Can computers help reverse falling employment?

by Andy Oram

Information technologies are implicated in a worldwide and
world-historic crisis: falling employment. As the wealth of nations
increases, those who have lost jobs or had to accept menial ones over
the past three years are left with only a wealth of culprits to blame:
financial scandals, wars, tax cuts, stagnation, etc. But there is
little doubt that a large contributor to rising unemployment is rising
productivity, which in turn can be laid to advances in computerization
and communications. I can no longer avert my eyes from the
consequences of the field I have chosen, and no one else who programs,
administers, or promotes the use of computers can morally avert their
eyes either.

The gigantic combine of capitalism has always obsessively pursued
efficiency, and computers make the pursuit almost child play.
Capitalism has succeeded in sowing a cornucopia of innovation up and
down society. But capitalism is atrocious at distributing the fruits
of innovation. Each labor-saving device means the idling of thousands
of people, wasting their years of experience, rigorous training, and
practical insights.

People who work with computers remain fixated on efficiency. Every
week I hear the debates over whether businesses should use Linux or
Windows, the commentators always wrangling over which systems will
save the most money. I find this battle increasingly tiresome. I'm
more interested in finding the systems that will put more people to

I have a sinking feeling that we can't wait for the next upturn in the
employment cycle, as optimists would have us do. I sense that this
upturn may never come, unless people in a position to influence
innovation make a conscious effort to involve the worker. Anyone who
writes programs or plans system deployment should start thinking,
"What can I do to bring average people back into the process of wealth

It is not my goal to place restrictions on investment or innovation;
it is only to present a new way of thinking that some people may find
stimulating. I am simply stretching a new canvas on which others may
spread their oils; I am not providing a frame for the canvas. Just to
illustrate what's possible, though, I offer a few tentative

Write free software for individual industries

A lot of programmers are pounding their treadmills in the free
software movement in order to create pleasant desktop experiences and
improve general-purpose applications. These help everybody and are
worthwhile in themselves, but think how society might benefit if a few
hundred of these programmers took a trip down to small, local,
cutting-edge businesses and asked the proprietors, "What would you
like on your computers to make you more productive?" And think of what
would happen if the programmers went on to write industry-specific
software that solved immediate, felt problems and distributed it for

Businesses can afford to pay for software. But small businesses cannot
pay as much as one would think, and specialized packages can be
incredibly expensive. Proprietary packages also suffer from
limitations, bugs, and lack of guarantees that they will meet user
needs. Free software opens more possibilities, and perhaps can drive
the expansion of job-creating businesses.

Make devices more responsive and easy to customize

Personal devices and cellular phones are growing in power and
complexity, particularly as Java applications become available, but
they still don't provide the flexibility to augment the ordinary user
at work (as visionary Douglas Englebart first suggested in the
1960s). I would like a computer to plan ahead for me, track things
that are too much trouble for me to remember, and combine inputs to
suggest efficient courses of action. My desktop computer has software
to do some of that, but my cell phone does not. And soon I'll be able
to have a dozen devices in my office with the hardware capability to
augment my intelligence--I'd like to have the software capability as

In the previous item I suggested very specialized software. But very
generalized software on cheap, available devices can also be
liberating. I am reminded of the power that desktop publishing
brought to ordinary writers in the 1980s, a power that made a social
force out of the same Apple Computer that is currently doing
innovative things to make a mass movement out of another medium with
even more relevance and social impact--video. It's nearly impossible
to overestimate the advances that users can make when they are
presented with flexible, open-ended technologies. Maybe it can make
more of them into productive members of society.

A key part of the solution is easy scripting languages. Current
languages always seem to develop tangled syntax; they look easy enough
for "Hello, world" applications, but as soon as you start to work with
real data and serious tasks into which you can sink your teeth, they
slap on braces and other indigestible characters. I want a scripting
language that is really simple enough for a kid to learn and powerful
enough to run a small business with.

Create a truly public key infrastructure

People have been trying to get corporate communications and
negotiations online for years, and probably the biggest beneficiaries
of such a move would be small businesses and individual contractors.
After all, who finds it hardest to pay travel costs and conference
room fees for expensive legal help?

The move online has been held up by deep and serious problems in the
processes for validating users and dealing with such issues as
certificate revocation and non-repudiation--social aspects of
security, or what I call the social infrastructure for
technology. But perhaps we're asking too much. Perhaps the average
user could be happy with a less universal and less ambitious system.

