Friday, November 04, 2005

What to do with retiring software engineers

Reading Bob Cringely's nerdy posts is like asking the chicken what the chicken soup tastes like.

Cringely was Apple employee No. 12 -- literally, he worked in the garage -- in 1977. A dispute over a three-figure failed salary payment led Cringely to leave in a huff. Not long after those wacky characters Steve Jobs, Woz, and the rest of that home brew crew cashed in to mega fortunes.

Cringely did what every confused nerd without a job does: He taught at Stanford, then he went into journalism.

Aside from his woeful career choices, Cringely is reliable to come up with some of the most interesting industry forecasts you can find in print. He's not a tech industry giant, he just knows what makes it tick.

Cringely's latest foray into futurism makes a simple, logical prediction: Retiring Boomer software engineers are going to give Open Source software a fresh kick in the pants.

By his count, we're going to have 100,000 retiring software engineers every year for the next 18 years, and they're going to need something fun and creative to do with their time.

His rationale is credible:

  • Current Boomer engineers are senior management types who are current in their knowledge. They're not going from mainframes to desktops like their generational predecessors. They've always been on the crest of learning new programming language.

  • Boomer techies have used their knowledge to cash in. They won't be waiting on tiny corporate pensions to retire. They'll have sizeable 401Ks, stock options, and real estate to accomodate them. Their retirement won't be limited by a shortage of funds.

  • Boomers are healthy and going to live longer -- much longer in some cases -- than the generations before them.

  • Like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Boomer techies are known for their innovation and restlessness. Many will be incapable of retiring to afternoon naps in the recliner.

    With this considered, Cringely believes Boomers are going to take to Open Source as a hobby. Maybe they won't stay up all night solving problems, but he thinks they may be wise enough to know they don't have to.

    That means, potentially, a lot of cool free software for which we currently pay through the nose. This already exists. Instead of paying $300+ for a Microsoft Office suite, you can download a free Open Source version that actually works with MS Office documents. It's totally free, and is fully functional on both Win-duhs and Mac OS X.

    However, Cringely disappoints me because he's predicting rather than making demands. He's an influential guy. He should be calling for these geeks to get to work on the long overdue teleportation device and never-delivered promise on the hover car.

    I've got a whole closet full of gray jumpsuits and black boots just waiting for that sci-fi future to arrive.
  • No comments: