Occupy Wall Street, Developernomics and Management

A couple of articles from Forbes caught my eye yesterday and I wanted to spend a few minutes reflecting on the articles.

The first, “The Rise of Developernomics,” really dug deep into how developers are shaping society and are becoming the most important contributors to economic reshaping on the planet.

To some degree I agree; however, I think the author Venkatesh Rao exaggerates a little. He said more than once that all other professions were nearly unimportant to society. Rao also claimed that developers, on the whole, have not figured out how to actualize their true value. (Developers in San Francisco/Silicon Valley make a ton of money, so I’m not sure where Rao gets the impression that developers are underpaid.)

The two most salient points, from my perspective, were first that developers are underpaid and under appreciated. Rao’s second point, which I fully support, is that society better quickly recognize that developers are shaping the planet. Moreover, if your company is not participating in this revolution then you’re at risk of being completely marginalized and forgotten.

Rao writes:

And god forbid, if you don’t have a skill, like baking, which the developer-centric economy can actually use, you are in deep trouble. One reason the Occupy Wall Street movement is not having the impact it seems like it should, based on sheer numbers of people involved, is that many participants simply have no cards left to play in this national game of economic poker.

Absolutely agree and here’s why.

A few weeks ago, I took a cursory look into how the Occupiers were organizing themselves. I wanted to know how they were communicating with each other. Were there channels for Occupy Movements in Oakland to engage in political discussions with Occupiers in NYC? How were the Occupiers focusing their efforts and formulating political discourse that was less transient than their makeshift camps and drum circles?

Turns out there wasn’t much. Other than a few Facebook pages (notably with hundreds of thousands of ‘Likes’), I didn’t find much. Not even a simple phpBB online forum for capturing everyone’s perspectives. In all honesty, I wasn’t too surprised. My view of the occupiers is that they don’t have any real technical skills.

The sad part, in my opinion, is that setting up basic social interactive systems is pretty easy. It doesn’t take a star developer (a “10xer” as Rao refers to them).

Let’s turn to the second article and it’s relation to ‘developernomics’. The second article is “Now Every Company Is A Software Company” by David Kirkpatrick, also published in Forbes.

For me, the idea that all companies are software companies is not what I would consider a fresh idea. It’s a rather obvious trend.

What caught my eye was the following passage due to its relation to crowdsourcing and the flaw with the Occupy Movement I highlighted above. Kirkpatrick writes:

This transition to a new world of responsiveness and agility will be painful and require a new mind-set. “We can build organizations that are far more adaptable, far more inspiring places to work, far more innovative than anything we’ve seen so far,” says management thinker and author Gary Hamel. “But there’s a huge ideological challenge in doing that, because inside most huge organizations is a bureaucratic caste that believes it’s their role to make decisions.” Scott Cook, founder and chairman of ­financial­-­software maker Intuit, concurs: “The kind of leadership my dad learned in World War II—where the leader makes all the decisions and tells everybody else what to do—that’s the flaw in organizations.”

Kirkpatrick is right to point out that previous leadership models are coming under intense pressure.

I recently read Clay Shirky’s new book Cognitive Surplus, How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators and one of his primary points in the book is that previous models of social organization have come under intense pressure and are on the whole no longer valid. Shirky is a Journalism professor so he focuses heavily on media-related changes. However, I do not believe it is a great stretch to see how our digitized and networked world is reshaping itself as a reaction to the technological capabilities and changes of the last two decades. Shirky calls the heavy consumerism of the 20th century an “accident” occurring because the media communication channels were heavily one-sided and that this accident will be fixed now that we’ve broken down the communication channels to allow anyone to contribute to the creative discourse. My blog here is an example of how “just about anyone” can participate in wide-net discussions.

It stands to reason that if society is changing because we’re now all contributing to the discussion that management practices will need to change too. And why shouldn’t they?

Maybe it’s ego, maybe it’s presumptuous but old top-down management practices seem extremely archaic to me.

We don’t live in a world that even needs a dictator (i.e. CEO or executive staff) to make every decision. “Crowds,” positioned correctly, are capable of self-governance.

It’s probably scary as hell to shareholders to think that “regular old employees” are making the decisions at companies (or could be were management able to let go) but this is certainly the direction we’re heading in. I will go so far as to say that companies in the future will be collaboratively managed and new social organization tools will emerge to help focus the collaborative efforts of all (interested and willing) people at a company to make decisions and execute on those decisions.

Relating this concept back to the Occupy Wall Street movement, what we see is a lack of what Apache and Linux used to propel forward into something sustainable: a technological infrastructure. The Occupy Movement has the support of the people but it fails to see that it is 100% dependent on technology (what Rao considers the number one survival risk presented to anyone who does not respect the need for technology) and what Kirkpatrick is positing: All companies are software companies.

Rather than looking at the Occupy Movement as a “company” we could re-read Kirkpatrick’s statement as follows, “All organizations, movements and communities are software organizations, movements and communities.”

I am pulling heavily form Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus for an under-riding premise that all communities and movements of the future will rely upon digital networks for cohesiveness, and it’s this reason that I am seemingly taking the “people” out of the “movement and community.”

It may feel slightly dehumanized to read it in this manner but if we never forget that the software we build and use are merely tools for helping us accomplish some goal then the humanized aspect is a given. Meaning, I am not taking the people and society out of the Occupy Movement (or any social movement). I am simply trying to highlight that social activists need to start learning some coding skills if they want to remain relevant (and retain power) in the coming years.

So, in conclusion, yes we are living in a world where all companies (and movements) are software companies (and movements) and yes this is the rise of developer-centric economics.

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