When you want to contract with some professional or service, it might
be enough for you to verify that he or she is a dues-paying member in
good standing in some association. Individual associations could
provide authentication services for this. Perhaps a contract could be
sealed by the combination of recorded voice messages and a digital
signature on a computer file. We have to be flexible and creative.

Those ideas are here just to get people thinking. We don't have all
the time in the world. Already, educated professionals are griping
about jobs moving to other countries, a form of heightened national
and racial tension that not only bring their own horrific consequences
but dampen the spirit of exploration that can raise everyone's
opportunities. And meanwhile governments, businesses, venture
capitalists (what are you doing with all that money your pets in
Congress and the White House brought you, tails all awagging?),
universities, and NGOs seem paralyzed in the face of this economic

There are precedents for this type of thinking. In the 1970s, a
movement called participatory design started in Scandinavia to develop
technologies that enhanced and strengthened workers' skilled
contributions, instead of eviscerating them. I have written about
other elements of the program suggested here in earlier articles:

But a few good examples will promote change more than all the talk in
the world.

What can you do?


2003-09-29 07:32:54
The sad truth is...
the vast majority of those folks that lost their jobs over the past three years shouldn't have had a job doing what they were doing in the first place and the (lack of) success of the companies that they worked for and the "products" they produced showed that. The amount of fly-by-night IT "professionals" that were born in the dot-com days was retarded. And now that companies are no longer hiring just to fill slots so that their company could break the 1000 employee mark in 30 days or less or so that the manager above them would be happy that they filled a position with "someone", people are looking for answers. As with any bad situation, there has been plenty of collatoral damage, with good IT folks getting the boot. But the vast majority of so called "technolgists" that are out of work really don't belong in the industry in the first place. Your article trying to "find a new place" for these folks is a sad attempt at trying to make them feel good about their situation. Maybe if they really want a job in the IT industry, they should build some real skills.
2003-09-29 08:38:39
Wealth Creation...
A mitigating point you fail to take into account is that, if you are out of a job due to some efficiency increase, then, that's a _good_ thing for everybody (even you, indirectly and with a long view).

Once you get a new job, that means that more total work is being done (the work for your old job, plus the work for your new one): an increase in total work being done keeps prices low, and inflation low.

So, instead of griping about job moves, you have to move to a higher 'energy level' - get more education, get more efficient, be able to 'do more things'. I concur with the previous poster about the types of people being lain off - don't let this be you - don't get comfortable even if you have a job, always get better. If you don't grow, you die, and in our world of 3-5 year cycles, you can shrivel up and die in about 3-5 years. If you only do one thing, one cycle is all it takes to kill you. If you can do 1000're much more resistent.

Interestingly, a side note: this is least good for 'opportunistic investors' (aka .COM millionares) - those people who look for 'inefficiencies' in the market place and invest in them (create new companies to exploit the inefficiency, etc). But it's overall good for blue-chips.

2003-09-29 08:56:08
Posters living in another universe
I've got an honours degree in computer science, and ten years of software development experience at all levels (from programmer to analyst to team leader to project manager). I'm still hands-on. I'm highly mobile (worked in three countries so far). I don't expect a huge salary.

Can I get a job? No. Have a tried? Only every day for the last year.

Am I not educated enough? Do I not have enough experience? Do I not apply for enough jobs?

I cannot get a job because there aren't any jobs, and there aren't any jobs because they are all moving to China and India. I have first hand experience of this, like many others in my situation.

I'm sick of hearing people say "get more education", "become more flexible", "be mobile", "accept a lower salary", etc. Shut up! It makes no difference at all. Wait until you lose your job, then your attitude will change.

2003-09-29 09:04:45
It's kinda like the tobacco industry
Say that the majority of the world smartened up, and quit smoking tobacco. All the people who currently produce it, farmers, transporters, growers, shippers, and so on, would be unemployed.

Would this be considered a bad thing? I think not. Those people should themselves train and find another job on their own, instead of waitnig for the inevitable. But of course, majority of the world will not smarten up, thus the tobacco industry continues.

But this only serves a further point. Everyone who works knows roughly when their time is coming. If you sit there doing nothing most of your time, or are trying to look busy, or are finding thigns to do that are NOT in your job description, just to keep occupied, then you sir have gotten comfortable, and you sir should leave.

