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.


scottbp said...

heh, accenture...
solid and cheap are not words that go with accenture in my experience.

But I like you main points

Gabor said...

Yep, you're right.

What I meant is that there is a great potential to *reduce cost* because you already have such a large body of similar work: It's unlikely you'll have to write a lot from scratch.

Whether or not you want to pass on these cost savings to your clients is a different issue indeed. :-)