After spending a few years in the Bay Area working at High Tech, “Big Data” startups (Datameer, Alpine Data Labs, H2O.ai, to name a few) my family and I decided to leave the fast paced sun-soaked peninsula to start the next chapter in our lives. In June of 2016, my wife, son, and I packed up our small rental house in San Mateo California and moved to the Pacific Northwest (PNW) for the outdoors, the affordability, and what I call the Maker movement culture of Portland Oregon. Whether its biking, cooking, brewing, composing, crafting, or any other activity that involves sustained concentration; Makers are flourishing in this town due to a number of key elements. Over the next few months, I’ll attempt to extract these elements as I interview local makers in many industries and professions. Follow me as I embark on a tour of Portland Makers delivered to you in dispatches every month.
In the meantime, check out a chapter from a book I contributed to called “The End of Tech Companies” by Rob Thomas.
“Developers make software for the world to use. The job of a developer is to crank out code – fresh code for new products, code fixes for maintenance, code for business logic, and code for supporting libraries.” –Nick Hardiman
When was the last time you built something from nothing? Was it the time you had to make a diorama for a school project? How about a gift for someone else? Perhaps you composed a song for someone you love. Whatever it was, there is nothing quite like the feeling of creating something from nothing. It is a form of expression that invokes creativity, freedom, passion, and deep thinking. For these reasons, a growing number of people are inspired to learn new skills to make new things. Until recently, people who identified themselves as “makers” were considered hobbyists, do-it-yourselfers, craftsmen, or simply tinkerers. Although those makers are continuing to thrive, other makers in the form of Designers, Developers, Marketers, and the emerging Data Science Practitioners are moving out of niche areas into many professions across every industry. Some of these professions used to be considered Ivory Tower disciplines. But now, computer science, for example, has been penetrated by the “maker movement” and its practitioners simply recast as “developers”.
Developers represent the largest maker movement of our time by making software for everything imaginable, from consumer applications to enterprise processes, to entire marketplaces and, most recently, to automated systems that can think. It is important to realize that these developer makers operate differently than others. For one thing, they are highly suspicious of “black box” solutions. Many vendors have tried to reach developer makers with proprietary software solutions, and failed. Developer makers also differ fromfrom other professions in how they work. For example, as Paul Graham states, “one reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.” Although this was written about developers, it applies to any profession in which sustained attention is needed to build. He goes on to say that “when you are operating on a maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.” Thinking gets shifted back to the fast-paced world of immediate actions and away from deep concentration. Reduce distractions, and developer makers become far more productive on account of their highly resourceful and self-reliant nature, providing highly detailed information about programs in the form of documentation, example code, and a thriving community. It is no wonder that developer makers are the makers who most significantly disrupt industries and professions. One profession that had been out of reach until recently is Information Management.
In early 2010, a diverse functional team sat down to discuss why user growth and revenue had slowed, even though installations were on the rise. Marketing professionals presented their campaign data that showed a strong conversion rate of web traffic to downloads. Product analysts showed that the free-to-paid conversion was steady. Lastly, financial analysts showed that the daily, weekly, and monthly active user counts were declining, along with subsequent revenue. Business analysts were on the hook to come up with an explanation for this disconnect. Unfortunately, they had neither access to data, nor a flexible data environment, nor the sophisticated analytical tools needed to connect the dots.
Meanwhile, the engineering team was collecting application log files, network delivery log files, installer log files, and license types as part of the quality control effort. These individuals were not considered part of the “information” or “business intelligence” group and therefore did not make this data available for others – until a group of data scientists and engineers, or data makers, convinced the engineering team to open its data assets to the organization through a distributed data environment built on Hadoop. As soon as these data makers were able to work with the data in an unrestricted way, they quickly developed data products, including curated data sets and business metrics, which could be validated by analysts before being rolled out to the rest of the organization. It took a team of data makers, who could facilitate a conversation across the two organizations, to expand the corpus of information that was available to the business. Data was programmatically used to solve the riddle of the user problem. As it turned out, the answer could be found in the combination of clickstream data, installer log files, and transaction records that showed a channel-specific relationship to specific product offerings that was not otherwise apparent.
As they disrupt the information consumption status quo, data makers are emerging as organizational change agents. Prior to 2011, Information Management consisted of a linear series of steps to produce a dashboard or report that could be distributed, perhaps quarterly, as part of a business review. Data makers apply creativity to attack business outcomes. They wrangle, munge, extract, and analyze data to transform it into a product that incites others to act. To foster a data maker culture, it is critical to make data available, provide an open forum for results to be discussed, and provide a collaborative environment for data artifacts to be shared across organizations.
Today these professions share information freely and promote education through workshops and online courses. Individuals and organizations are starting to realize that to do their best work or attract top talent, the walls between professionals must come down. Makers, by their very nature, are collaborative and open to all comers. Makers have driven the rise of open source software, meetups, hackathons, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), and various programs that promote inclusivity in technology. This is the Maker Era; a key cultural condition for prospering in the post-tech world.
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