2003-09-29 09:06:49
Posters living in another universe
you can program right?

so start programming. There are countless things that consumers would pay for that aren't there yet.

Instead of bitching that nobody is GIVING you a job, make your own job, make your own company. The alternative is apparently to bitch about not getting a job.

You either get stuff handed to you on a platter, or you steal somebody else's platter, but you always have the option of hunting on your own and making your platter, to such a point that if you're THAT GOOD, you can make enough platters for others too!

2003-09-29 09:08:11
RE:The sad truth is...
actualy if you look at it, IT is _not_ the only sector that is suffering horribly. It's the bad manufacturing market (thanks NAFTA, Hello FTAA) it's the trend toward low paying service jobs, less benifits and all that. Total job numbers is not the only thing that matters.

So think carefully before you say that people don't deserve work.

For the first poster. Your comments that efficeny increases are a good thing are partialy true. They do meen that less people can do the same type of work. However, the "higher energy" jobs that you are saying people should somehow magicaly gravitate into do not just appear. The economy is stagnating right now, and most new jobs that are being created are actualy LOWER energy. Not to mention that unless you had an extremely safe position and managed to save up a cushion, it's very very hard to retrain without help, so more people end up going to lesser paying jobs anyway.

2003-09-29 09:10:42
More Jobs?
What kind of an idiot would want to create "MORE JOBS"? What kind of bizarre ethic do we as Americans have where we want to do what we can to create more work for ourselves? Why not demolish a building so we can build it up again? Why not smash all the windows in your house so you can work at replacing them?

The technological revolution SHOULD be doing two things to increase the quality of life for people everywhere. It should a) make tasks simpler so they can be done more quickly and we can be freed up FROM WORK to learn and grow and spend time with our families and friends, and b) it should distribute wealth more equally, which, as you mentioned, capitalism is terrible at doing.

There needs to be a revolution in government so that we can all experience the positive time-saving effects of technology, not just the negative ones such as superpower corporations and finantial inequality.

2003-09-29 09:14:10
Eliminate the GPL
As anyone who's familiar with its history is aware, the purpose of the GPL is to ensure that programmers cannot create wealth in any way, shape or form. It's designed to undercut their markets, prevent them from benefiting from incremental improvements they make to the technology, and "ban" them (Stallman's own words) from making adequate livelihoods.

Andy, if you believe that programmers should have decent jobs, you must condemn the deceitful mechnism by which they're being destroyed.

2003-09-29 09:15:36
More Jobs?
2003-09-29 09:17:04
Easier Said Than Done
Sure you can program some cool new application, but it takes a lot of money and effort to market that and sell it, especially to the point where you can make a living on it, and then to cover the debts you incurred while writing the software.

I know, I've taken that path. I have some amazing pieces of software I've made, but I'm a programmer, not a salesman, and they sit collecting dust. Meanwhile I had to get a job to pay the rent.

2003-09-29 09:18:45
The sad truth is...
for every IT person laid off, how many marketroids, graphic designers, secretaries, copy editors, ditchdiggers, technical writers, janitors, department store clerks, electricians, teachers, plumbers, lumberjacks, paralegals, meatpackers, accountants, street cleaners, translators and steelworkers have lost jobs in the last twenty-five years, and how many of those got jobs back in the same fields?

The unemployment issue is not just in the IT world, and in fact we are only the latest to feel it. After efficiency gains are realized in a marketplace, the number of slots for workers in that marketplace is permanently reduced until the marketplace gets bigger. You either attain one of those slots, find another marketplace, or starve.

2003-09-29 09:19:02
Oram is looking at the bigger picture
I applaud Oram for discussing a very troubling trend that transcends the issue of particular kinds of skilled workers trying to get particular kinds of jobs in IT.

It IS fundamental problem with a crude capitalist economic system. Capitalism itself can be a very good thing within a social system that also promotes and maintains important human values. But naked, unrestrained capitalism is a freaking nightmare. If we are not careful, the United States will head back to the ugly days of the 19th century, when vast numbers of people lived in misery and exploitation (and thereby join a good part of the rest of the world today).

As a software developer, I have often noted the rather limited appreciation of political history among IT people. I hope this can change in the years ahead, because we do have the power to influence the direction that things will go. The problem is that it takes a very long term view, because improving the education and economic capability of a society takes decades, not years.

