California, it seems, is on the brink of running out of electricity. One contributing factor to the situation is that Californians now make greater demands on their electricity supply, running electronic gadgets of every kind. They are draining the grid dry.
But electricity is not the only fuel which electronic gadgetry requires. From washing machines and robotic toy dogs to PDAs and PCs, it is software that fuels the electronic age. As the new century dawns, the era of the e-economic revolution will be dominated by a ferocious need for ever more software.
Software, of course, for the time being at least, cannot be generated by anything other than the human mind. So although automated software generation will one day make programmers as redundant as scribes in the age of printing, for the moment, the brains that produce code are going to be more valuable than ever.
"During 2001 the importance of software and the spread of its influence will be greater than at any time in our history," says David Bell, director of the Management Forum for Excellence in Software Development. "Software will power more devices and affect our lives to a greater extent than ever before."
But before the legions of software developers bask in the radiance of their own global importance, happy in the knowledge that the future of the third millennium relies so completely on them, there is a distinct downside to being the most critical people in the world's economy.
In classical and medieval times, key workers, without whose industry the economic edifice would collapse, were often slaves or serfs, bonded to their tasks. Without lapsing to quite such draconian strictures, software developers, warns Bell, will not be in for an easy ride.
The keyword will be pressure.
"The demands on the six million or so software developers worldwide will be greater than ever before - more demanding project times scales, greater shortages of capable people and a wider range of technologies to master," he points out.
But if that is the bad news, it certainly is not new news. Asking software developers to deliver too much, too late, is an all-too-familiar situation. The bottom line for software developers is still the same: code faster, we needed the drop yesterday.
"Some challenges are unchanging," observes Bell.
This was first published in January 2001