Economics and Sand Castles

I have been reading an indignant post about my talk written byJean-Jacques Dubray. He says, and I quote,

“Adam, have you ever considered that HTML and Javascript have almost wiped out software engineering from the face of this earth? Was it desirable to build (web) applications with such sloppy technologies which complexity is adapted to other classes of problems but which adoption has guaranteed hefty revenues to companies like BEA or Microsoft? IT doesn’t matter today, not because like machine tools or electricity everyone can acquire them, IT doesn’t matter today because sloppy technologies prevent companies to build mission critical systems at a reasonable cost and reasonable risk and most customers had to result to adopt SAP or PeopleSoft view of the world in attempt to diminish this cost and risk.”

In the face of such hyperbole, it is always debatable whether to respond or not. In some sense a response legitimizes what it should not. I was going to write a long article about real economics, about supply and demand and about how in a free market, like it or not, people get to choose what they want and what works for them even if IT doesn’t like it (as IT didn’t like spreadsheets). But I don’t need to. Paul Graham’s Hackers and Painters says it all, far better than I could ever hope to. The eponymous chapter alone, Hackers and Painters, is worth the read, but Paul’s intense desire to build a programming language for humans is what makes the book for me (even though I don’t really agree with his solution being a sort of PHP fan myself). I read a fair amount (son of a librarian, it sticks), and of the books I’ve read this year, this one will stick with me long after many others have faded. The book resonates with all the reasonableness and pragmatism and deep understanding of the human condition and of economics that is absent in the quoted paragraph above.

Mr Dubray, if you read nothing else, read Paul’s chapter on the other road ahead. It says what I said in my post in this blog on Evolution in Action, but Paul says it so much more eloquently and completely. It should help you to understand that the problem IT faces isn’t sloppy languages. It is irrelevance. For much (although certainly not all) of the work IT does, IT is like children building sand castles on the beach and watching the tide roll in. That tide is highly customizable web based solutions, Salesforce.com today, perhaps Talaris tomorrow. Ask the average Salesforce.com customer (meaning a salesrep) if he is happier with the solution he has now or the one he had back when IT was building a customer CRM for him. I think the answer will surprise you. Web Services have helped immensely here because it has made possible the integration of these solutions with internal logic for those things IT should still be working on. This is the promise and the future in my opinion.

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