Doom & gloom programmer keynote by Tim Bray

Tim Bray's Future of Web Apps 2008 keynote has been published to the web. Unfortunately he does not paint a rosy future for developers given the current economic climate. Entitled "The Fear Factor", according to Tim he rewrote the script the night before after spending a couple of depressing days with London bankers and watching television news.

Tim gives a very down to earth presentation that sits in stark contrast to most bright and breezy keynotes you see posted to the Web. The underlying concept is that the credit crunch will force many companies to suspend broad, big budget development in favor of small, low-cost projects. In this environment there will be project cancellations and job losses, so if you are a programmer it is a case of staying competitive through learning and networking more than your competition.

Some of the interesting points raised in the half hour keynote were:

  • Monetisation will occur at the point of value. Rather than $100,000 up-front licenses, companies will be looking to pay only once a system is in production i.e. Open source will hold a significant business advantage.
  • Waterfall is dead. In an uncertain, credit-poor economy the idea that a project can go for 14 months without delivering value will be seen as unacceptable to decision makers.
  • The Cloud is good, but lock-in is bad. Companies will value the cost savings from on-demand services like Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine, but be wary of the pitfalls of vendor lock-in (we do not want another Windows monopoly).
  • With regulation comes business opportunities. Governments around the world will be passing legislation to ensure another financial crisis is avoided. From a software development standpoint this will create a significant opportunities for those in the right place with the right abilities.
  • Mobile technology and micro-transactions are the new fertile ground. Apple iPhone and Google Android have realised the development potential of the mobile device. Their application marketplaces are vibrant economies where micro-transactions of $1-$5 rule.
  • Build something for yourself. You will only be truly successful at building something that satisfies your own needs. Steve Yegge has said it best in "business requirements are bullshit".
  • Do not be a [insert language here] developer. The idea that someone can ever learn and use one computer language (e.g. Java, PHP, Ruby, etc.) in a competitive marketplace will not cut the mustard. Be a 'web developer' who is prepared to explore anything, even legacy code - you never know where it will lead.
  • Network, network, network. Nine times out of ten work will come from people you know rather than what you know. Do not expect the plum jobs to land in your lap if you do not participate in communities. e.g. conferences, mailing lists, blogs, Twitter, etc.

Overall it is a very good, down to earth talk that provides a valuable reality check in these "interesting times".