At the 2013 Denver Comic Con in Colorado, United States, actor and proud geek Wil Wheaton gave a moving response – during a panel discussion – to a young fan…that quickly went viral.
The young lady asked the “Star Trek” alumni if he was called a nerd during childhood. Wheaton’s response was intelligent and unflinchingly honest, and his final words of advice to the young lady were: “It absolutely gets better as you get older.”
He also declared that all the fellow geeks in the audience “are all doing really well,” garnering laughter and applause from some of the more than 50,000 “geeks” who attended the conference.
Yet when you stop and take a look at the world around you “doing really well” is something of an understatement. Google. Facebook. Basecamp. Whatsapp. How about Apple? Or Amazon? Or Microsoft?
No matter which way you cut it, the world is now run by the guys that control the tech. The geeks. It used to be that the Winkelvoss twins would be kicking sand in the face of Mark Zuckerberg. Now, they’re left looking dumb.
The New Rockstars
Take a moment to watch this video; it’s only a few minutes long…
Did you get to the end? The bit where will.i.am says that “Coders are the new rock stars”? Whatever you think of his music, the man is a clear indicator of where popular culture is at.
Just look at the roll call of rock stars. Box’s Aaron Levie. Basecamp’s Jason Fried. Tumblr’s David Carp. The Lean Startup’s Eric Ries, Summly’s Nick D’Aloisio. Dropbox’s Drew Houston, oh and that hoodied dude from Facebook.
Blame it on the Oscar-winning movie ‘the social network’ (now seen as a how-to guide for budding tech entrepreneurs) but making tech companies is cool. And being a billion dollar tech rockstar is ice cold. The EC1V postcode, home to London’s Tech City, was home to more than 15,000 new businesses in the last year.
These rock stars are engineering the platforms that underpin how we all interact with the world, our friends and our colleagues.
Yet they are doing even more – they are changing the way we approach our world – our very culture. It’s not just tech that’s cool for the young – but being smart. And being smart as a route to success.
What is culturally acceptable now – such as sharing photos of what you’re eating – would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Twitter sounded slightly insane to me when I first signed up in 2007 – why would I share what I was doing with a bunch of randoms?
Indeed I would argue that if you want to see the future you should be looking to the development community. Where they lead, the rest of the world now follows.
Our modern life is based upon complex code created by scientists and mathematicians. The architects of the new industrial revolution are the computer scientists, and just as engineers and architects led before, developers hold the key to the building blocks of modern success.
This “science” underpins a global collaboration platform – the World Wide Web. Think wiki, social, open source.
That open collaboration relies not just on the tech platforms, but on the culture of sharing, community and open-ness. Indeed the internet itself wasn’t “locked” by the people that invented it – famously Tim Berners Lee said “this is for everyone.”
A good example of how tech behaviour becomes mainstream behaviour is the example of Nicolas Felton’s infographics (he created annual reports – beautifully designed – of data generated by his life), and DAYTUM web app – which “helps you collect, categorize and communicate your every day data”. You’ve experienced his work – he designed the Facebook Timeline feature.
Felton started creating his annual reports in 2005, a slightly niche activity at that time, and became feted by web designers the world over. Yet think of all the wearable products today – such as the Jawbone Up, or the Nike FuelBand – which document ‘life data’. Or health apps like Runkeeper or Strava. They create infographics of data from your life. It’s 10 years since Felton started his project, yet it’s only now becoming mainstream.
The Open Source Business
In 2011 we flirted with the idea of publishing our business plan online and inviting people to feedback, as a way of helping us improve. The Open Source Business Plan was a leap of imagination, and as a tactic for us to better document our business (a self-management tool!), We built a site and documented our business, but in the end we kept it internal.
This became the thinking that led to our management philosophy “The Open Business System” – which is where we ask our team to help update our operating practice as we go.
This history is one of the reasons I am in awe of the team at Buffer, who have taken the concept of transparency to a whole new level – in fact it’s one of their founding values. They operate a blog where they share – amongst other things – their financial performance, and their equity formula and breakdown.
This level of transparency takes some serious kahunas – and is something I aspire to do within this blog as we find the time to update it more regularly.
As we’ve already identified, ‘geek’ culture is about open-ness and community, so to share makes sense – even if you’re “the boss”. At Techdept we find that by opening up, and letting our team help direct the company, we get far better engagement. People like being able to contribute.
Indeed, studies back up our anecdotal experience. According to a Gensler 2013 workplace survey, employees who have the choice of where, when and how they perform their duties have higher job satisfaction and performance as well higher levels of creativity and innovation.
At Buffer and many other tech companies, including Conversion Rate Experts and Treehouse, employees work all over the world. No commute, no dress code, no need to move away from the beach.
Indeed the company – and project management platform – Basecamp has been at the forefront of the remote working trend with its cloud based productivity apps. It published a book this year called Remote – extolling the virtues of a remote working strategy as a way of finding, retaining and motivating staff. Their book is almost a blueprint for the ‘cloud based team’.
Yet while some companies are interacting within virtual space, the new breed of tech companies have offices that are just plain cool.
Today’s office spaces are more likely to be open, colourful and fun, much like contemporary coding rockstars.
Our office is modern, light and boasts a 3 storey helter skelter! The slide is an amazing architectural feature, and a lot of fun, yet our modern office is absolutely a competitive point of difference when attracting young staff.
Openness, remote working, and inspiring spaces are trends which will cascade into more ‘traditional’ businesses, as they compete for the brightest and best young talent.
The Wizards Of The Future
“The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future,” says Gabe Newell, 51, creator of Valve Corporation, an innovative online distribution and video game development company.
So how can you become a wizard?
Welcome to the Interactive Coding Schools (aka “Hogwarts”)
There is no doubt that learning to code will open up new doors and opportunities for you. The question is – where do you start?
For me there are 3 interactive coding schools at the top of the pile – CodeAcademy, Treehouse and Code School. All three have their advantages and importantly, differing levels of ability are met across the three resources.
When it comes to programming, the classroom is certainly moving online. Learning these disciplines online makes sense, giving the student a sense of active involvement with hands on experience that perhaps traditional teaching methods cannot replicate.
Indeed earlier this year, I spoke in The Guardian about how University students are graduating with a lack of understanding of the latest technology trends. If you’re serious about a career in tech and you believe coding is your thing – the trick is to get involved with these online schools, and learn with the latest.
I recommend that you read this insight into Riley Hilliard’s journey of learning to code in just 10 months – a great guide for how to get started.
What do you think?
Have the geeks inherited the earth? Will the mass of global business meetings be full of today’s rockstars in hoodies or will the men in suits prevail?
Have your say by leaving us a comment or chatting with us on over on Twitter – @techdept.
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