What does the future hold for eager, talented software developers, and people with related essential skill sets? The overriding trend, as in all industries, is you're on your own, chum. But free/open source software (FOSS) offers considerably more richness of opportunity than anything else. Let's peer into the crystal ball and see what the future holds.
FOSS is everywhere
There was a brief, shining era in America when people actually built careers at single companies. It was possible to work at the same company, or at least in the same industry, your whole life, enjoy some nice benefits, and retire with a pension. Good luck finding anything like that now. The new rule of the modern economy is whatever happens to us, it's all our fault. But all is not woe, for FOSS fuels the modern economy, and that is where the growth and opportunities are.
A brief digression: we see "open source" all the time, but not "free software" so much. I like to emphasize "free software" because it means free as in freedom. We need every little bit of freedom we can glom in these modern times.
FOSS powers large distributed science and research projects such as OpenTox and the Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine (AMEE). It powers the Internet and the World Wide Web. It powers Google, Amazon, IBM's Jeopardy champion Watson, and nearly all of the world's top 500 supercomputers. Android, the runaway smartphone, tablet, and e-reader success, is based on the Linux kernel. The cloud, which is inevitably settling over us like a great damp fog bank is FOSS-powered, as are the two best Web browsers that we use to interface with the cloud, Firefox and Chromium. FOSS powers cars, televisions, cameras, settop entertainment boxes, agricultural machinery, high-end movie animation, industrial production lines, surveillance systems, and ever so much more. It truly is everywhere, from the tiniest embedded devices to the largest supercomputers.
I had a great conversation with Daniel Frye, VP of Open Systems and Solutions Development at IBM at Linuxcon 2011 (best con ever!), and Mr. Frye really gets FOSS. He noted that one of the major advantages of FOSS is the speed of improvements. You're not waiting on a vendor (and paying mass bucks for the privilege), but have the code in your own hands and can do what you need to it. If you're successful in building a genuine open community around the code, and get people engaged and contributing, improvements and innovations come thick and fast. On the subject of community involvement, Mr. Frye suggests that the best approach is to join an existing project, and to launch a new one only if there is no alternative. Don't try to keep it all in-house, because the other great strength of FOSS is a global talent pool, and especially a global imagination pool.
Albert Einstein said "Imagination is more important than knowledge." And that is why real diversity is essential, because a lack of diversity leads to a lack of imagination. So don't hold yourself back because you don't look like a stereotype computer geek, because you are a woman, young, old, a person of color, a mid-life career changer, disabled in some way, or whatever difference you see when you look in the mirror-- it really doesn't matter. It will matter to some people that you encounter, but they don't count because in reality it doesn't matter.