Work less, produce more

According to tradition, a programmer’s productivity was measured by “lines of code” in the old days. That is, the amount of code you wrote.

Anyone remotely interested in programming understands how crazy that is, because the less code you need to write to make something happen, the more talented programmer you are (if the code is documented, structured and can be understood by others).

The fact that this measurement was used isn’t that crazy though — that’s our economic system’s standard way of measuring work. We get rewarded for working hard, doing overtime, putting in the hours and so on. If I as an employee come up with a way to do my job in less hours, it’s not like I will be rewarded for it. Just imagine if I came up with a way of completely automating all of my assignments at work. I would probably lose my job.

So a lot of innovation when it comes to automation, which is what a lot of innovation is about, is hampered by how the economy is structured. There is simply no economic incentive for it.

As a result, a lot of amazing innovation comes from other incentives than economic ones. The autobiography of Linus Torvalds, the main guy behind Linux, is called “Just for fun”. That is also how he describes his motivation behind writing the operating system that powers most of the internet servers and supercomputers today. And that is how large sectors of the open source sector still works.

If we truly want an innovation driven economy though, we need to create more incentives for productivity and automation. For starters, collectively owned workplaces would help. That way you might actually benefit from automation and a rise in productivity. Sharing our results and ideas freely will also immensely benefit innovation. And last but not least, we need to get rid of the work ethos that are encouraging us to measure productivity in “lines of code”.

The perks of being an average coder

I’m not a great coder, I admit it. But the thing is, being average at it has made me really good at taking shortcuts. So I got into content management systems early (SPIP and later Joomla), cause I couldn’t make one myself. And then I found the one with the best dev community (Drupal). It had the most and best written code, so I didn’t have to write it. And when that system got overloaded with super well written code and libraries and plugins, to the point that it was way too hard to configure, I got into easier ways of making websites (Jekyll). I also got really good at finding ready-made digital services and open source systems for clients, so they didn’t have to spend lots of money on custom code. That’s where I am now, and that is why you should probably hire an average coder instead of a really, really good one.