapet and declaimed loudly their brilliant idea that would do away with the need for skilled IT developers, they'd be generally considered an appropriate target. Bizarrely, it seems that many businesses are now betting on it happening. IDC's annual survey came up with results that enabled them to predict that within five years we will have a new 'developer class' producing 'code without custom scripting', and they will represent nearly a third of the developer population.

Apparently, this class of developer-less "code engineers" and "digital innovators"' will 'supplement traditional developers by leveraging visually guided development tools, low-code development platforms, no-code development platforms, and model-driven development tools to create and refine digital solutions.' Old grey-muzzled developers like me will wallow in the nostalgia. It will be like an 'eighties and nineties' revival party, but presumably without the mistakes. Remember the craze for outsourcing development work? Went well, didn't it? Err, no, quite the contrary in my experience.

Why doesn't the industry learn from their past mistakes, or even take an interest in what went wrong and why? Could it be that the wrong people in the industry learn from bitter experience? It is somewhat odd that so many of the opinion-formers on the technology of the IT industry have so little experience working in the industry as technologists. Few other professions are so clearly led by marketing people. The surgeon, for example, who eyes you up whilst fingering a scalpel doesn't often get his expertise and advice from non-medical marketing experts. The bridge you drive over during your commute was designed by engineers who were driven only by professional experience and technical knowledge, not soft-focus stock images in glossy brochures. The IT industry is odd in this way.

Clearly there is something wrong with the profession. We technologists are poor communicators and slow to point out the obvious technical issues with heavily marketed technologies and development practices. Instead, we occasionally look up from the terminal, shrug, do a little tinkering, and pop a new buzzword on our CV. It's easier.

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