One area that I would suggest to the open-source desktop coders is bioinformatics. It is an incredibly challenging and potentially hugely rewarding area that needs a lot more people.

William Knight

2003-09-29 09:19:53
Eliminate the GPL
you aren't just wrong, you are flat out idiotic if you trully mean that.

the purpose of the GPL is not to prevent wealth, it's to prevent something else entirely.

Nothing prevents someone from hiring me to build them code. Nothing, the GPL doesn't stop that. The GPL simply ensures that if I get payed for using GPL'ed code, that the GPL code itself benefits from my work, whcih it does, unless I break the GPL and disregard it by not releasing my changes back to the open source community. Which I always do. And that means, if I keep using GPL for my work, and I keep finding work for myself, without waiting for the job market to GIVE ME A JOB, then I am in effect using other people's money to build GPL code.

Think about that for a change. I am actively building GPLed code and getting payed at the same time. All in the name of open source, and the businesses never know. How's that?

2003-09-29 09:20:20
Wealth is not the same as Prosperity
Those who note the general maxims of economists everywhere consider the current economy a blazing success. However economics is not usually considered on the far-macro level. You need Consumers who reap the benefits to claim you have improved everyone's life. Thus Henry Ford paid enough for people to buy his cars. Instead, anything that lowers the number or quality of consumers can depress the net economy. That's why deflation is bad overrall. No rich person can become a "Mega-Consumer" who will return enough jobs for all the money they have gathered for their own use. The only folks who did this were the filthiest of despots or kings, and their jobs were legendarily foul or maddening.

You may say "But what about money lent, cheaply, to new businesses?" Investment and innovation are great things but plateaus and dry-spots where no new innovation is possible due to saturation require incredible hardship on the rank-and-file. (Thus did we move Westward back to the stone age in the US, and thus we changed from Manufacturing to Service economies, and thus we now have gone from lifelong employment to constant change).

Averages don't matter for the rest of us. Medians do. Many many many types of economic Pareto-improvements produce net lowering of the median income. You can depress an island economy if all fish are now monopolized by one fellow with the only hi-tech boat and nets. No one else will be able to buy one unless they disrupt the system or are allowed to expand into unused resources (which, given current progress is a limited possibility for the rank and file... if its not built or done overseas).

...Or do those who disagree with the above some strange religious belief that "love of Money" (i.e. cheap prices for those with money) is always better than love of benefits for all?

2003-09-29 09:24:47
More Jobs?
why create more jobs?

Because not everyone like ssitting on their big fat asses smoking a joint and watching reruns of Fast and The Furious. Some people wouldn't mind destroying an old, bug ridden building built in 1940s, and in it's place to build a sky scraper of atl east 3 times it's height, to house 3 times as many people, and have in building fiber, of course, without all the asbestos and mold from the older building.

This is why some people want to make more jobs. Because contrary to the popular belief, there is a lot of work to do.

There's a lot of jobs to be made, or let me rephrase that, there's a lot of problems in the world that can get resolved if they were made into jobs.

2003-09-29 09:26:50
More Jobs?
You missed the point.

It isn't to create more jobs for ourselves by building shoddy product or tearing apart that which is good or by constantly reinvinting the wheel. Microsoft have already proven that this technique works, and they are hated for it.

Read the article again, and you will find that the value added in writing free software, particularly software oriented to a specific industry, can improve the environment for small business. I think this is very important, because small business stokes the LOCAL economy.

2003-09-29 09:30:14
Eliminate the GPL?
You're absolutely right about the GPL preventing people from making money. It creates advances in technology without advances in profit to small sectors.

But is this a bad thing? It's quickly increasing the ability of more people to get more done at a lower cost. Meanwhile, Bill Gates masses a ridiculous amount of money by owning and selling his software. What's better? The increase of efficiency for billions or the increase of billions (of dollars) for one?

Imagine someone develops a machine that provides all the energy a home needs. What's better for people? That it's distributed to everyone at cost? Or that capitalism has its way, and it's made so that you pay a monthly fee, need replacement parts, and have to upgrade it every year?

2003-09-29 09:36:41
Posters living in another universe - An idea
Quit crying, you're making me ill.

There are jobs out there, perhaps not those which fit you're currently idealistic viewpoint on life. The people that say "get more education", "become more flexible", "be mobile", "accept a lower salary", etc. are right on par with what you should indeed be considering at the moment.

