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As Goes the Web, So Goes, well… Everything

by / Wednesday, 01 May 2013 / Published in Industry, Web Design
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There is a great school of thought, an interesting debate really, loosely related to the idea that we just started talking about here within the concept of architecture and it’s role in business. That is, that as technology becomes more pervasive in everything we do, so too is that the case in business. CFOs, CMOs, and CEOs are nearly expected to capably play the role of CIO; for without a firm understanding of the implication of technology (or at least the costs, considerations, and opportunities therein), your business is doomed.

Ford's innovation in assemblyThat debate, has to do with the fact that as a capitalist society takes hold of something, anything, we have a natural tendency to maximize the value of said thing by increasing it’s market penetration (scale), reducing the cost (innovation), and removing constraints (efficiency). A random walk through history validates this idea as it can be said for just about anything from food (from gardens in our backyards to corporate, industrial farms), photography (from chemicals and paper to instagram), the automobile or PC (from the product of hobbyists to commoditized technology)… you get the idea. I’m sure the same can be said of software so can it also be said of the programming languages and skillsets therein?

Scrambling for Programmers

The excitement of such a debate is the constant ebb and flow of the programming skillset. A language en vogue today will be deprecated tomorrow. The platform or user interface of yesterday will be replaced by Friday. Just consider for a moment, that only years ago, we had no smart phones, no tablets, no game consoles… software was designed for the PC form factor and only a handful of programming languages were necessary. Now, with the web and the never ending release of new user experiences (Has anyone started redesigning their mobile app for Google Glasses yet?), programmers nearly have to be machines themselves, able to both do their jobs AND keep up with the next, the latest, the greatest, for which they remain relevant or risk dying off.

Question it? Think about simply, what it took to create a web site 15 years ago. You had to know how to write HTML. You had to code. Today, not only is knowing HTML alone, worthless (of course, there is an exception in understanding HTML5), anyone coding a basic website from scratch is as smart as that Chief Executive who doesn’t understand and embrace technology. The web page has gone through the same evolution as the farm, photograph, and automobile – as the commercialization of the internet took place, aspiring entrepreneurs built DreamWeaver (ugh, remember that?), Geocities, Joomla, Wix, WordPress… the web site has become pervasive, one can develop an exceptional one with no technical knowledge at all, at exceptionally low cost.

So it’s true of software, is it true of the skillset? Is the debate about how we commoditize things we need true of not just the product but the skills behind them? Perhaps. Marketing automation has replaced much of what marketers once did. Web analytics continue to replace traditional business analysts. Accountants lost work to Mint.com and Realtors became irrelevant because of Zillow. No. No, wait. No, they didn’t. The art inherent in skill can’t be commodotized; it can’t be automated or industrialized. Experienced marketers are worth their weight in gold not because of what they do but what they know. Analytics tools still simply provide data and intelligence, metrics that have to be understood and interpreted. Mint.com, perhaps, empowered Accountants and Tax Professional and consumers were empowered with the knowledge of the value of understanding their finances and Zillow enabled Realtors to focus on closing more homes, stimulating the economy and our housing market, by leaving Zillow and the buyers and sellers to do much of the heavily lifting about the details of the industry that could, should, be commodotized.

And so too is the case with programmers and developers; engineering isn’t about what, it’s about how well, how efficiently, how effectively. Great developers are too worth their weight in gold (perhaps more), and yet, we will continue to deprecate the languages with which they work.

As a result, we scramble with both opportunity and desperation.

CIO Magazine reported today in fact, CIOs Struggle with the Great Talent Hunt. Over a two-year period in 2010, Stephanie Overby reports, Bill Weeks, new CIO of SquareTwo Financial, saw 70 percent of his development team walk out the door. More than half left; Weeks fired the rest.

It might sound like a leadership disaster, but it was the best thing that had happened to the $250 million asset-recovery company’s IT organization in years.

CIOThe company, 3 years ago, was in growth mode, but, as often is the case in established businesses, IT was falling behind. Weeks wanted to transform the team into one focused on results, “but many on staff refused to engage with business.” Sound familiar? The previous CIO of SquareTwo Financial had established that very culture, “Business people are busy doing business things, and if I catch you talking to them, I’ll fire you,” shared Weeks with CIO Magazine.

Many more IT departments or technology professionals fail to simply keep up with that evolution in the software and languages involved. As those business people, with whom Weeks wanted his team to collaborate, get involved, technology gets commercialized and it’s expected to become more efficient, effective, and inexpensive – results oriented.

