Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Dilbert's days are numbered

Within a few years, you won’t be able to make money as a salaried software developer anymore.

No, it’s not because all the jobs are going to India.  The benefits of having your employees in the same time zone as your customers aren’t going away, and the Western cultural values of innovation and initiative still have an edge over the development that goes on in India, IMO.   No, the threat to software developers is more straightforward:  how do you make money doing what people are willing to do for free?

It’s an issue that’s beginning to hit journalism, too; look at all the recent mainstream interest in blogging.   You see a lot of harrumphing about the “blogger community” does this and “the blogosphere” does that, usually in the line of not having credibility, or not doing proper research, or not doing proper fact-checking, which all misses the point:  The sheer number of bloggers means that there will be a lot of lousy blogs, like this one, and a few really great blogs.    Presumably, the great blogs are run by people who, trained or not, are doing really top-quality journalism.  So what do you do if you’re a print journalist?  People are doing for free what you are doing for a living.

How about podcasting?  One of the most lucrative areas of radio is “drive-time”; that is, the audience that listens during their daily commute.  I have a commute of over an hour, and last year I seriously considered getting a lifetime subscription to Sirius radio, since the over-the-air broadcasting in Indianapolis is pretty uninteresting, with the possible exception of Wank and O’Brien.  I still listen to quite a bit of CNBC, but lately I spent at least an hour listening to podcasts.  What is going to happen to broadcast radio when their competition is serving up basically commercial-free content?

And it’s the same situation in software, due to the open-source-software movement.  Whenever I need a new tool or utility, the first place I look is  The people who work on these products are passionate and excited.  The people who work at it for a living are more interested in leaving early to get in a round of golf.

Now, it won’t happen overnight.  Open-source projects tend to be very end-user oriented.  Right now I work for a company that makes medical software, and there aren’t many developer communities that want to provide this.  (There are some, though!)  But the amount of open-source code out there really shows that people are willing to write just about anything that is necessary.  In the future, the only way to make money from software development will be as a leader, an energizer of a particular open-source community and a consultant providing services, maintaining a site-specific implementation of an open-source product.   Dilbert’s days are numbered.

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