2003-09-29 09:38:23
Easier Said Than Done
If you have any money left after paying the rent, I suggest you hire a salesman. They can do the selling / lead opening for you, and if your software sells, you'll have an extra income.

There are lots of salesmen out there desperate for work as well as IT people, I'm sure you could find a half decent one that would work mainly for commission.

2003-09-29 09:39:23
Easier Said Than Done
so does your current job require you to work 24 hours a day? Doubtful, so get off your playstation-playing ass and do something about it for a few hours each day after work, rather than cry to the employment Gods about how bad your life is right now.

2003-09-29 09:40:37
More Jobs?
Yup, we having been creating labor saving devices for hundreds of years now and yet Americans are still working an average of 50 hour weeks and that doesn't include things like house work, yard work, working out, ... Before I quit my job, it seemed like I could work every waking moment and still never catch up.
Americans laugh at the French for pushing 35 hour work week so that labor can be split up more evenly, I don't understand why we aren't doing that... look at the types of jobs the people you know are doing, if most of them stopped doing their jobs, would anyone notice? We need food, shelter, medical treatment, but so much of what Americans spend their time doing is so worthless... it's time to relook at our economy and realize that endlessly increasing consumer spending will not solve our problems.


2003-09-29 09:42:14
What a dumbass.
Each labor-saving device means the idling of thousands of people, wasting their years of experience, rigorous training, and practical insights.

Let us apply this to the agricultural industry. At the time of the American Revolution, 97% of the labor force was involved in food production; i.e. it took more than 38 people to provide food for 40 people.

These days, the proportion is more than reversed; only 2 and a trifle% of the population is now required. So 1 person feeds the same 40 people as 38 did then, roughly.

Now, substitute in this article the 37 out of 40 who have lost their jobs in agriculture due to efficiency improvements, and moan and wail about how awful THAT is.

Sounds pretty stupid, right?

Well, whining about IT job losses makes you not one whit less of a dumbass, because the situations are precisely analagous.

(As a matter of fact, in my individual case they are not an analogy at all -- I was raised a dairy farmer, moved into programming when small-scale farms like ours became uneconomic, and if I have to move again, what of it? But you don't hear me whining like these dumbasses about how awful it is that programming jobs are disappearing, any more than I whined about dairy farms disappearing, which is 'not even a tiny little bit'.)

2003-09-29 09:43:04
More Jobs?
I completely agree. I think that the point of technology has been completely lost in our culture. And I do blame capitalism. Technology exist (at least in my world) or should exist to better the quality of life at ALL levels of society not to provide a new gizmo or gadget. If some new time saving widget becomes available than it should be used to simply free a person's time for more humanistic interests such as education, family, travel, etc. It doesn't mean doubling the amount of "work" the person needs to produce.
2003-09-29 09:43:15
More Jobs?
You imagine the only alternative to working for the man is to sit at home getting high? Maybe you have a great job where you can be creative and innovative, but most Americans work tedious jobs shuffling papers, taking food orders, and the like.

Freed from such labor, I imagine an explosion of creativity, innovation, and human contact that would be far better for the world as a whole than a few extra reports, or trying to squeeze a few more dimes out of every consumer.

2003-09-29 09:43:24
Wealth Creation...
I'd like to shake this poster's hand, as he is right on par with reality. Long term, job "migrations" have never resulted in a permanent work-shortage in our country. Rather, new industries and thus jobs have sprung out of the void. This process has repeated itself throughout our country's history, and will certainly do so again with the current move of certain IT sectors overseas.

As IT workers, we must constantly reevaluate our skillset, and make improvements/adjustments when necessary. Otherwise, one day you will surely find yourself out of a job, and you'll have _nobody_ (not your employer, not India, not China) to blame but yourself.


