Fixing developer AI fear is a team effort

A study by Pluralsight has looked at the risks of building a team of “star developers” and instilling a competitive culture

A study has found that software developers around the world are concerned about their job prospects as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more prevalent.

Based on a survey of over 3,000 developers globally, workforce development company Pluralsight published the finding in the New developer report.

According to the report’s authors, a critical reason why developers may fail to thrive during the transition to AI-assisted software development is the presence of an AI skill threat.

This, they said, means some developers are worried and anxious about changes to the software development process that may suddenly and categorically change the skills which lead to success in their field.

“In our study, we found that the AI skill threat isn’t speculative, but a very real lived experience across software developers,” the report’s authors noted.

The poll found that 45% of the developers surveyed were at least somewhat anxious or uneasy about “how generative AI will change software development”, and 43% of the sample reported feeling at least somewhat worried that many of the skills they “currently use as a software engineer will become obsolete very quickly”. According to Pluralsight, the findings highlight the need for organisations to adopt AI-assisted software development practices in a human-centred way to help developers thrive through this change.

The study also found that software teams with high contest cultures are particularly at risk of the AI skill threat. Such a culture tends to emphasise the work of individuals. “Regardless of gender, developers feel more anxious and worried about AI when they doubt their skill, intellect and accomplishments as developers – a process that occurs because they believe that they must be innately brilliant and ruthlessly competitive to succeed,” the report’s authors warned.

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Looking at how individual developers, engineering teams and organisations may be able to combat contest culture to reduce the AI skill threat, the study found that building a culture of learning and belonging can help individual developers and their teams. The authors of the report said that such a culture decreases contest culture, while improving developer productivity and team effectiveness.

“We found that developers who felt like they belonged and were supported to learn were more productive, which in turn positively impacted their team’s effectiveness,” they wrote. “One practical implication from our findings on team effectiveness is that engineering organisations should think carefully about ensuring they are measuring the ‘production’ benefits of AI-assisted coding on the team level, and be wary of only measuring individual output.”

They also urged IT leaders to assess the cumulative benefits of learning cultures and belonging across teams – not only individual developers’ wellbeing. They suggested structured practices such as paired programming with AI-generated code as a tractable path for teaching junior engineers how experienced engineers triage, iterate and test unfamiliar code suggestions.

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