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Tech is losing its wings
There’s little doubt that the party is over. The question is, what’s next?
There are several bold claims I am going to make in this article, which I will substantiate one by one:
Tech has run out of cultural gas and is stalling out now
Elon is not popular in Silicon Valley in light of his takeover of Twitter
Crucially, tech has lost its ability to scale
So, what do these things mean, and why do they matter?
Out of gas
Perhaps more bold than controversial. Many people of all stripes have noticed this as a change in sentiment. It also parallels a coming wave of sex negativity, which has mostly arrived now.
People don’t respect the idea of tech like they used to. Aaron Swartz is dead, all major English-speaking social media websites have been compromised by intelligence agencies, and the companies that were behind the technology enabling all of this literally couldn’t care less. A reactionary in this landscape is someone who stans Steve Jobs, because that’s how far back you have to reach now for any kind of genuine glory.
This does not bode well for the kinds of existential problems tech is facing: regulation and corporate survival.
Previously, they were surviving the drum of regulation through covert corruption with flanges in Washington; now, this has been brought into the public square for all to see. No one can deny it any longer, and the spectre is moving away from their grasp.
Previously, they were surviving as corporations through all manner of job market manipulations, legally or otherwise. They triumphed with glee that tech was ‘eating the world’, because it’s what they needed to cover the gaping wounds in their business structure that would have otherwise cast existential doubts on their business. We know they conspired to drive down wages (and this was an open secret as early as 2014), and even that aside, their fundamental business model makes engineers entirely expendable. That’s not even getting into any of the top-shelf corruption that covered up all manner of critical business failures. I’m sure all of those shoes will drop in the coming years.
The ‘tech company’ as we know it is mostly dead, gutted, and its entrails are on public display in the town square. It has a chilling effect on the remaining cabals in tech.
Elon is not popular
Although history will surely recount the developments he spurred as a net positive, Elon Musk has never been more culturally maligned than he is right now.
A lot of people are telling on themselves when they say things like, “everyone in SV admires Elon.” Sure, if by ‘everyone’ you mean cowardly tech executives who have been reminded of their spines by the courageous man. Now, letters go out reminding everyone of the fundamentals of business. Now, there is courage to write the layoff announcements that need to be written. I’m sure that makes so much difference on the precipice of what Bloomberg is calling the worst recession in at least three decades. Whatever.
Those aren’t most people in tech. Such people need to take 3 steps back and remember who it was that they hired in bulk as expendable peons over the last 15 years, because they’re probably the very same people that booed Elon off a comedy stage with Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. Somehow I don’t find it compelling to think that the type of out-of-touch lefties who reflexively hate the man would attend a Dave Chappelle showing in the first place. Blind spot alert! Something else is going on here.
Here’s the thing: for the past however many years since at the earliest the 1990s, ‘tech’ as we know it has used a human-resources strategy that makes engineers as expendable as practically possible. This is why the immaculate complexity of software has exploded at a breakneck pace, and why tech companies have an insatiable appetite for ‘talent’.
Those legions of overvalued, often coddled people are all being laid off en masse. Credit to Elon for being ahead of the curve on this, but what curve is that, really? What’s next for tech to keep functioning, if not hordes of engineers practising agile methodologies? Apparently, it’s ‘rock star programmers’ like George Hotz, who are infamous for their sheer output of code.
Tech has lost its scaling function
There’s just one problem: that doesn’t scale. People like that do not grow on trees, and there is not much in any kind of literature or practise how exactly anyone could cultivate such people. We’re supposed to just lean into some intrinsic mythos about crazy genius white tech guys with brains denser than neutron stars, or something. Long story short, these guys are as good as golden unicorns in the new hiring regime of tech. Growth in tech is basically over.
I’ve talked a lot about the unsustainable nature of programming as it exists right now, and I am happy to discover that finally, at long last, the industry has been brought to heel enough that they are now manoeuvring to more properly match their hiring philosophy to the reality of how they make tech. Unsustainable technology, meet unsustainable hiring methodology.
The societal implications of this loss of scalability are immense. The whole reason everyone else has to play along with all of the liabilities that come with tech is the potential upside for them – for advocacy groups, prospective employees, governments, you name it. When you always have more growth potential, you are basically invincible as long as you play along, right? Share the spoils and life goes on.
Now that it’s becoming clear there will be no positive stake in tech for them, this will be a hell unlike anything tech has been forced to deal with before. They are positioned squarely like the American railroad tycoons, or Standard Oil, or whatever favourite historical analogue you have of the unholy union of American ingenuity and American greed. Last I checked, Amtrak is wholly owned by the United States government.
A better outlook
How could technology possibly recover from this? By all accounts, it looks as though they cannot.
I do have one tribute to offer, and it has been expounded upon and rephrased countless times on this weblog: the philosophy of software engineering must grow up.
The Hackerman mythos is cool, but it’s ultimately childish, and it’s no way to run a billion-dollar company of any kind. Stop valorising this just short of the point where you begin to excuse all of the vileness and egomania that typically comes with such people.
It’s clear that we have to go back to the individual to find answers to the people problem at hand with tech. What’s less obvious is what to do then. I’ll give you a few hints: it has a lot to do with beginners’ minds, literate programming, and a heaping helping of patience and long-term thinking.
Any kind of positive place tech could occupy in human society simply cannot celebrate 20-hour coding sessions as a hallmark of greatness. It’s not natural or sustainable at all. It’s time to truly go back to basics on what makes a good engineer in the first place.
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