Now that everyone—from the line cook with an Android phone to the lawyer with her iPad—is a knowledge worker, we should learn from the people who built the best tools and processes for knowledge work. I’d contend those people are software developers. And it isn’t just that software ‘eats up the world’. Insights from software development and theory—version control, make files, agile development—will play an increasingly important role in the way that everyone else does their work. So that’s a pattern I look for in new investments. Imagine log management for industrial tools, bug tracking for the construction industry or dev ops for finance.
Underlying this is another shift in the way that software is going to be understood by the culture. Now that the introductory class to software development at Harvard is more popular than an introductory class to Economics, the next generation of professionals and leaders are going to view software as a tool they can control and craft rather than something mysterious.
We don’t have good microeconomic theory for the implications of machine intelligence. Mark Granovetter started to explore the economic implications of networks in 1970s and it took 25 years for the rest of the world to start to catch up. So much of the discussion around machine intelligence focuses on magical or apocalyptic thinking when what we really need is clear-headed analysis of what actually can be done with the new tools we have in our hands.
There’s a huge, under appreciated gap between the way that the Silicon Valley mindset thinks about software from the way that most businesses think about software. The mindset here has a product mindset—highly crafted, highly engineered systems that scale—while too often the mindset outside of Silicon Valley still thinks of software as a simplistic commodity.
James is a partner at Bloomberg Beta, a seed stage VC firm investing in startups that make work better. Previously, he was a VC at Bessemer Venture Partners and Trinity Ventures. He started his career as a software developer.
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