2003-09-29 09:43:30
Free Software
I don't know about anyone else, but I always envisioned Free software and efficiency in the workplace as a way of driving towards a society where the majority of people work not so that they can provide for their basic needs, but so that they can contribute to society. Maybe that sounds a bit socialist, but I'd love to live in a world where I could write programs just because it makes someone elses work easier, not so that I could pay my rent.
2003-09-29 09:45:48
Easier Said Than Done
After you write your cool app make a website go to local IT events and talk to people post your application as a news story on Slashdot (make sure you have a good web host first!). Respond to government or private RFPs. Sell it cheap to schools and libraries. There's lots of ways to get the word out about new software. Did Bill Gates start with a slick sales force?
2003-09-29 09:45:50
Easier Said Than Done
After you write your cool app make a website go to local IT events and talk to people post your application as a news story on Slashdot (make sure you have a good web host first!). Respond to government or private RFPs. Sell it cheap to schools and libraries. There's lots of ways to get the word out about new software. Did Bill Gates start with a slick sales force?
2003-09-29 09:46:02
GPL not the cause
The GPL is not the cause of the poor job situation that we see today. The purpose of the GPL is to help establish a public infrastructure which has no barriers of entry.
Commercial software can be built on top of the free infrastructure, such as Sun's StarOffice, Borland's Kylix, IBM's DB2 and Oracle's database software.
The advantage of having a public infrastructure is that you and I can have a try at selling software that runs on it, this is in contrast to a proprietry infrastructure where the owners of the infrastructure can prevent you from creating interoperable software.
The main reasons why jobs are harder to find now are :

1. Over Supply. Everyone thought in the 1990's that they could be a millionaire by writing a VB app from thier garage. Hence too many people joined the field.

2. The whole IT sector was hyped too much, causing unrealistsic investments and now it is becoming more realistic.

3. Outsourcing. Much IT work is going to countries where the skill level is high and the salary levels are low.

These reasons significantly outweigh any other factors such as the GPL as you tried to argue.

2003-09-29 09:46:51
Hear! Hear!
Sweet. Well said.

And the same can be said for the telemarketing industry in regards to the "Do Not Call List". Yes, tons of jobs will be lost (I hope!) but the productivity will move into other (hopefully less annoying) areas.

2003-09-29 09:46:55
More Jobs?
>>There needs to be a revolution in government so that we can all experience the positive time-saving effects of technology

Does the government tell you how to spend your money? Why not be the agent of change that YOU wish to see in the world, instead of thinking the government is going to come and save you.

There needs to be a revolution in consumerism on the part of everyone. Live below your means and sock away some money, then you can spend LOTS of time with your friends and family.

2003-09-29 09:50:20
Posters living in another universe
I think that is the point of the article. You need to create a job out of nothing, i.e. wealth creation.

A common misconseption about wealth is that it is a finite thing. If one person gets rich, another must get poor. This is not true. We create wealth everyday when we work. We turn sand into microchips. With enough people, microchips are cheap. You can think of it as the cost of microchips going down, or you can think of it as your average wealth going up, i.e. you can buy more with less. It's the same thing. Make something new and you help everybody. Even if you don't get money, it makes the cost of everything else go down.

2003-09-29 09:53:20
More Jobs?
I do. But the 40-hour-a-week or nothing job market makes living in the middle a bit difficult.
2003-09-29 09:55:45
More Jobs?
My job is as far from creative and innovative as it can be. Please don't assume things.

But first, give me a good reason why McDonald's doesn't have machiens that put the burgers together? If they did that, you can see it as either thousands of people losing their jobs, or thousands of people FREED to do other work.

It's all in your perspective. As far as jobs go, mine is as routine as making burgers.

2003-09-29 09:58:01
Posters living in another universe
To the person who's not able to get a job:

Next time you go to the store and buy something, turn the product over and see if it says "Made In China". If it's cheap, it probably does. And then, just for comparison, try to find something that's "Made in USA". It will be more expensive, arguably without being that much better.

Which one are you going to buy? Will you be thinking about American workers you're helping by buying inferior and/or equivalent-but-more-expensive product? No. At least you shouldn't! You should buy what's better for YOU, the consumer. If it's cheaper you want, you should buy cheaper.

Companies are no different. They are consumers of services. They shouldn't care about the social good. They are busy enough trying to RUN THEIR OWN BUSINESS AND STAY IN BUSINESS. If you force companies to buy expensive services where they can get cheaper, they'll start lagging behind the competition (as in "foreign competition") and then even more people will be laid off.

As far as your personal situation is concerned, I have an idea for you: START YOUR OWN BUSINESS. (added benefit: hire anyone you want - if you prefer paying $90K to american programmers, go for it! Somehow I think you'll re-assess those priorities once you are a business owner).