That opportunity we face, is to make software and technology more accessible, efficient, available, and pervasive. In doing that, we can all leverage it for our business; we no longer need the web site developer to code a site in HTML. Entrepreneurs move into the market to enable tools, software, and services that create businesses out of the gaps left behind… we don’t need to hire developers, we have WordPress, but most business owners don’t even have the time for that. But we also foster desperation.

As a result of the rapid pace at which technology evolves, the aversion of business and technology to truly work together as one, the control over executive organizations by inexperienced CEOs and business owners, and the inability of everyone, from Marketers to Programmers, to simply keep up, our economy isn’t facing a talent shortage, it’s facing a skills gap. And that is a critical distinction because what businesses fail to embrace is the fact that you aren’t hiring the skill, you’re hiring the talent. Skills can be learned, skills can be replaced by technology. Talent, the art and experience in what we all do, is irreplaceable and invaluable.

Adam Popescu shared on Mashable today that Coding Is the Must-Have Job Skill of the Future, and he’s right, but as he insight-fully goes on to point out in the article, the skill is not what matters, is the talent involved.

“Well, we may be getting ahead of ourselves slightly. It’s uncertain that HTML and CSS in their current form will be on the menu of the next decade. But what we do know is, for the foreseeable future, coding is one of the most important and desirable skills there is, no matter how it evolves,” writes Popescu. “Coding is the new black. And it’s getting so hot that there are a slew of startups focusing on teaching coding — to your kids.”

“Learning HTML and CSS creates a really valuable way for people to efficiently design for the web,” explains Asher Hunt, leading mobile designer at LivePerson. “I say this because understanding those languages provides understandings of their limitations, and general capabilities. For every pixel I put down in photoshop, I know exactly how I’m going to code that in HTML and CSS.” That bold highlight is my own; learning the skill, a skill that’s constantly changing and evolving, teaching the talent we all so desperately seek.

“The value of coding is learning how to use data to drive decisions,” says C.J. Windisch, lead engineer and co-founder of GonnaBe.

As the Web Goes, So Goes Mobile

Validating these ideas is an interesting set of developments in the industry that have taken place in just the last few days.

Yesterday, my Quora thread list up with the question, what mobile apps could conceivably cost >$750k to build? Consider what WordPress did for website development, it’s a great question, how on earth could it possibly cost an exceptional amount of money to create a mobile app??? Mobile software, sure, perhaps; but an app for a business?? Anurag Rastogi, CEO of newgenapps.com proposed today in reply, “Smartphones pioneered by iPhone are relatively new, and being able to develop apps for them using distribution Channel’s like App Store or Google play became mainstream just a few years back…. The app stores have democratized ideation. Anyone can build an app and launch it to a global audience without incurring huge distribution costs.”

Well well.

And then today, in my own back yard here in Austin, AVAI Mobile announced a mobile application content management platform (you mean like WordPress for websites?) for the enterprise mobile market. AMP, as they call it, enables enterprises to “avoid the high cost and risk associated with custom app development and versioning by leveraging a proven platform as a service.”

AVAI Mobile Solutions

“We are announcing AMP Enterprise to address a very clear need among mid to large enterprises for a scalable yet customizable mobile app development platform which eliminates the need for custom development on every project,” says Rand Arnold, CEO of AVAI Mobile. “AMP Enterprise is an extension to our popular Cloud-based AMP™ solution already being successfully used as a development platform for our channel partners.”

According to a Q1 2013 Mobile Enterprise Report from Appcelerator (registration required to download the report), the largest obstacle facing Enterprise is a scarcity of mobile development resources.

Well what do you know.

“AVAI Mobile’s AMP Platform allowed us to communicate the latest updates of our products and specifications more efficiently with our team and partners,” says John Hewson, Residential Solutions Marketing Manager for Lutron Electronics

There’s that word again.

Indeed, entrepreneurs are moving to fill the commercial opportunity and gap, created as mobile software and languages become pervasive and commoditized.  The talent to accelerate our economy through technology is enabling all of us to leverage the skills as our access to them becomes more efficient. Rastogi went on to posit that the companies to look to in providing services for mobile are those that:

  1. Saw the future that mobile and cloud are going to be big
  2. Did not copy anyone, started early and have a great track record
  3. Have the competence to deliver
  4. Are not legacy companies, old System Integrators, who live on support business for enterprise companies like SAP and MSFT who have 3 year release cycles. Mobile has 3 month cycles
  5. Companies that charge a ridiculous amount like 500,000. The project sizes are much smaller and the larger companies are at a loss to adjust to this new normal (funny thing though, I think he meant to say, Companies that don’t charge…” no?)

As went the web, so goes everything we do with technology.

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