I’ll be 100% transparent about my experience as a deskless worker. I loved it. At the fearless age of 18, I was in control of a 24,000+ horsepower machine that could chew through almost anything it came in contact with. I was a leader – without even knowing what one was. I had an ‘A’ string of mentors that were devoted to my success. At times I was up to my chin in hydraulic fluid or jet fuel. Few days went by when my decisions didn’t influence the life or death of others. Every single day on the job was a challenge to learn something new. Learn I did. I learned from others, my mistakes, and an intuition that grew more confident with every success.
I never imagined myself in a work environment that didn’t involve grease, diesel fuel, paint, torque wrenches, dirt, rivet guns, and lots of machinery that could turn into a menacing threat within seconds. Digging ditches, building an Atlas rocket, managing auto repair, releasing the F-117a to the Air Force, running a daycare, owning/operating a screen-printing business and at least twenty other gigs are in my history of deskless work. Somewhere along the way, I earned a Master’s degree. At Microsoft no less.
What I cherished about my deskless jobs was how they forced me to be in touch with my cohort of 3 billion workers that don’t need a PC to create or encourage teamwork. There was never a question of belonging to a team. If there was a weak link in the team we confronted it face to face. No software could replace the uncomfortable conversation about job performance. No digital ‘Kudo” could ever replace a knowing nod thrown at someone that just did it a little better because they were wired that way. Thankfully there was little tech around to get in the way of raw team dynamics. We had to talk to one another, imagine that!
We crossed the line when we started to use the term ‘Friend’ for our Facebook connections. We recently crossed it again. Software is now being cast as a solution for teams.
With collaboration, team creation, employee engagement I believe the golden age of software is behind us. This is not to say that there’s no future for software. It’s simply that software is a one-trick pony that has reached the saturation point. There’s little innovation coming from Silicon Valley and almost no inspiration. Software companies (disguised as services) come up with new labels for the same tired themes which hopefully gets them funding. Not only is there a lack of imagination, but there’s also a disconnect from what makes good business sense for a particular segment of the market.
Private money and VCs have poured billions into food delivery startups like DoorDash over the last five years. These delivery services all do essentially the same thing. Why would an investor ever pay $20.00 to subsidize your lunch instead of helping tech companies establish a business model that has promise, profitability, and discipline in its DNA? Maybe because there’s less friction for making
In some cases, they aren’t even bashful about their goal.
My work experience in tech is rare. I often feel like a logger with a noisy chainsaw waiting for a role in the ballet. I’m a season ticket holder for Pacific Northwest Ballet so I know something about this. There is no part for a woodsman in coveralls. Because of me, my team is far more diverse than most software development teams. But
If you’re wondering where I’m going, here’s the gist; I’m reflecting on the bias that permeates high-tech. It’s more than an unconscious bias and less than a malicious bias. It’s rooted in the composition of engineering teams and the cultures this enables. Tech builds solutions for people that get paid to hold a mouse not a jackhammer. It’s all they know.
Here’s where that bias collides with reality. Tech has little empathy for the blue-collar worker. I
The PC and all its successors have little marvel factor left if you’re not in tech. Not only have consumers shifted away from PCs, but businesses also have too. Everything is shrinking as the world moves to smaller devices. The demand for software is winding down too. There is little appetite remaining in the market for complex solutions. The world is feature-fatigued and clearly recognizes most of the genius in software resides in marketing. Slide #17 (of 294) of Mary Meeker’s 2018 annual industry report calls out ‘simplicity’ as a major trend.
Some companies were on this path years ago. Smartsheet is probably one of the very few apps that would pass the simplicity sniff test. It’s an example of knowing your target user’s needs, ambitions, and tolerance level for tech. Weaving these opportunities and constraints into a business case is no walk in the park, but success is far more predictable. Any