Max Goff has posted 3 very interesting articles on the future of the programmer by comparing programmers to blacksmiths and the automation of programming tools to the automation experienced at the turn of the last century. While I am not sure that I agree with his assumptions and analysis, the article has made me think about this profession in a new way. The articles have had a very similar effect on me as Nicolas Carr’s IT Doesn’t Matter. An article that may not be correct but one that posits a challenge and a new way of approaching a problem. Tim Mensch’s reply demonstrates that in emerging industries that programming and business value are closely coupled.
"Much of what we think of as innovation, is really the creative tension between differing viewpoints"
PARC website circa 1997
Programming is repetitive where as Goff points out in areas where there are "boilerplate solutions". Why should an organization spend a significant amount of funding to design and build a new accounting system, a new human resources system, a new supply chain management solution, when there are perfectly good and customizable solutions available. (Though this idea bothers me a little bit, because one of the key areas for innovation is to look at what the entrenched companies and products don’t do well and to do something new and different. This is Clayton Christensen’s Innovators Dilemma, it can be hard to something that jepordizes your existing revenue stream. Companies like Workbrain and others wouldn’t exist if we just assumed that PeopleSoft or other tier 1 HRMS vendors did everything including time and attendance perfectly). Areas that are not actively outsourcing development jobs include:
- Video game production
- Software components development
- Movie production
What I find most interesting about many of these fields is that they are at the intersection of 2 unrelated areas. The InfoMesa in Santa Fe is the intersection of computer science and biology; and computer science and chemistry (look at Daylight’s list of companies). The bioinformatics
Digital entertainment, where games or movies, is the combination of computer science and entertainment. Companies like Weta Digital, C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures, Pixar, Alias, Industrial Light and Magic, etc. are defining a new currency for programmers in Hollywood. Electronic Arts, BioWare, Verant Interactive (Sony Online), UbiSoft, id Software and others keep developers working developing new games and technologies.
Why develop the next great recruiting tool or inventory management tool when you can outsource it? Walmart is innovating developing staff and technologies internally. For Walmart, information technology offers significant business value and it (or should I say IT) is the differentiator between Walmart and their competitors. It’s possible to do interesting programming, and to realize while the number of programming jobs increased and were over valued during the dot-com boom, that programming is the infrastructure of the information technology. And while the role and value of the blacksmith has decreased, there are similar "evolved professions" that have been developed. Material science, civil engineers, architects, product designers, mechanics, machinists, etc. these are all professions and specialties that did not exist at the turn of the century. We need to be prepared to adapt and change just like the blacksmith.