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15 May 2024

How AI changes the skills needed for software engineering and data science - A-Level TC Meeting

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Becci Peters

AI is Rapidly Advancing and Impacting Software Development

In a recent talk at the A-Level Thematic Community meeting, former CTO James Kuht shared his experience using AI tools like GPT-4 during a high-stakes evacuation mission last year. His team was able to rapidly build software scrapers, translate Arabic text and integrate multimodal data - all powered by GPT-4's language capabilities. This allowed them to provide critical insights for route planning that ensured the safe evacuation of diplomats and families.

James admitted being previously skeptical about AI reaching human-level intelligence anytime soon. However, the speed and effectiveness with which his developers could build software tools using GPT-4 was astonishing, compressing work that would normally take days or weeks into just hours or minutes. Furthermore, GPT-4’s ability to turn unstructured data across different modalities into meaningful insights, exceeded all of his expectations. Naturally this has implications for what we teach our students.

AI is Becoming a Powerful General-Purpose Tool

While AI has been around for decades, James emphasized that the key shift in AI is from narrow AI tools like image classifiers, to general-purpose tools available to the masses - especially now GPT4 is now available on the free tier of chatGPT. To illustrate this, he demonstrated GPT-4's remarkable capabilities across various tasks:

  • Analysing a dataset of Titanic passenger details, generating visualisations
  • Have GPT train it’s own decision tree model to predict survival, and explaining the model's logic
  • Transcribing handwritten text from an image of a whiteboard, then summarising it concisely

These examples shattered the notion that general purpose AI’s like LLM’s are very limited in areas like maths and analysis - and showed them working across different data modalities.

Implications for Education and Future Work

James believes these AI advances will fundamentally change the skills needed for future software engineers and data scientists and he started to see some of these in his work. 

He saw that his most valuable software developers started becoming those who were (a) better at using the AI tools available and (b) strong at the uniquely human skills of empathising with customers and curating their problems. He incorporated this into their selection of software developers ever since.

For computer science education, James suggests these AI tools could empower students with an entirely new suite of skills that previously required relying on specialized roles. Educators may need to adapt curricula and teaching methods to prepare students for this AI-augmented development paradigm. A simple next step that James suggested was that educators considered incorporating an ‘AI-first’ project into their teaching - where students have to use AI tools for every step of the process - from problem curation, to ideation, to coding, to testing, to pitching and even marketing and business plans.

While acknowledging the difficulty of predicting the future, James urged embracing teaching AI skills in Computer Science education, whilst not forgetting about the foundational learning theory that underpins successful education. Looking back at how calculators were eventually integrated into teaching math is a good model to look at - like AI, there were those who firmly believed calculators rendered numeracy skills irrelevant, and others that retained that calculators had no place in education. Both extremes were wrong, with the eventual answer being that (a) this tool became an important part of how mathematics was taught but (b) basic numeracy skills remained relevant and critical for grasping higher order mathematical skills.

Finally, James explained that his new company, Inversity, aims to help Computer Science teachers prepare their students with the skills they need in the AI world - teaching them through solving real-world technology problems. He welcomed anybody interested in learning more to reach out to him on or visit 

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James Kuht
15/05/2024 14:37

Thanks for having me Becci, it was a pleasure to speak to the community and the questions were excellent!