August 17, 2012

Software Eating the World? Readers Respond...

Version Control

marc andreessenWhen Internet pioneer Marc Andreessen argued software is "poised to take over large swathes of the economy," he generated a great deal of attention. Clearly, readers of the Wall Street Journal are fascinated by the impact that software will have on our world in the coming years.

As Andreessen argues, software companies are "invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not."

Several readers suggested that advances in software development will further propel the field. "Wait a couple more years to see the real transformation that software technologies will bring to organizations of all sizes," writes Ketan Kakkad. "Numerous technology companies/startups are working around the clock to redefine [software development], and bring these processes to the age of industrialization so that you can build consistent, reliable software with predictable results, and at very affordable costs. In other words, we are about to enter an age of industrialization for software development technologies."

That said, there were concerns about current limitations on software development -- issues that remain to be addressed. "Software may be eating the world but the bugs are eating the software," wrote Blake Southwood. He added that an enormous amount of time is "spent on debugging, which involves playing Sherlock Holmes to figure out what the bug is by reproducing it and then isolating it and attempting to fix it. And often times fixing a bug results in new bugs. Code is very brittle because it's made from a kitchen of many cooks and they all think differently and write code differently."

This sounds like an issue that will require smarter investment in Software Version Management -- and other tooling and infrastructure that not only enhances software quality but increases productivity and accelerates the pace of reliable software production.

Unsurprisingly, Andreesen got a fair share of readers accusing him of hyping the tech companies in which he is investing. One suggested the author's hidden motive was merely to "pump and dump" the stocks he was holding. Others accused him of glossing over what they called the "dark side" of software's triumph, particularly its potential to eliminate jobs. However, that argument was challenged by still others suggesting that new software-driven services -- such as the Khan Academy -- could raise performance in education -- enabling learners to more productively acquire the skills to succeed in a 21st century economy. More to the point, they noted that productivity enhancing technologies have traditionally boosted economic growth and (over time) generated new sources of employment.

What's abundantly clear from reader comments is that economics and business are being fundamentally transformed by software-based innovation. Jeffrey Smith argues that software is "the principal driver behind the productivity gains that have allowed almost every industry to maintain and/or improve profitability... It's also been a chief factor in helping keep inflation low for the same reasons. Many industries have been able to absorb cost increases that have come from other areas (oil for example) without significant price increases because of the productivity gains tech has delivered."