Sunday, November 27, 2005

Why Geeks should Rule

Is it better to have a geek run a software company? Or is a business person 'good enough'?

In a podcast interview with VentureVoice, Joel Spolsky argues for the geek CEO:

"You need a mix of people. The pure business people, those who don't really get the code - I have the feeling they're not going to stumble on the good business ideas.

The key observation I had with Copilot was that there already existed software that did most of what we wanted. [...] But we wrapped it up nicely. [...] In order to understand what the problem was, you really did have to be a geek. [...] You really do have to understand that there exist methods of getting around firewalls by having both peers connect outwards to a reflector. That's not something a business person can understand without having a deep knowledge of what the technology can do [ ... ]. A software company is not going to be successful without having a serious geek running the show."

Meanwhile, at Google, the suits are complaining. Here's an excerpt from a recent Business Week article:

"The suits inside Google don't fare much better than the outside pros. Several current and former insiders say there's a caste system, in which business types are second-class citizens to Google's valued code jockeys. [...] They deem [the businesspeople inside Google] as underpowered in the company, with engineers and product managers tending to carry more clout than salesmen and dealmakers."

I don't think it takes an Ph.D. in computer science to run a successful tech company. Still, it does help: the more you understand the technology, the more you know what's possible and what's not. A person with a pure business background could not have come up with cool ideas such as Google Maps (or Google itself).

However, there are plenty of fields that do not require geek CEOs. When Accenture is churning out the hundredth repackaging of their middleware system for a bank, they won't need to know the coolest, latest tech stuff by heart. Instead, they'll have to make it solid and cheap.

I feel that in established IT businesses, it's fine if MBAs take the lead. They know how to streamline operations and bring down costs, which is what is needed when faced with competition and a shrinking market. In such a situation, geeks might cling more closely to their pet technologies. The business guy will coldheartedly close down things that do not earn money.

Of course, in the unlikely case that an ├╝bergeek comes out with the one middleware that rules them all, they'll all be out of business. Aaah, the circle of life.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Metrics for judging Y vs. G

I've been toying around with podcasts recently and really like Venture Voice and IT Conversations, which I guess are the two mainstream sites with a focus on IT topics. (More recommendations, anyone?)

Here's my favorite tidbit so far: It's from Sergey Brin's appearance at the Web 2.0 conference in October 2005.

John Battelle: [I talked with Terry Semel] and he said - very respectfully - how much he much he thinks your technology is extraordinary [...]. But then, he pulled back and said "but let's judge Google as what it is: a portal." [...] "By my estimation, Google is number 4." How do you respond to that framing?

Sergey Brin: [...] Based on my reading of that, that also would make us the underdog. I think that's where we are. Further, if I may add to that ... you've had the pleasure of being at the Google cafe?

John Battelle: Yeah.

Sergey Brin: I think our food is pretty good, we continually try to improve it, but in terms of, kind of the volume and the quantity we try to deliver, if we were to rank them on cafes and restaurant chains: We're not in the first 100 or 1000 even, probably.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


In my last post, I mentioned that I was working on a little web site written in Ruby on Rails. Today, I finally launched it.

YourGMap is a site based on Google Maps that allows you to create and customize your own maps. It's a simple way to make a map with your own locations!

Check it out: