Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Pick one, or both

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-02-26

If the technogeeks, creating products like Linux and Firefox, have taken around 10% to 15% of the market from Microsoft, without traditional project managers and sales forces, something other companies have not managed to do (unless, like Oracle, they already had significant market share for that domain), then that either says something about the quality of Microsoft products, or the capabilities of traditional management.

Probably both.

I’d say that the market dominance of Microsoft has little to do with the intrinsic qualities of their products.

I’d say that managers could learn a lot about management from the geeks they deride.

Just imagine if the Dilberts and Alices ruled the world rather than the PHBs (see also SUIT)!


3 Responses to “Pick one, or both”

  1. Saso said

    But Dave, we’ve been there and done that and have DotBust to prove it. ;-) That era was filled with companies ran by Dilberts and Alices that thought running a company was easy.

    I think it just says that there is always space for competition and that software market isn’t a zero-sum game. :-)

  2. Dave Bath said

    Saso – DotBust, to my mind, was caused by speculators putting their money according to “fashion” rather than by rational investment. This problem is not limited to companies promoting technology products (IT, biotech, etc).

    Consider for a moment the far greater market problems caused by the fashion for derivatives, leading to the current credit crisis.

    The influx of people playing the market over the last couple of decades necessarily leads to a lower average market acumen, and therefore unwise allocation of capital. The long bull market corresponds to the recruitment of small investors who should have stuck to being employees or running their own businesses.

    I’ll also note the geekiest of the geeky are the mathematicians – and Google operates intelligently.

    And besides, the geekiness tends to an understanding of the gift economy, the benefits of information sharing rather than aggressive patenting, and also left-leaning politics.

    The problem with most managers, and the so-called geeks who got carried away in DotBomb companies, is their failure to understand true geeky things like good engineering practices. Ask any old hand about the quality of software engineering and integration practices in the majority of DotBomb wannabee geeks, and the quality of IT training. Do you know how many recent IT graduates know the meaning of “state space“, and the implication that you need to minimize state space by constantly checking for valid values and inputs if you want reliability.

  3. Saso said

    Agreed on some points, but no debate is good without a few counterpoints.

    What I tried to say is that we had a number of geek-founded and geek-ran companies back in the mid to late 90’s and most of them didn’t survive long past their VC funding ran out. And it is the same with most other geek (not only IT) ran companies. There is a clear need for business acumen. VALinux was a massive geek-ran company, for example, that didn’t quite make it. And what about Netscape? Marc Andreesen turned from IT geek into a business geek, but that came a bit too late.

    Derivatives and CDOs were created by financial boffins; in August last year quants, the ultimate math geeks, shook the markets with their "coordinated failure".

    Completely agree on the need for information sharing, but don’t like the “information wants to be free” excuse that some used. I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that information doesn’t give a toss if it’s free, locked up, or exposed and sold to the lowest bidder on the market. ;-) People care, and most have realised that sharing information is a good thing, and that the power of information only increases the more freely shared it is.

    Google is a success story because the two geeks behind the company realised early enough that they’re good at maths, but aren’t good at running a company. So they got a business geek in to do the business side of things. It worked well because all different geeks keep to what they are good at, or at least none of them has the power to decide what the others will do (up to a degree, of course). ;-)

    Judging by the poor code practices that didn’t quite improve over the past decade and a half, even with more and better tools available to anyone that cares, I would say that the percentage of those that ‘get it’ is extremely low. Buffer overflows are still around. ;-) Sloppy programming is allowed, ofttimes even encouraged because ‘meeting the deadline’ is more important than ‘getting it right’ – and that is mostly because ‘the right people’ are in short supply. And we come back to the initial posit: most geeks (regardless of persuasion), when taken out of their comfort zone, don’t succeed. IT geeks made bad business decisions. Business geeks made horrible decisions when they took IT decisions, …

    I actually wonder how many people remember, or have ever heard of, FMEA. Probably as many as know about state space.

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