The Developer Economy

Jun 5, 2021

The developer economy plays by different rules.

Productivity and allocation of resources work differently in the developer economy, sometimes working in the exact opposite direction as you'd expect.

Developer productivity is extremely sensitive to inputs. Most systems have the opposite problem. Developers spend most of their time building the scaffolding to solve the problem. Attention has outsized returns because context-switching is so costly.

In the developer economy, output affects the system. Bad code means technical debt, which slows down the system. Good code can build a platform that increases productivity. Typical proxies like hours worked, bugs fixed, and lines of code have little (sometimes negative) correlation with productivity.

Every programmer understands the lesson from the 'Mythical Man Month', adding more developers to a late software project makes it later. Allocating developers and resources isn't easy.

Developers are not interchangeable. Having to understand a foreign codebase is a drag to productivity. Even with the right codebase, not all developers have the expertise to tackle problems across the stack. The full-stack developer is disappearing as the lines become clearer between application layers. Developers are increasingly specialized: data scientist, systems engineer, web developer, mobile developer.

The developer economy may play by different rules, but that makes it an exciting opportunity.