Thursday, June 7, 2012

Facebook fizzle does not dampen Developeronomics … because not every code coolie is an Über coder

As we enter the middle of 2012, the global economy continues to stagnate and even the erstwhile darling of stock market – tech sector – begins to flounder. The butterfly effect seems to be hitting technologists at both ends of the spectrum - entrepreneurial and software services.

Last month it was the Indian software services darling (my erstwhile employer) Infosys, warning of severe headwinds in the global technology services sector. Then it was technology giant Hewlett Packard announcing massive job cuts. And then came the mother of all IPO’s of tech darling Facebook and its spectacular post-IPO-stock-fizzle, leaving most of us in the globalized IT world wonder whatsup?

While the macro-economic factors play out in the business of technology management, interesting conversations on Developeronomics continues to stir among the Digerati. The debate was triggered by Marc Andreessen’s essay in Wall Street Journal: Why Software Is Eating The World. Marc espouses the theory that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.” The techie in me loves this argument though I still wonder if we are really seeing a Technology Lead Innovation around us or Technologists playing catchup? (my earlier blog)

Marc ends his essay with key challenge facing software economy “Qualified software engineers, managers, marketers and salespeople in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want, while national unemployment and underemployment is sky high.” Although he doesn’t say it in as many words, the challenge Marc highlights is more about the dearth of Über coders, while the world – or at least the offshoring world – continues to produce thousands of code coolies.

Although the use of term code coolie may sound a bit derogatory, it really is intended to drive home the point that vast majority of coders are developing software as a means to earn a living. They do it as a vocation rather than with a passion to enable software to “change the world” in a significant way. Remember the storm in a teacup when the Indian writer Chetan Bhagat tweeted on "Narayana Murthy runs a body shop?" Of course, graduating a hundred thousand techies in a decade is no mean feat. And that is just Infosys. Add TCS, Wipro et all and one can see the challenge is really not about the ability to get a critical mass of coders.

Then there was an interesting piece on “The Rise of Developeronomics” in Forbes, which took a broader perspective on IT development and developers stating “If the world survives looming financial apocalypse dangers at all, this is the one investment that will weather the storms. It doesn’t matter whether you are an individual or a corporation, or what corner of the world you inhabit. You need to find a way to invest in software developers.”

Businesses have already taken note of the importance of software developers though many leaders are trying to crack the core problem: bridging the long tail of code coolies to the few Über coders around. To create a successful eco-system where thy can not only coexist but can also thrive. To take an anology from another domain, it is akin to identifying the right general to lead the army to battle.

This question of variance in productivity between the best programmers and average coders has been debated ad infinitum by the software community. However, it is not just about recognizing variance in productivity but to ensure the right mix. As the Joel Spolsky blogs “it's worth hiring Angelina Jolie for your latest blockbuster movie, even though she demands a high salary, because that salary can be divided by all the millions of people who see the movie solely because Angelina is so damn hot.”

What does all this mean to us?
  • For IS leaders it is a continuum of trying to find the right teams to develop the right solutions for their business stakeholders. Techniques include outsourcing, hoping the vendor will crack our business problems with a team of uber coders from across the globe (there is always hope). Hiring uber coders is always an option but it involves competing for talent with Facebook or Google (tough luck doing so!).
  • For enterprise architects - self included - it means working with technologists and business stakeholders continually tweak proposals to bridge the divide
  • And for business stakeholders: Empowering your technology leaders and Enterprise Architects to help with Developeronomics
  • And for the mass of code coolies? Try and morph into an Über coder. And if you discover that is not your calling, well we shall cover that in another post
Blogs and references