Getting left behind

The AI movement is an interesting one. Especially as a product engineer. It feels like every month there’s a new LLM or AI-based tool that’s positioning itself as the software engineer killer—at least according to HN. Every time I see one of these tools, I get a tingle in my stomach that I’m being left-behind and that the industry is shifting below my feet. The weirdest part is: I’m not even sure I want to figure out how to find secure footing.

As someone who’s pretty much constantly self-reflecting, and trying to understand his place in the world, it’s weird for me to not be on top of this trend. I look at AI and LLMs with a dumbfounded expression, completely confused about how to apply it to my life in a meaningful way. That’s not to say I haven’t tried. I’ve asked ChatGPT questions. I’ve used Perpexlity and Phind. I’ve used Coplilot back when I was running VSCode as my daily-driver. None of it stuck. I haven’t had the “Ah ha!” moment yet. Not even close.

Maybe it’s because I have limiting beliefs around AI. I’ve seen it hallucinate far too many times. Whatever it outputs is often very obviously AI-generated, and I don’t find it useful as a brainstorming tool, either. The few times I’ve used it to help me write, the only thing it gave me was some really clickbaity sounding prose. It robbed what I had written of my voice, my cadence and style. It was no longer “me.”

Colleagues of mine use AI for some mundane coding tasks, and I can see that use-case being valuable occasionally. Though, I find a lot of the mundanity of programming to be important for me, even if it’s annoying. That mundanity often exposes you to parts of the system you’re unfamiliar with or conventions you need to repeat so they become rote. Which is funny because I’m the same person that loses their mind when the work-before-the-work gets in the way of solving the actual problem. Humans are a bag of contradictions, aren’t they?

Normally I’d consider myself an early adopter but AI-tech’s adoption trajectory seems different for some reason, at least for me. I think I’m part of the early majority on this one. I’m sure these feelings will go away once I have a higher degree of confidence in the tool’s output. In the meantime, I’m happy to plod along and do things “the old way” while the pioneers sort out the kinks and help AI cross the chasm.

All of this is said with an open mind, though. I actively want to understand how people are using the tool to solve their problems. I hear of people finding value in “AI” constantly, and maybe I just have a bit of FOMO since we’re in a multi-year-hype-cycle at this point. I also recognize that I might be pushing back on AI because I don’t want to give up the part of my brain that enjoys research and problem solving. Being spoon-fed solutions doesn’t sound appealing to me. Not always, anyway. It feels like my “Ah ha!” moment is around a corner somewhere. Obscured from sight, behind multiple conversations with people who leverage it daily. If you’re one of those people, please reach out. Bonus points if you’re a writer. Double bonus points if you’re a software engineer. Triple bonus points if you’re a product engineer or leader who uses it to help shape product in your team.