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Dev.Hell Harrowing the tech business like it's 1999

Further musing of the Mysteries of the Vanishing Devs.

As discussed in my earlier post, there's a shortage of developers. Big companies are complaining that it's hurting their bottom line, but developer salaries do not reflect this. Small wonder that the talent pool continues to shrink. But that's just the first part of the mystery:

Seems like there are still a lot of development jobs are for small companies, and I'm curious as to how they can compete in what should be a a much tighter market.

In my career, I have mostly worked for smaller businesses: 15 people, 30 people, 60, 120. I prefer it; I worked for one of the big boys for a while and it was the worst experience of my career. Office politics has an inverse relationship to development work, and the bigger the company, the bigger the politics... the smaller the amount of actual development. I'm a developer, not a politician.

Anyway. Let me posit this as a formal argument again, because I'm a formal sorta dude:

Premise 1:There are a limited number of developers available
Premise 2: Big companies are hurting for developers.
Premise 3: Big companies have more to lose than small companies
Premise 4: Big companies have more to spend than small companies.
Conclusion: Big companies should have bought up all the developers, and there should be none left for the smaller guys.

But this conclusion doesn't hold. But why? If it's really that costly, why are there so many small shops in business? How can they even begin to afford it? I think there are several factors in play.

Firstly, I don't think the big companies, for all their complaining, truly understand the value of development. This is particularly true of non-tech businesses like banks and insurance companies, who, like it or not, are among the biggest customers for large scale development. Dev is expensive, it takes a long time, projects are late, projects fail. Nobody wants to invest in staffing or training, they want everything quick and cheap.  Money men don't appreciate what's involved in planning a project for success, and they're just going to continue half-assing it until somebody gets upset, lays off the R&D department, adds a zero to the budget and outsources everything. They don't know any better, that's how they were trained and that's how software services are sold to them by those of us who should know better.

This attitude is reciprocated: a lot of developers--including me--don't like working for those guys. We don't like filling out TPS reports or sitting in meetings. We like to report to other engineers, not to middle-management MBA types.

Another factor, I believe, is that there's an entrepreneurial spirit to software that I think other engineering disciplines lack. We want to build new things, we want to make an impact... and we don't _need_ tens of millions of dollars to accomplish anything. In software, we can built anything we imagine from nothing but keywords and logic. Garage development continues to be the leading edge of software--corporate money is required to polish and commercialize those products, but corporate structures are often antithetical to breaking new technology in a timely fashion. That's why there's this continual cycle of big companies  acquiring smaller ones.

The story of the hero developer is never about a dude who joined a big company and worked his way up from the mailroom; it's about the guy who founded a company in his basement, the visionary who built something that one of the big boys him or her paid millions for because their own internal, hidebound, reactionary, shareholder-accountable  structures didn't think of it or failed to deliver it.

At the end of the day, I think the reason that the market is as loose and nonsensical as it is rooted in developer culture. We are iconoclasts, loners, wizards. Geeks. Idealistic as it sounds, I believe that, as a community, we are not demanding the money we could because the work itself is our reward. We do it for the doing of it.

-- JF

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2007 11:44 AM | Back to top


Comments on this post: Dev.Culture

# re: Dev.Culture
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G'day Jason, thanks for the interesting post. It's always interesting to hear from developers that have been around a few times (I'm only in my second full-time position since University).

Looking forward to more in your "Dev" and manager series!

Cheers, Thomas
Left by Thomas Williams on Aug 15, 2007 12:52 PM

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