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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Outsource Everyone But the Pointy-Haired Bosses

Via Strike the Root. An article at Membox by Paul Knapp, appropriately linked under editor Ali Massoud's title "MBA Brainiacs Ain't That Slick After All."
It cites a Computer World article, according to which "The nuts-and-bolts programming and easy-to-document support jobs will have all gone to third-party providers in the U.S. or abroad. Instead, IT departments will be populated with 'versatilists'..." It sounds a lot like that entire planet of middlemen I recall from one of the Hitchiker's Guide books.

Knapp summarizes:

The next round of tools aren't expected to be created by programmers at all, but rather by financial engineers, technology consultants and mathematics specialists. It gives a lot of details about what sorts of skills are expected to be in demand, and most of them don't sound too technical.

He goes on to criticize:

I'm pretty sceptical about this whole "people who understand the nuts-and-bolts of technology won't be important in the IT field in the future" argument, simply because I've been hearing the same thing for years.

The dot-com boom was largely about "genius" MBAs coming up with brilliant ideas for online companies, for example. They spent ages in meetings blowing hot air, drawing up financial charts, and coming up with marketing plans. The actual technical implementation was considered so unimportant that they took it for granted they'd just pay some "geek" to put the finishing techie touches on their fabulous creation. The reality was that the techie-implementation was where they usually failed. Meanwhile, techies built websites like Google, EBay and Yahoo simply because they knew how all the nuts-and-bolts worked.

In almost every successful IT project I've ever been involved with it's been a nuts-and-bolts techie that's had the most important impact. More often than not, the "business skills" types were more hindrance than help. Many times their superiority and arrogance led to project failure.

For as long as I've been following IT, it's been the dream of business people and others to banish hard-core techies from such an important industry. There's always some prediction about how some new tool or methodology will finally make us irrelevant. Five years down the line, we'll have built thousands of new successful products, while those new tools and methodologies will be long forgotten.

And by the time their outsourced techies have designed the new technologies to committee-created specs and negotiated them through the Gospan--er, corporate--bureaucracies, they'll be blown out of the water by some competing open-source product developed in a peer network. Outsourcing tech people is an incredibly stupid thing to do--just read all of Tom Peters' great material on how tiny skunk works outperform giant corporate R&D operations.

All too often, the skills of the "MBA brainiacs" are limited to assessing the balance sheet of a particular division, and deciding on that basis where to channel financial resources, while treating the production process within that division as a black box. The structural changes they make probably make the actual process of production within that black box even less efficient.

8 Comments:

Blogger quasibill said...

There was a post on the Mises blog on this article a while back, with some fairly good discussion.

The best part, though, was an MBA who got offended to the comments which intimated that MBA's were worthless. After spouting off some points that can be learned from reading the mises blog for a few weeks as examples of why his money was worth it, he let out this whopper: "What I learned in business school is that every modern business organization is far too complex to be entirely understood by any one person."

I thought, "hunh," readjusted my respect for MBAs down yet another notch, and thought of you. Here's the link:

http://blog.mises.org/archives/005345.asp

It's toward the bottom, comment by "MBA grad."

August 05, 2006 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That lying, thieving mutualists would support the techie "workers" over their MBA "masters" is no surprise. I suppose the techies really own the business since they are the ones who labor on the computers?

August 05, 2006 9:55 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

"In almost every successful IT project I've ever been involved with it's been a nuts-and-bolts techie that's had the most important impact. More often than not, the "business skills" types were more hindrance than help. Many times their superiority and arrogance led to project failure."

This is SO true. Techies aren't perfect; they have egos and make errors. But they actually do the work. And like that other article (about managing geeks) made clear, they have an intrinsic motivation to do good, solid work.

But the trend on making technology another commodity to be bought in units - even if it's your core business - will continue because this is how managers already approach their own techies. I'm doing some contracting at the HQ of a major retailer currently and they're very much trying to go down this route. They want their technical people to do a lot of design of their systems and hire contractors and off the shelf vendors to actually run the nuts and bolts technical side of the business.

The problem is that as they abstract their business more and more into some sort of quantifiable process, they lose that intangible ability to understand how the technology drives the business. They want to run the business without actually running it, it almost seems like. I don't know - maybe it's worth it in the long run - but it seems like makes a business unacceptably vulnerable.

August 05, 2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger Bbo Wallace said...

I've worked with several MBAs, including from Harvard and Yale,and I've yet to met one who was worth a damn.

August 05, 2006 3:56 PM  
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