May 31, 2017
Holden Page is a Crunchbase News editor and columnist.

Robots, artificial intelligence, and automation are coming for your job.

It doesn’t matter who you are or, apparently, what you do. On the chopping block to be replaced by AI-driven robots and automated services are lawyers, doctors, truck drivers, editors, personal assistants, and a host of other professional and blue collar jobs.

If you believe the doomsday predictions proclaimed by Elon Musk, it’s all rather glum. And if accurate, the future of work may not include work at all.

Despite these predictions, software engineers and a cadre of venture capitalists are determined to eat their own tails. Here are the startups are being launched and funded to take the developer out of software development. And if investors have it their way, developers may be transformed into modules and algorithms capable of building apps without human intervention.

Software Eating Money

According to Chris Dixon, a general partner at a16z, software development is ripe for automation due to increased development costs attributable to talent shortages. “A lot of valuable startups will be created in the process” of automating software development, Dixon wrote in his blog post.

Bearing that out is the amount of funding in this niche sector. Since there is no category for startups that automate software development in the Crunchbase database, Crunchbase News pulled together its own list. Our list of startups include firms that are automating app development or are automating other tasks involved in software development, such as quality assurance.

While the list isn’t large—only 9 startups fulfilled our criteria— the funding isn’t insignificant. In total, startups that are automating parts of software development have pulled in over $560 million.

Yet the pace of that investment has not been meteoric.

Instead, it has been progressive and steady, with investments picking up beginning in 2011. Notably, aside from Mobify, a web app development platform for retailers, every startup in our list raised its first rounds before Dixon’s software eating note. In fact, Mendix has been a part of automated software development since 2006. The company has raised a total $38 million, closing a $25 million Series B round in January 2014 with Battery Ventures as its lead investor.

But while the numbers are proving positive for automated software development, software development automation is not spread evenly across platforms or software stacks.

Automating Mobile App Development

While automation is digging its heels into many other sectors outside of software development, startups are not focusing on every platform, operating system, and device on the market.

Instead, many of the funded startups in our list have opted to automate mobile app development. These startups include:

  • Capriza. Targeting corporations in law, insurance, and healthcare, Capriza offers software solutions that attempts to automate business processes via “micro apps.”. According to its website, the process does not require coding or APIs. The firm has raised a total of $73.5 million, $23 million of which came from its July 2016 Series C round led by Andreessen Horowitz and Tenaya Capital.
  • Kony. With a focus on enterprise customers, Kony offers a number of pre-built mobile apps that connect with internal systems. The company also claims to build custom apps built off of its “Kony Nitro Engine.” The company website states it can build said custom apps in 90 days for a fixed price. It also offers a free visual builder for potential customers. This supposed rapid pace of development has lead to $115.5 million in venture funding.
  • Zuznow. Compared to its peers, Zuznow has raised minimal funding, totaling only $2.65 million across three seed rounds. The company uses AI to build front-ends for mobile applications. While its stated focus is on mobile applications, the company also claims it can create front-end applications for wearables as well. Zuznow is also the only company in our dataset to claim that it employs AI to help build front-end applications.

Although mobile application development is becoming increasingly automated, the QA portion of software development is also experiencing increased automation as well. In fact, Tricentis, a startup that automates QA for enterprise developers teams, is the most well-funded startup in our batch, raking in $165 million from its latest Series B announced in January of this year.

So while the interest in automating software development is pulling in investors, is the consequence of that impacting the job prospects of developers? It’s unlikely.

Even in the face of automation, software developers are in demand, with a projected 17% increase in employment from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. And while mobile app and web development may see increased automation, it’s unlikely in the near-term that these startups will be able to automate building the next Facebook.

So for now, developers are likely safe from the impacts of automation on their careers; however, the VCs who back startups in this sector are all too aware of the market opportunity of separating developers from their code.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias