“Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, there’s just God when he’s drunk”

(Readin’ time: 2m 43s)

“Boney’s high on china white, Shorty found a punk.

Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, there’s just God when he’s drunk.

Well this stuff will probably kill you, let’s do another line.

What you say you meet me down on Heartattack and Vine.” — “Heartattack and Vine”, Tom Waits

“Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, there’s just God when he’s drunk.” Man, I love that line. It’s art, philosophy, and truth all in one.

Destruction is the flip side of creation. They’re a duality, and you can’t have one without the other. We see this in tech quite clearly because if you’re in the game long enough, you get to taste both sides.

The modern complaint about technology is that it facilitates destruction in other industries. People in Industry X lose jobs because of automation, for example, and the sense is that the Tech Industry exported a destructive force (seen from the perspective of those that lost jobs and those that sympathize with them) into another industry.

This view holds up only if you see technology as a vertical phenomenon; if you see Silicon Valley or Redmond–for example–as company towns like Bethlehem or Detroit, exporting their output elsewhere. This is a tempting view because it’s simplistic and lends itself to hero/villain narratives where the hero is an easily-personified place with a single name and somewhat singular character.

But it’s a pretty low-fidelity view of reality, where technology is actually both an industry and a horizontal force that spans all industries. Incidentally, if you view technology as a consolidated industry only, you’ll struggle to see the deeper value of specialization and you’ll default to using platform specialization within the Tech Industry. But if you see technology as it actually is, you’ll understand the value of combining pure software expertise with expertise in the business realities of an “non-tech” vertical.

If you have this more accurate view of technology, you’ll also see the development and embrace of new technology as a human phenomena, not one localized to a specific industry.

If you look at just the tech industry but do so over a long enough time span, you see this:

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The thought technology of the ouroboros has been around since at least the 14th century BCE. That’s a long time!

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In the tech industry you see these creation-destruction-recreation cycles happen quickly enough that they’re easily visible.

Mainframes -> microcomputers -> PC’s everywhere -> PC’s accessing remote desktops on servers -> VMs -> Cloud computing is just one example of the “technology ouroboros” in action. It was a mere a 32-year timespan from the Altair 8800 to the launch of AWS, and that 32 years was marked by (at least) five sea changes. 5 up-endings of the prior way of doing things.

Those 5 sea changes affected many non-tech industries, but they also affected tech itself.

If you do nothing to acquire new skills or expertise and you work within the tech industry, you can move from the head of the ouroboros (enjoying a tasty, profitable meal of newly-created opportunity) to the tail (getting eaten) in about 7 to 10 years. So if you enjoy acquiring new skill, technology is a great place to do that. You can run to stay in place and remain at the head of the ouroboros.

If you’d rather cultivate expertise, then you have to partially de-couple yourself from the technology ouroboros (this is so you have a long enough time to actually cultivate real expertise!). You do that either by moving into a management role within the tech industry, helping companies solve the problematic second-order consequence of the new-technology-ouroboros, or by helping non-tech industries leverage technology for a business advantage.

-P

BTW, here’s a fun cover of “Heartattack and Vine” by Poppa Chubby.

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