I actually started this post last week, in what was shaping up to be a long one. Instead, I decided to spin the lead-in off into its own post about staff augmentation.
In that post, I covered a decent amount of ground, but I’d like to focus in on two main points about the software industry.
- We have a curious habit of calling ourselves “consultants” when we’re not. In other words, our industry is perhaps the lone industry where we refer to labor as “consulting.”
- The main determining factor in what we call software development engagements is who manages the software developers.
This lead up, expounded upon mainly in the previous post, leads to an interesting question.
If Software Development is Knowledge Work, Why Do We Act Like It’s Labor?
The term “knowledge worker” was first coined by Peter Drucker in his book, The Landmarks of Tomorrow (1959). Drucker defined knowledge workers as high-level workers who apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, acquired through formal training, to develop products and services.
They include professionals in information technology fields, such as programmers, web designers, system analysts, technical writers, and researchers. Knowledge workers are also comprised of pharmacists, public accountants, engineers, architects, lawyers, physicians, scientists, financial analysts, and design thinkers.
Software development certainly seems to fit the bill. I mean, it’s literally mentioned repeatedly in this definition. And yet, perhaps uniquely among all of these vocations (except maybe technical writing), software developers are paid for what we do with our hands, rather than what we know in our heads.
Don’t believe me that this is a curious diversion?
Then why does it find its way past even how people bill for our work and into our job titles: “architects” to do the “big picture thinking” and software developers (laborers) to bang out code? Or into our self-selected metaphors, such as the strained guild concept, where we’re not experts offering diagnoses, but “craftsmen” building digital cathedrals or horseshoes or whatever?