I was reading a good book yesterday, “The Word is Flat”, by Thomas Friedman. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it, especially if you are a little outside the technology sector.
Friedman’s thesis is that high technology is making the world “flat” — that is, the barriers to communicating and trading are completely disappearing. Any techie probably already knows this, but Friedman makes the case in clear terms. I was very surprised at some of his examples, and I try to keep up with what’s going on in the world of technology.
One thing he said, struck me as odd: he said that during the big dot com buildup of a few years ago, Bill Gates was hassled at a speech to give some comment on the state of the industry. Was it all hype? Was it all a big bubble?
I forget the exact reply Gates gave, but the gist of it was that Microsoft was going to make money in either case. Friedman then did a wonderful pirouette and made an analogy to the gold rush of 1849 in California. Sure there were a lot more gold miners than there was gold — it was all a bubble. But a lot of people made a lot of money selling train tickets, lamps, pick-axes, maps, hotel rooms, and provisions to the prospectors. From their perspective, it wasn’t an imaginary boom, it was the real thing.
Suddenly a very startling light bulb came on in my head. All those years of watching Microsoft for the latest programming tools, the latest Office applications, the latest Enterprise software! All those magazines, conversations, web chats, and interviews about what new technology and buzz words were going to be the Next Great Thing. All this time, we were the prospectors, and the shopkeepers were showing us their provisions.
Sure. Many of us had nothing to do with the dot com boom (or did so indirectly), but that’s not the point. We were part of the dot com crowd. We were the ones facilitating all the _other_ folks who were trying to get rich by 1) going public, 2) creating the super program, 3) building a consulting service — you get the picture. Behind it all, somewhere, there was an economic prospector. We technical folks were part of the team that was heading to “them thar mountains” to hit it big. We’re still doing so today. All over the place, in fact in every technology-based company, there are economic prospectors. People who get up every morning looking for the gold. They’re usually the people that pay the rest of us.
And what do we get from our technology vendors? Do we get a map to the gold? That is, do we get help on how to find market needs and fulfill them? Do we get help on how to identify problem areas in the economy and how to integrate the technology with those problem areas? Heck no! We get people selling us gold-plated pick-axes!
Is there a technology conference on being an entreprenuer? Is there a conference on marketing for technical people? You’d better believe there is not. Marketing is for Microsft, for Oracle — for the folks who are really making the money in this sector of the economy. Not us regular guys. They’ve even convinced us that the marketing guys are the “dark side of the force.” They are the ones Who Are Not To Be Trusted. We’re supposed to be looking at the shiny tools, cool GPS maps, neato plug-and-play development components, enterprise James-Bond-like agents that inform us of everything we always wanted to know about bandwidth usage. Or storage space. Or desktop configurations.
It’s not that those things are not important. They absolutely are. But they are way, way down the food chain from where any business makes money: providing perceived value to some other entity. And certainly, in any large organization there are a lot of people who make a living allocating disk space, setting up email accounts, rebuilding servers, and all of the other vital tasks that must take place. I am not trying to denigrate those jobs in any way here.
But let’s get real, folks! These are tasks that the computer industry itself has given us to do. They are not tasks that are part of any mission statement. Instead, they are tasks that the industry has given us by making our search for providing value more difficult than it may need to be. You buy Microsoft Exchange, and you had better plan on creating some experts in MS Exchange technology. You buy the IBM Rational Product Suite, and you had better plan on paying some money to creating Rational Suite experts. I’m not saying this was any kind of coordinated effort, but I am saying that a lot of people know better and got rich off of us suckers. They’ve been pushing the diamond-pointed, platinum-based, microprocessor-controlled wheelbarrows and we’ve been the ones looking in the store window ooogle-eyed.
So what is it? Are we suckers?
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