2003-09-29 09:58:42
Posters living in another universe
I've spent my career as a software developer(at all levels) at start-up companies. I've lost 2 jobs since 2001 because the companies went out of business. I haven't spent more than 3 months looking for a job, and each time I found myself making more money. The company I work for now has plenty of job openings for software developers and I interview about 3-4 candidates a week. The sad truth is that the talent level is low, really low. In fact, I've interviewed candidates who told me things like "I'm not prepared for a technical interview today" or "I don't know any of this computer science stuff, what's a linked list?". The search for talent is even harder than it was in the boom because people with stable jobs don't want to take a risk on a start-up in this economy. If one doesn't know about "computer science" stuff, perhaps a career in software development is a poor choice. If you are a software developer learn .Net, learn XML, learn Web Services, or learn Java. If your job can be expressed in a two page Word document, you are probably going to be offshored at some point.
2003-09-29 10:00:48
Easier Said Than Done
No Bill Gates started with a lot of help from mommy. Who was associated with IBM when he licensed DOS to them. Not to mention that daddy also put up a large bit of money for him.
2003-09-29 10:02:56
Free Software
What a wonderful idea!
2003-09-29 10:06:05
Free Software
Yeah it's called a meritocracy.

The 24th century which StarTrek the next generation is based in has done away with money. The people contribute to the greater whole of Society or in StarTrek's case the universe.

2003-09-29 10:07:54
Hear! Hear!
I think the author may be seeking something of a more inclusive and open work force / computing infrastructure, or at least that is what I would look for and what would be a component of a free/open approach. After all, there is a movement back towards small scale farming as factory farming may have some drawbacks, maybe we could avoid disasters arising from only specialists really knowing how things work.
2003-09-29 10:10:44
Easier Said Than Done
I can understand what a leap it is to go from working to creating work, that is from working for the Man to working for yourself. They say it's easy to bungie jump. But if you've never done it, that first step is always to most difficult. Starting a company is no different.

I've started 3 companies. Each was difficult. But programmers such as yourself are special. You have the ability to create something out of nothing but what you envision. That is special--it is a gift that should be harnessed. In business parlance, programmers are wealth creators, or can be if they take the step to start their own shop.

I recommend you email Hardy Macia at His story, which can be found at his website, might be helpful. Hardy can offer pointers, one programmer to another, that only someone who has run their own shop for many years, which most here cannot.

But one thing he will say is this. You have to make the choice to take the talents, which people like me only have in small bits, and turn those talents into a marketable product that you can sell. You will not be a millionaire overnight. But you will start earning money, which over time will increase from month to month. The shareware market is allot like drilling a wildcat well. Sometimes you hit one out of the park, your application reaches a tipping point, and the rewards are yours. VersionTracker is a good place.

One question you will have to ask comes from the world of marketing. What community, market, do you want to introduce your product to? You have 3 markets right now: Windows, Linux, and OS X. Which market will your application(s) have the best chance of standing out? Windows is big, but customers are overloaded with new titles each month making it harder for your new app to find a base. The freeware community of Linux possibly would undercut your efforts to make a living. OS X is small but growing and, like Linux, the developement tools are free once you've paid for the machine.

As a very recreational programmer now, though I once worked at JPL as a C++ developer, I will say in OS X's favor that developing an OS X app is many times easier than on any other platform--I know that sound like typical marketing bull, but it's not. The integration between XCode and Interface Builder, and the foundation of code that NeXT and subsequently Apple have built with Obj-C and Obj-C++ makes life easy enough for someone like me to whip out a cool app for my nephews in a week, something I couldn't do on the Windows or Linux platforms, based on my past experience. What does this mean to you? The less time it takes to develope, the more time you have to sell your application.

Please write Hardy.


2003-09-29 10:10:56
What a dumbass.
You?re absolutely correct!

Historically automation has ALWAYS increased the number of jobs. Look at the textiles industry, a few hundred years ago there were literal riots in the streets because tailors were afraid of loosing their jobs to the new automatic loom and sewing machines. And for a brief period of time many did, but then the textile industry exploded, suddenly people realized they could afford more than one outfit.

The same is happening again right now! So what if a few people have gotten laid off b/c some idiot (probably the author) decided to invest in mail order concrete. (I was also laid off and felt the effects of the current job market.)

A 2% annual increase in productivity will double the standard of living every 20 years. So next time you feel like whining about automating people out of jobs, pause and look at your house. It?s because of that automation that your kids will be able to afford a house twice as big.

So shut up and get back to work!


2003-09-29 10:11:41
"it took more than 38 people to provide food for 40 people."

