What 2020 Taught Me About Predicting the Future of Technology

I’ve been thinking about this time last year and how different this December is — for so many reasons. Looking back on my predictions for 2020, one thing is glaringly obvious: I did not in my wildest dreams imagine that a pandemic would engulf the entire world and change every facet of our lives.

It just goes to show that none of us has a crystal ball and the future is truly unknowable. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to look at the key technology trends that have emerged in 2020 and make educated guesses about what’s to come. (Take any predictions with a grain of salt, because if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that no one really knows what is going to happen next year.)

2020 has shown us that technology underpins everything we do in every industry. Every meeting (including family holidays) has shifted to a digital platform like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and every conference is now being held virtually, on a variety of interactive platforms. But beyond these use cases — which, let’s be honest, aren’t that far-fetched for the tech industry — technology has permeated every institution. Our children are attending school on Zoom; we order groceries online; we see doctors, therapists and accountants on our screens; we’ve attended weddings, birthday parties and even memorials virtually. Our computer screens are now our careers and our link to the world around us.

The companies behind these virtual platforms have had to scale dramatically this year, and there’s no doubt in my mind that cloud and automation have played outsized roles in that ability. Even for companies that don’t host digital experiences, the ability to pivot to a remote workforce relied on moving workloads to the cloud, much of which was enabled by automation.

In 2021, many of the practices that companies were forced to adopt during the pandemic will become entrenched across industries and expedite global digital transformation. Here are the trends I’m looking for next year:

1. The rise of DevOps practices

A major learning for thousands of companies in 2020 was that siloed ways of working are outmoded — not only because it’s impractical for working remotely but because it’s antithetical to cloud adoption. We will see organizations working towards scaling DevOps practices by leveraging internal platforms. Driven by Kubernetes and cloud-native architecture adoption, we’ll see even more organizations adopt internal platforms to help standardize and scale DevOps. According to the most recent State of DevOps Report, sixty-three percent of respondents had at least one self-service internal platform — a huge shift from just two years ago when very few organizations were adopting a platform model.

2. The rise of the internal platform team

DevOps practices are fundamentally about enabling collaboration across teams to achieve a shared goal. But a single team adopting a DevOps mindset cannot achieve DevOps at scale — there must be corresponding structural changes to ensure cross-team collaboration. Hence, the rise of the platform team. The platform team provides the infrastructure, environments, deployment pipelines and other internal services that enable development teams to build, deploy and run their applications. The platform team is empowered to draw from their knowledge and experience, and can leverage DevOps practices at scale, across the organization.

3. Hybrid and Multi-cloud automation

Today, most enterprises have one foot in the cloud and the other very much on-prem. Hybrid/multi-cloud environments are here to stay, at least for the next several years. Enterprises are writing and deploying more application workloads to both. However, the ability to manage both environments at scale is only growing in complexity. We’re going to see the continued proliferation of the automation of hybrid estates, but I envision the future state as more and more cloud-based automation, as enterprises bring the lessons they have learned in deploying and managing workloads in the cloud to on-prem workloads.

4. Securing the edge

Just as cloud native application architectures have fundamentally changed how IT organizations think about application development and security, the transition to edge computing will also require a completely new way to build, deploy and manage applications at scale and securely. What will make edge computing a success is an enterprise’s ability to manage and secure all the endpoints — from the edge to the data center. Keeping thousands (or eventually millions) of devices secure is complex, and organizations will need to adopt new technologies and strategies to truly secure their data on the edge in order to make this new trend a reality at scale. Automation will play a big role in managing these workloads at scale.

5. Always open source

Last year, I wrote that open source software will continue to be the foundation on which all forward-looking cloud-based infrastructure and applications are built. I stand by this today. There are so many successful technology companies that began as a single open source project — and these projects are now powering the majority of businesses today. The infrastructure on which our clouds run is built in large part on open source software. I believe the open source ecosystem will continue to grow and thrive in 2021 — however, it will be interesting to see if contributions from the organizations that leverage these technologies increases alongside the reliance on a new open source foundation.

Reading the future

Ultimately, we can’t really predict the future. That’s my biggest learning from 2020. (If you predicted 2020 correctly, well then, you win the internet.) But we can use our experiences from this year to help shape the future we want to build.

Please stay safe, healthy, and joyful this holiday season. Happy New Year, everyone!

CTO @ Puppet. Passionate about good food and all things tech. Always learning.

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