The Great “Talent” Show

As I watch the digital landscape change around me, not just for advertising and/or “ad tech” but the entire corporate-cultureworld of business itself,  I still find it amazing how technology itself has become gentrified. As the new generation of devs replace the old “IT” guys,  Its almost scary how quickly knowledge is discarded for youth, something new and the myth that the ability to code is linked to some mystical genius gland that some have but most don’t. Coding is both a skill and a talent and develops itself as uniquely as the individual that bears it. Just 20 years ago corporations were the the mainstay of international business and as such, called for a certain conformity in order to belong to the “corporate” culture. Today that is all but dead but for some of the oldest, largest corporations.

All businesses are now being “de-centralized” by technology, as I said, not just digital-revolutionadvertising ALL businesses. Which means, most likely the 20th century “corporation” as we know it will eventually disappear, re-invent itself, or become unrecognizable. In my mind, this is not necessarily a “bad” thing, but change on that scale usually means a lot of economic disruption goes with it. With economic disruption comes social and political disruption. Disruption can be revolutionary, so its my opinion we, as a society, a culture, are in the midst of a full-fledged revolution. To be honest this isn’t really something new, its been going on for quite a while, but its interesting to see how “milleniels” spin it as something of their own creation.  But in the end somethings never change… the “geeky” new GE developer that can’t get his friends or family to take him seriously because he doesn’t program a video game or lift a sledge-hammer.

As you may have guessed I’m no millennial but I remember going thru the same indolence my entire career. Over the last 20 years I’ve worked in every vertical from foreign exchange, publishing, politics, tv and advertising. Advertising, I hope being the last leg on that long journey…but it was only until advertising that peoples eyes stop glazing over when I tell them what I did.  Most still aren’t sure exactly what it is I still do bCreative team standing at desk with laptop and smiling at cameraut if its “advertising” it must be cool! Point being, tech has been around for 50-60 years, and as long as its been around, it has NEVER, EVER been cool. Until now.  From the Bill Gates to the Zuckerberg era, something has dramatically changed. The rise of the millennial has lead to the rise of the entrepreneur! Every “millennial” I meet has it all figured out; the great idea, the right investor, build the team and ouila! instant millions! Its the IDEA that is the diamond in the rough, ways to tell your friends when you’re brushing your teeth or eating a pizza!  The actual technology on how to do this is usually almost an afterthought. The people who are going to build these ground-breaking, multi-million dollar block buster businesses are at the very bottom of the list. This I have never been able to understand.

A good developer, I mean a REALLY good developer, is worth twice his weight in gold. Without the tech nerds, orange-pickerswhite or black, male or female, old or young, to churn out that living code, there would be no app, no business, no millions. But for some odd reason, they’re still the last item on the list, as if, when the time comes for the code monkeys to do their thing, someone hops in a pick up truck, drives to a corner at 6 in the morning and says “you, you and you” to a group of ne’er do well men, anxious to earn enough to eat for the day.  I just  don’t get it. Yes, I know when you read ads for developers, programmers and architects you see 6 figure salaries and alluring perks. There was a time in Silicon Valley when top of the line devs got signing bonuses the same as professional atheletes! But thats definitely a “west coast” thing. Here on the “east cost”, and, in particular NYC, the demand for good devs is through the roof, but the process of finding them, itself, is bordering on the absurd.

The problem to me is a simple one. There is quite a disparity between the people that need the talent and the talent itself. In the old days, if you were a brick layer for instance, you would work you way to old-programmersbecoming a contractor and then YOU would hire brick layers. In todays era, some techies give up coding for the “big office” but only after they pass their trial by fire on the front lines, and then not often enough. Usually the “idea” guys are young millennials whose only desire is to get rich by the time they’re 30, retire at 40 then become VC’s themselves.  For developers, well they simply cease to exist past the age of  35. They either die on the spot or dissolve into some ethereal state only to be reincarnated into the next generation. When I was a kid I wanted to be a fireman.  I never realized there are no 50 year old firemen except the ones that ride in cars…not the cool red trucks.

In any case, the technology world is rapidly becoming filled with more fallacy than functionality. In the “real” world, New York investors, visionaries, millionaires of the future,  see developers/programmers/techies, the way they see any other job on the job market, with a fixed idea of what they do and how they do it.  Especially if they they aren’t the ones doing it! If you’re a bank teller, you interface with customers, complete transactions, and count money. Simple. You interview a bank teller on how many years he’s interfaced with customers, completed transactions and counted money. If he/she answers the question correctly and have a nice smile they’re hired…simple enough.

But how do you know if a dev is “good” and when I say “good” there is no more a subjective word in the business. Is a dev good because they’ve been programming javascript for 20 years or because they’ve been genius tech-masterprogramming angular for 2? What is programming anyway, can you describe it in 20 words or less? Business ideas are great but can only go as far as the tech eco system they’re aimed at.  Apple apps need Apple devs. Android apps need android devs…or do they? Is it really that simple? Can one kind of tech solve all problems and do all things? So if one has or can find a master of any one technology he is the harbringer of success and wealth? Of course not, and its really silly to think that it is. But very few can see the fine line between the business of technology and the technology of business. Programmers and devs are not orange pickers, they’re broadway artists. They have their own nuances, styles, talents and visions and these must align with whatever the business vision is if all parties are to prosper.

broadway-divaThe current fad is for “sweatshop” development, where you fill a room with “programmers” and just go at it for 50 -60 hours a week just keeping up with the market. The market being whatever vertical you happen to be in, games, ring tones, tech ads, ecomm, it doesn’t matter. Throw bodies behind a computer, assess whose doing the most work over a period of time, keep the high performers (before they jump ship) and let the rest go seems to work for awhile. But it cannot last. Programming is a talent and like all true talent it is made more important for its rarity not its commonality. A good developer is NOT a commodity and should be treated as such. They’re not just part of the business they ARE the business!


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