The colonies were exporters of agricultural products, and in fact were restricted from various industries by protectionist policies.

It most certainly did not take 38 people to provide food for 40 --- even if 97% of the working population was in agriculture, as always only a fraction of the population is in the labor force. I don't think agricultural productivity has ever been so low that the surplus would only support 2 in 40 people since the invention of agriculture.

The larger questions are: what kind of technological progress is beneficial and what kind is harmful? How do we collectively decide what kinds of technology will make us better off?

But I guess only a "dumbass" would think to ask such questions.

2003-09-29 10:13:39
Well, free software is doing that in a way
Many people right now are working hard to get the concept of free software accepted. We are almost there, but big business and governments are not fully on board yet.

I am coming to the realization that software is like other raw materials used to build things. Combine this idea with the realization that technology trickles down and some interesting possibilities come to light.

Do we all have our homes built and repaired by the large contractors? No. Some of us do it ourselves, others hire the local folks to do it, and some have it done by the big boys.

In the construction economy, there is room for all of us to generate wealth.

This is the battle free software is fighting for the software industry. It needs to happen before your vision can come to pass.

Lets say we win that one and free software is recognized as it should be. People then will begin to do the same sorts of things they do in other parts of their lives.

Want a PVR? You can go to best buy and build one. Maybe you want one that does specific things, or that interconnects with your other home computing systems. Hire the local computer tech to make it happen. Want a bit more of a challenge? Do it yourself.

In the near future, I hope to see these sorts of things happen. The growing body of free software can be used as other raw materials can to build things that people need. The builders might be programmers, or might just be experts in what works and what doesn't.

As technology continues to trickle down, these people will increasingly be the common people you speak of. If these people can make use of free software, much wealth will be generated through the simple value they can provide those that needed.

So, there it is. Software as carpentry. It might not get you your spiffy cell phone, but it will get a lot of people one hell of a lot closer to the promise the large software companies are selling them right now; provided the established interests do not win by placing the law in front of this potential.

2003-09-29 10:14:29
Posters living in another universe
Try government jobs or workig for the defense /aerospace industry. These jobs won't move overseas.... and the automobile industry looks like a good place to work now too. I weren't no honors student, and I didn't have any experience but I found a job after not too long of a search because I knew where to look :)
2003-09-29 10:15:31
32-hour workweek
History already has an answer.

Technology revolutions have occurred before.

The prior two industrial revolutions produced a 15-20% reduction in the average workweek. There's several other issues that flow from that, such as a collapse in real estate values, but they resolve themselves.

2003-09-29 10:33:21
Posters living in another universe - An idea
I think you also forget that not everyone is in the high tech field.

My fiancee has a Bachelors degree in History and a Master Degree in American Studies. She wants to teach, which requires a teaching certification, which means more school.

Without a certification, there are not a lot of jobs that match her field. She has been out of work for the past year. She has looked day in and day out getting discouraged to no end.

How to you solve the job problem for people like this?

Does that mean she should drop her ambitions of being a helpful part of educating our future generations to improve society? I think not.

Let's faces...there is no wealth in K-12 education.

All the wealth now a days seems to be in the pockets of the mega corporations. These corporations need to spend this wealth more to help produce jobs, or else I think that taxing them more might be a way gaining money to spend to produce jobs...

There is no easy solution.

2003-09-29 10:34:42
Wealth Creation...
I am more of a constant learning programmer type, but in support of the original statement about job loss being "bad," job cuts (and hirings) are not always rational.

Some jobs should be operationalized, as i think is good to have some settled specialists, as opposed to expecting everyone to become a workaholic.

2003-09-29 10:37:48
Yes, there always will be problems to solve. That is not the issue. But thinking stricly in terms of jobs is limited thinking. Try thinking in terms of ownership instead.

Would you rather produce, or own the means of production?

The owners do not have to work when the "job" gets automated.

The fundamental difference between Capitalism and Communism is WHO are the owners. In Capitalism you choose what you own; problems arise when ownership is inequitable. In Communism, everybody owns everything by birthright; problems arise because there's little incentive to fix problems.

-- Everything is complex, but not infinitely complex.

2003-09-29 10:42:04
What a dumbass.
The jobs are moving because the politicians are disloyal bastards who make a big show of their false patriotism.

At the end of the day, a lobbyists check from India is just as good as a lobbyist check from a weak trade union, or collective lobbying from Unemployed (yeah, right).