In this article I draw parallels between the tech industry today, and the aerospace industry of the past 30 years. I’ll explain why I’m so f$%!ing terrified of our future and give insight into a problem that I’ve for years thought is truly worth solving - despite me having no idea how to.

The f$%!ing terrifying parallels of tech and aerospace

Software engineering is one of the most lucrative careers of our era. Most in our field suffer from an inability to see how impactful their work truly can be, and by extension, how impactful their day to day work might not be. Focusing on the right problem is more valuable than producing perfect engineering work.

The sheer scale of money pouring into SV and other tech hubs worldwide is unfathomable even to many making six-figure salaries in tech, there is more money than there are good ideas-and it shows (looking at you, Juicera.)

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How the aviation industry eerily reflects the tech industry

Both of my parents have masters degrees in EE (electrical engineering)-and as I like to say to tech friends, my parents are real engineers. 30 years ago when my parents were in university, electrical engineers were in extremely high demand due to the aerospace boom with companies like Boeing, Honeywell, Dupont, etc. reaching new heights. Advisors at the time made one thing clear to them: EE was the field you go into for a solid career earning the big bucks-everyone knew it.

Going into EE panned out well for them: my father retained a 30 year long career in aerospace engineering and retired recently, me and my 3 siblings grew up as a lower-middle class American family while our mom stayed at home to educate us. What started as fairly respectable engineering work in the first half of my dad’s career, however, quickly became something else over the next 15 years. My father was responsible almost solely for outsourcing other people’s jobs at these companies to cookie-cutter contracting companies based in India and elsewhere, he was nothing but a small cog in a machine making a massive push to cut costs. This created substantial stress in his life and ours.

This industry-wide push came about because the aerospace industry realized their engineering problems were mostly solved (they were not seeing any new major inventions in aerospace) and so the need for solid engineering work lessened, a vicious cycle followed which led to less innovation and ultimately a heavy-handed push from management to just continue the status quo.

If you think Boeing’s 747 MAX disaster was the downfall of the aerospace industry, you need to think again. There are things you’re not going to find in the news that happened much earlier according to people that were there.

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(Despite my mother’s internship being 30 years ago, she is still hesitant to publicly name the company involved and at her request I redacted the name.)

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The stress my father’s job imposed upon him changed him (or rather, brought out another side of him.) Most of my memories with him involved verbal and heavily emotional fights, as well as arguments between him, myself, and family members. Most of the time I spent with him in public, he was making some poor customer service worker’s life a living hell (and he enjoyed it.)

Ultimately, my parents divorced when we were teenagers in what was a gruesome 3+ year long battle which led to an aggressive divide between him and the rest of the family. Court-mandated counselling by a super-religious state counsellor for me and my siblings (“the bible says you must obey thy father” and whatnot), as we did not want to be around him. A federal judge in the state of Arizona spent 20m with each of us children to intimidate us in an attempt to get us to obey and spend time with him. None of us wanted to, and for good reason.

My own 20m with the judge ended up being 2+ hours, and delayed all the other cases on his docket that day. He argued I would become a delinquent if I stopped spending time with my father after I turned 18 (which was just a few weeks away) and he did absolutely everything in his power to suggest that I was required to do so. In retrospect, I can see today that this was a frankly astonishing abuse of power by a judge with good intentions. Ultimately, after crying and arguing with the judge for several hours I won the argument by asking “Are you saying that I have to see my father legally as a judge?” to which he responded “As a person, and as someone who has seen enough of these situations to know what is going to happen, I am saying you have to.” - “Then I think we understand each-other, is there anything else?” I said before leaving with frustrated smile on my face to the fear and confusion of everyone, my parents included, who had been waiting outside the court room for so long wondering what all the shouting was about. The judge resigned from family law less than a year later, I think in part due to his interaction with me but I will never know.

It’s difficult to think about the blossoming world of Electrical Engineering that my parents grew up in, which ultimately became somewhat of a cage for them and led to a spectacular downfall of not just the industry as a whole, but I suspect many of the families and people involved in that industry.

When I look at the state of the tech industry today and see pushes for location-dependent pay decreases, or Facebook’s shift in direction due to the business risks they see, it’s hard for me not to ask “are these signals that big tech has reached the same plateau of innovation that will begin a wider a much wider push for cost-cutting?”

Have we reached a plateau?

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Major economic forces have been pushing the idea that everyone should learn to code for many, many years now, Gates and Zuckerberg were pushing the idea that every child should learn to code back in 2013 and likely long before that. (Awkward disclaimer, my day job is at a startup focused on this too)

I talk regularly with people outside of the tech industry, Uber drivers, etc. who are completely detached from what is going on in the tech industry and not in cities where tech is popular. It always offers me a “normal person’s” perspective into the state of things. Particularly intriguing is how often these people state they are trying to get into tech, trying to learn to code, etc. but are not sure how to as soon as they realize that’s what I do. The general population is aware of how many economic opportunities there are within tech.

More people coding does not necessarily negate the economic opportunity for everyone everyone, though, as indeed the tech industry is ever-growing still today. Or is it? If investors begin to get skittish, I believe we could see a large push within the tech industry to cut costs and engineers are the primary source of costs, after all.

