Low Status and High Status Technologists

by barce on August 14, 2011

There are many technology companies where the coders are low status. A good example of one is Yahoo. Paul Graham points out that Yahoo tried to spin itself as a media company where flashy sales guys and executives in suits tricked the company out of the importance of technology.

Coders as low status is the rule in most US companies except for maybe the Silicon Valley.

What do I mean by low status? Don’t coders make better than average wages? I am not talking about raw capital here. I am talking about social and “track record” capital which are both zero sum games.

I am talking about who gets invited to social events reserved for elites in a city like Los Angeles and who doesn’t. Very few techies in SoCal are part of that social register. In San Francisco, it’s very different. You can be a techie like Marissa Mayer, and on the red carpet and have people comment on your awesome date or outfit.

On one side you have a company run by technologists and on the other you have a company run by everyone else.

Manipulating computers is “easy.” They simply are not as smart as we are. Manipulating people is hard, and actually the best manipulators are the ones who don’t show themselves to be that. When a product is technology, you have to wonder about the folks doing the “hardstuff,” the manipulating of people. Is it really contributing to the product or are they using their gift to create an inequitable, and in the case of Yahoo, profit ruining situation?

My personal bias is that technologists should rule a company. I’m completely in line with Mark Suster when he writes that the startup that’s most worth funding is all technologists. My reasons for this build upon Mark Suster’s in that you don’t have to “translate things into English.” It’s kind of insulting when I hear the phrase “translate things into English.” It puts the blame on the person on the team most equipped to solve the problem. The person, who wants “things translated into English,” is the problem, not the coder.

A company where coders do not have to translate into English and just can talk about solving technology problems in order to get the highest ROI possible is the most efficient.

Maybe with such a dynamic it’s no wonder most of the prestigious families in the US still think a career in tech sucks.
So if you are looking for work as a coder, how do you tell if your work will be considered low status or high status work?

  • Does the CEO have a technical background? If she does, you’re in for some fun and get to call many of the shots in the same way coders at Facebook can.
  • Does the software process *not* rely on rock stars? If one person is the key to fixing many issues, it is a sign of a software process gone awry. This is how Facebook ships code, and it’s worth a critical read.
  • Is there talk of outsourcing?

Unfortunately, only 1 of the 3 things listed above can be found out during the interview process. If you’re at a company where coding is considered low status, what can you do? Stay tuned for my next blog post.

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