Proletarian effect in programming

Emerging middle-class of programmers. How will the future of our economy depend on those who can program, and what does that mean for those who have the chance to learn it now? In the end, technology is dominating our lives and that trend is not going down.

Marxist theory redefined the term proletarian as the social class that doesn’t own any means of production. In Marxism, means of production are incredibly important and can be roughly defined as the resources needed for producing goods (such as generating wealth, tools, machinery). The means of production are the assets that a society has in the form of infrastructure capital and natural resources.

The proletarian class includes all those who expend either mental or physical labor to produce economic value, or wealth in non-academic terms, for those who own the means of production. It thus includes knowledge workers and white-collar workers who work for a salary. This last aspect of inclusion is critical to us because a lot of developers fall into this category. The more pragmatic corollary is that a vast majority of today’s developers who fall into middle class from an income status are really proletarian.

Andreessen Horowitz(@a16z) famously coined1 the phrase “Software eats the world” which signifies the increased use of technology and the penetration of technology in just about every aspect of life. One can imagine as software technologies grow more into our lives, so will the amount of programmers who write them. Technology will be one of the cornerstones of our future society and there is no doubt about that but what about the programmers who will write them? As technology and software becomes ubiquitous, so will those who can work with them and optimize them. Currently, development costs are very high however in near future, the costs will become lower because of an increasing influx of developers. Programming will become the skill of the century and we can imagine in a short period of time, a new middle-class based on software development will arise. For such social developments to take place, the prevalence of software development will peak with a few major themes at play including the wide use of programming leading to its adoption in more areas and the speed of development decreasing dramatically to show its potential benefits to an industry.

At this peak, we will begin to see for the first time, the costs of development going down due to increasing competition. Many efforts and programs to teach coding at a younger age at some schools are increasing the rate at which developers enter the industry and over the time this will become even faster as more developers work on new technologies inviting more to join them in a cyclic loop.

In some sense, the owners of means of production are visionaries who can see a major change coming in near future. They take actions based on their intuition and either start a new trend or help nurture it during its infancy. We might expect this peak to come about in another 10-15 years and concretely what that means for developers now is to become familiar with as many technologies as possible. During this peak of software development, we will notice the costs go down and the supply of developers increase. For developers who currently start following the best trends and become experts on them, this adoption will be incredibly beneficial in the long run. Let’s look at this coming age at large of programming in terms of Crossing the Chasm2.

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore3 presents to us a customer acquisition model. In this mode, as an app is released, the first customers to try it out are those innovators or power users. Then the app needs to make a jump to early adopters who are also similar to the power-users and generally this segment is acquired by the word-of-mouth from the power-users. Then comes the big chasm that tech-startups need to cross to get the first early majority. But instead of using this to understand customer behavior, let’s try to use it to analyze how the proletarian effect will happen and how the developers will be impacted.

In this transforming proletarian society, the ones to own the means of production will be the ones who currently start following and learning the best tech trends, i.e.: Early Adopters and Innovators. This is the same group that learned programming and software technologies currently and as time went on, they kept up with new innovations. More concretely, this can be a group of people who start learning JavaScript, and then become more proficient at it. Following that, they get into freelance development work. Then into a popular open-source project and eventually become one of the core-members. This group has been following all major developments that happened over the time as the age unfolded into the programming boom. Due to that virtue, they will be the ones who control means of production.

As the developer boom happens, more people would want to join in order to easily find jobs and make more money. In the chart, this categorizes everyone in early majority onwards. They drop into an already competitive market where programmers will be relatively easy to find. The Chasm here is the opportunity to gain means of production in near future. In the near future, we can expect to have a middle-class emerge comprised of programmers, and those who learn the trade will fall into the proletariat of cheaply-available programmers. However the future technology markets will have a very different support from venture capital and the capital markets itself would have gone through a multitude of changes, so who knows who the proletarian effect will change the world.

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