We see companies like Uber and Lyft in races to the bottom today. For a given opportunity area, there are at least 2-5 companies backed by different VCs intending to race to the bottom in order to acquire the winner-takes-all market for that area.

We see big tech struggling to address the privacy concerns of the public which they fear will lead to strict regulation in the future. We see them struggling to find new ways to diversify their application of technology to new industries to avert these risks. What will happen if Google/Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving cars do not pan out? What happens if Facebook’s metaverse does not pan out? I think that’s when investors would get skittish.

What will being a coder look like in the future?

We have a representation of what being a coder could look like in the future: there’s a high demand for coding jobs, a nearly infinite stream of new employees who are looking to enter the industry and will do whatever it takes to meet the demands of the job, including accepting low pay. With new tools reducing the need for experienced industry veterans, because we don’t need to do anything truly innovative - we just need to continue the status quo (sound familiar to the aerospace story from earlier?)

The future of being a coder, I think, looks an awful lot like being a game developer looks like today.

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Enter a behemoth organization and hope to achieve anything noteworthy among the swaths of so many other coders that your contributions are nearly worthless, or go to a smaller company because you are young, bubbly-eyed, and believe there is a family to be had there all while it being demanded you achieve unreasonable amounts of work with a high likelihood that the company fails in the end. You get to choose. You wish you could go at it alone, you have dreams and aspirations of doing just that, but you need to pay the bills somehow. Perhaps you’re just out of school, and so you manage Active Directory for a company instead.

Maybe you do have a truly good idea, but you don’t have access to investors and funding. And you’re not looking for $118 million to build the next $400 juice machine that squeezes pre-packaged bags of fruit together with mechanical arms - you’re just looking to do some honest-to-god good work and make something people are willing to pay for. You’re dreaming of a sustainable business, not a unicorn like Juicera - so they wouldn’t invest in you anyway.

The new corporate model to take reward & assume no risk

The squashing of independent ideas and independent business models creates opportunities for monopolistic enterprises to effectively own people and own their success while divesting risk fully to individuals.

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Once the plateau for any of these markets is reached (or if platforms realize that we’re not going to see a winner-take-all market for that area?), then profit extraction should begin and we will see middlemen shift to maximal extraction of taxes from their platform while producers only begin to realize how minute they have become. New platforms will appear, such as the YouTube competitors pushed by creators today, but they’ll mostly be in-vain attempts to regain some control of the customers they now realize they have no untaxed access to.

This approach of tech business is accelerating. When we hear “every company is becoming a tech company”, this is a core model being described and it’s not fundamentally different from the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to third-world countries we did historically-the only difference is we’re seeing the outsourcing the production of everything and instead of it being cheaper because we avoid safety regulations, it’s cheaper because individuals who are their own “companies” and are forced to assume all risk of producing new things or lose out on the market entirely. Reward must be divested to the platform they are beholden to.

Does capitalism necessarily have to be bad for society?

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At this point, you probably think I hold deeply anti-capitalistic views. I don’t, I hold more nuanced views than that. But I do despise the monopolistic tendencies of corporations. It’s the lack of distributed opportunity within a capitalist society that I believe is bad.

VCs must deal with such large swaths of money that they must operate at much higher levels, they often can barely assess the validity of their investments despite employing people to do exactly that. They generally do not invest the small amounts of money which individuals need to bootstrap businesses, but rather they bet hundreds of millions on the next unicorn while knowing that the amount invested is still a mere drop in the bucket for them.

Platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and others attempt to solve this issue by soliciting donations. If you have a good idea and can pitch it effectively, you can receive funding. But there are problems here:

  • Incentives - you’re not investing the money you donate, but rather are purchasing a product that you hope will be delivered one day. Perversion exists here because the producer views it as an investment in them, while the consumer views it as a purchase.
  • It benefits those with marketing skills over production skills. You can create an excellent product, but if you do not have the marketing skills for it, you’re not going to get funded on those platforms. There are numerous examples of marketing teams winning stupid amounts of money on these platforms without the production skills to back it up.

I envision a world much like I suspect the stock market was originally envisioned: a place where if I find a producer (content creator, game developer, product manufacturer, etc.) I believe in then I have the opportunity to invest in them, whether they be an individual or small group, and share in their success if that occurs.

What’s the solution?

I don’t have one.

This is one problem that I would truly love to try and solve with Hexops in the next 10 years if I ever get the opportunity to. I’ve talked about this issue with friends for several years now, but never publicly because frankly I just don’t have a solution.

On a personal leve, I’d love to be able to invest a couple hundred to a thousand dollars in game developers that I personally I follow and believe in. If this was possible, I think it would create some beautiful and symbiotic relationships between creators and their communities.

One can easily imagine a platform like Kickstarter where donations are, in fact, investments-but this quickly runs afoul of numerous securities laws and regulations in the U.S. and I’m not sure those can be overcome in a way that still makes investment on a small scale viable for the general public.

If you have thoughts around this or other ways we can avert the impeding doom I think we will face in the future, then I’d love to hear from you. [email protected] or in the comments section wherever this ends up.