My Secret Life as a Spaghetti Coder
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I put faith in web application development as an income source like I put faith in the United States Social Security system. That is to say, it's there now, but I don't expect to be able to rely on it in its current incarnation very far into the future.

James Maguire quotes Robert Dewar hitting the nail on the head:
Java is mainly used in Web applications that are mostly fairly trivial. If all we do is train students to be able to do simple Web programming in Java, they won't get jobs, since those are the jobs that can be easily outsourced. What we need are software engineers who understand how to build complex systems.
Although Dewar was speaking in terms of Java, the statement applies to the broader world of web apps (and many desktop apps) in general.

That property is precisely what allowed frameworks like Rails and Django to come into existence and get popular. Soon enough, the money will dry up for implementation because it's too easy to generate solutions for most problems you'll encounter - either using a framework, or a content management system like Sharepoint or Joomla, or even by hiring someone to generate it for you. Yesterday I recommended a potential client just go the CMS route.

Nowadays, most of the skill involved in writing web applications amounts to gluing the disparate pieces together. How long until someone figures out how to commoditize that? Instead of knowing only how to implement solutions to problems, you need to be skilled at problem solving itself.

Right now, you might be in a position where you can kick back and count your money while you smoke a cigar.

Monopoly man is having a good time counting money and smoking cigars.

But if you're in the business of building web applications and you're not innovating new kinds of them, you're doomed. You can chase vertical after vertical and keep building the same apps for quite a while, but if you don't get into generating them, you're on the way out as people come in who can do it cheaper than you and with higher quality.

Generation is to web apps as prefabricated steel buildings are to construction. Except almost no one cares if their web application was generated or not - they just want the lower price.

I suspect that even if you are generating applications, at some point in the future, the number applications needing to be generated will not have grown as quickly as the number of people who can generate them.

People are building complex data warehouses and doing analysis and reporting on them with GUIs and Wizards right now. You still need the knowledge pertaining to data warehouses, but that knowledge is becoming easier to obtain for more people with less effort than ever before. That trend, which fits in with the general trend of information democratization, is unlikely to reverse itself.

If you don't plan for change now, you'll end up shocked.

Monopoly man is shocked!

And then how long until you're pulling out the cloth-eared elephant?

Monopoly man is bankrupt.

What Dewar said is true: Web applications are mostly fairly trivial. To survive, you need to learn the fundamentals so you are applicable in various kinds of programming and for different platforms. If you really want to be safe, you need to be innovating, not building copy-cat applications with a twist (and especially not from scratch?!?!).

Giles Bowkett put it well when he described the effects of incompetent programmers' entry into a particular market:
Every programmer should also read Chad Fowler's "My Job Went To India" book, where he explains that as larger and larger numbers of programmers adopt a particular skill, that skill becomes more and more a commodity. Rails development becoming a commodity is really not in the economic interest of any Rails developer. This is especially the case because programming skill is very difficult to measure, which - according to the same economics which govern lemons and used-car markets - means that the average price of programmers in any given market is more a reflection of the worst programmers in that market than the best. An influx of programmers drives your rates down, and an influx of incompetent programmers drives your rates way the fuck down. (Bold emphasis mine)
The problem, in my view, is that the influx of incompetent programmers is inevitable.

So building well-known applications with twists becomes much like the would-be artist who looks at Pablo Picasso's work and says, "I could do that."

The obvious exception is that applications are not (usually) like art. Well-made knockoffs of the original aren't likely to be differentiable by customers from the cheap knockoffs, so the masses of incompetents and maybe the original end up defining the market in the long term.

After you've seen it, you could do this:

Picasso's 3 Musicians

To which we all respond, "But you didn't, did you?"

As always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments below.

Hey! Why don't you make your life easier and subscribe to the full post or short blurb RSS feed? I'm so confident you'll love my smelly pasta plate wisdom that I'm offering a no-strings-attached, lifetime money back guarantee!


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