ChatGPT: Will It Help Us at Work — or Replace Us?
ChatGPT: Will It Help Us at Work — or Replace Us?

We’ve all seen the headlines: artificial intelligence has arrived, and life may never be the same. The predicted implications of powerful tools like ChatGPT for our jobs — and our world — range from “it’s no big deal” to “humanity is probably doomed.”  

But get beyond the fearmongering and hyperbole, and what remains are serious questions: What do the recent advances in AI mean for fields like software development, technical writing, marketing and more? How can professionals adapt to this brave new world and prepare for the job market changes ahead?

We asked a variety of UW Professional & Continuing Education (UWPCE) instructors and program managers these questions and explored how they’re building this new technology into their curriculums.   

Bots That Can Code?

In the software development field, professionals are already tapping AI tools like ChatGPT to do some of the heavy lifting of coding, according to Randal Root, a veteran instructor who currently teaches in the UW Certificate in SQL Server & Database Development.

“I can say to ChatGPT, ‘Hey, write me code for a login screen on a web page written in C# or Python,’” Root says. “And within a few seconds, it can generate a rough draft for me. It’s pretty exciting.”

For every scenario where AI eliminates your job, there’s also a scenario where you start doing more advanced things and let the tool do some of the time-consuming things that you used to do.

Randal Root, instructor for the Certificate in SQL Server & Database Development
In addition to producing a working draft that a developer can then adapt and customize, AI tools can also troubleshoot a developer’s code, find any errors and offer possible fixes. “It’s almost as if you had a tutor right there with you,” Root notes.

Root sees mostly positive impacts on software development from tools like ChatGPT. “For every scenario where AI eliminates your job, there’s also a scenario where you start doing more advanced things and let the tool do some of the time-consuming things that you used to do,” he says.

Root plans to introduce AI tools into his UWPCE courses so students can explore how they might take advantage of the new technology.

“AI is an opportunity that is happening now,” he observes. “If we get ahead of it, if we embrace it and move forward, I think we can make a huge difference in how the world around us works."

Searching for a Marketing Edge

Marketing is one field that’s constantly evolving in tandem with technological developments. In recent years, digital advertising and social media platforms have allowed marketers to target their messaging and track the effectiveness of campaigns with amazing accuracy. AI tools will only enhance these efforts.

One key marketing area that could be particularly affected is search engine optimization (SEO), the strategy of getting your content to rank highly in search results. Ian Lurie, the instructor of the new UW Specialization in SEO, says that AI is poised to impact the field significantly.

“AI is going to change the way search engine pages look, and it's going to change the way people use search more profoundly than other changes we’ve seen in the last decade,” Lurie says. “It will also allow marketing professionals to automate many repetitive tasks.”

Lurie has already updated his program curriculum to incorporate ChatGPT, something he thinks many educators will be doing in the future, especially for career-focused offerings.

“Any program at the University of Washington, or anywhere, should be starting to teach students how to generate prompts — what many people call prompt engineering — to help them use AI tools in their work,” he says. “There's a specific way to write the prompt you’ll submit to get the right information back. That kind of prompt engineering is what I'm going to be teaching in the SEO specialization.”

Editing Evolution, Not Revolution

Editing is another field that is constantly adapting to new technologies. ChatGPT is just the latest in a long line of new software programs and features — including Microsoft Word’s spellcheck and tools like Grammarly and PerfectIt — that have caused some handwringing about change and lost jobs in the profession.

Editor and UWPCE instructor Matthew Bennett feels that such fears about generative AI are a bit overblown. “I believe ChatGPT is a continuation of technological change, rather than a revolution,” he says. “It wasn’t very long ago that we were editing on paper, and now most people edit on screens; that was a huge change. AI is just part of this evolution.”  

Bennett embraced generative AI tools when developing the curriculum for the new UW Specialization in Developmental Editing. In one course exercise, he uses ChatGPT as a stand-in for the writer, showing how an editor can give specific feedback to help shape a manuscript (which the tool immediately incorporates). He also used it to generate a sample case study that his students will edit during the program.  

“It was really helpful and perfect timing,” he says about the release of ChatGPT in November 2022. “It allowed me to add the new AI material to the specialization. The program curriculum also includes discussion of how editors can use ChatGPT in their day-to-day jobs.” 

Changing Technical Writing

Just as with software development and marketing, many technical writers are starting to use AI tools to gain a productivity boost. For instance, ChatGPT can help tech writers by finding sources, summarizing existing knowledge, answering specific questions, and producing outlines and headlines. In corporate communications, professionals can train AI tools to output content that reflects certain personas or corporate mission values.

According to UWPCE’s Brian Gutierrez, who manages the UW Certificate in Professional Technical Writing, instructors in the program are starting to rethink their approach in light of these new capabilities.

“The instructors are planning to unpack the different AI tools with students, then start to formulate a shared understanding of the ways that they might use them in the classroom and in whatever professional path they choose to pursue,” Gutierrez says.

That said, Gutierrez notes the fundamentals of technical writing are still the most important thing students will learn. “A technical writer has to have a deep understanding of the audience, the genre and the content,” he says. “The better handle you have on those three things, the more intentional you can be with your prompts in tools like ChatGPT.”

Adapting to the Future

Although AI will almost certainly impact many people’s jobs going forward, Gutierrez cautions against “doomsday thinking” when it comes to the effects of AI on different professions. Instead, he notes, professionals should plan to adapt to the inevitable changes.

“I think a more hopeful, intentional and inspiring way to think about AI is, ‘I want to learn more about these tools so I can be better at using them,’ rather than ‘these tools are going to be major job displacers,’” says Gutierrez, who also helped develop PCE's new Generative AI for Business course. “The people who will be getting jobs, keeping jobs and getting promotions are the ones who really understand and know how to use these AI tools, not the ones running in the other direction.”

Keep Learning

Looking for ways to keep learning and ensure your skills stay up to date? Check out our article about how to find the right course, specialization, certificate or degree program for you.

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Author David Hirning

David Hirning

David Hirning is an accomplished writer and editor with extensive experience in both tech and higher education. He began his career in journalism, then spent over a decade as an editor at Microsoft, where he worked on Encarta Encyclopedia and related reference products.

David worked for six years as a full-time writer and content manager at UW Professional & Continuing Education. He also operated his own editorial consulting business, with stints at leading companies like Amazon and Expedia, and taught English for two years in Costa Rica.

David has served as an instructor for the UW Certificate in Editing program and as a teaching assistant for the UW Certificate in Storytelling & Content Strategy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University and a Certificate in Literary Fiction from the UW.

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