I think I am beginning to understand the Information Economy

Boats in Kuching, Malaysia. More importantly, how could technology improve their business?

A lot of things came together for me over the last 24 hours.

First, this week, we are learning about the interaction between Java and SQL, which will allow us to store data through our programs.  It is far more exciting than it might sound, mostly because all of a sudden, we’re able to put data somewhere and then retrieve it when we want, using commands that we design.  It’s like having the ability to write on paper, but every day all of the words you write are burned up.  Then, one day, someone shows you how to build a library and store everything in one place so you can get it whenever you want.

But I was still frustrated.  It often seems like we are learning these little Mickey Mouse programs to run a pizza shop, a record store, or track how many salmon a bear eats, but what I want to do is learn to build something like Facebook, or Twitter, or Uber, or AirBNB.  I want to help RBS go from being a 19th century bank on its death bed to a bank that Fintech companies don’t even want to go up against.  I want to find out how to create a program that could save lives in remote islands of Indonesia; it feels like we’re never going to learn anything even close to being relevant to that.  When would we learn the technology that gives, or could give, these companies their value?  When would we get to the good stuff, the kind of programming that changes lives around the world?  When would we be handed the keys to the coding kingdom?

Then, this morning, when I was taking a shower, I had a realization: we ARE learning that technology.  We’re walking before we run, but they’re also showing us how to run, in a weird way.

Our modern information economy relies on computers; computers are good at managing information and data.  A company like Uber relies on cars in the real world, but their power comes from storing customer names and driver names and locations in a database, and linking those to bank accounts.  AirBNB relies on houses and apartments, but their power comes from databases and interfaces and their website.  Facebook relies on our eyeballs and attention, but its power remains in databases and a slick interface and storing status updates and photos and birthdays, then delivering that information to us.

And we’re learning HOW TO DO ALL OF THIS.  SWEET JESUS, we’re learning how the information economy works!

Suddenly, in class, everything became much more immediate, much more pressing.  We learned the SOLID principles today, and, in my mind, I connected them to Ray Kroc and Pragmatic Programming and Peter Drucker and Narconomics.  Synapses in my brain were firing: how could I use this in, say, a bank?  How might I change the way money is moved overseas?  How could information be used for employee retention, hotels, coffee?

And it goes towards explaining an 80000 hours article I read yesterday about which skills make you most employable; surprisingly, and a bit frustratingly, coding wasn’t at the top.  However, people skills and mental processes WERE most highly prized, and coding wasn’t too far off the top tier.  But as a Silicon Valley venture capitalist once told me, people skills are at the heart of business – whether it’s the information economy or any other work; he also told me that he’d rather fund good people with a bad idea than bad people with a good idea.  Putting coding skills on top of interpersonal skills can only be a good thing.

The technology that I’m dreaming of is people-based, but just uses the code that we’ve been learning to help it run better.  Every single day, I’m learning the sorts of skills that I have been dreaming of, but I’ve been blind to it this whole time.  THAT is exciting to me.

I’m still working out all of these diverse, converging thoughts, so hopefully this makes sense.  Anyway, that’s my promised post for the day.  More synapse firings later, I’m sure.


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