Microsoft’s renaissance may herald a nascent boom in software-driven productivity and economic growth
Like-minded technological evangelists have long argued artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and other technological advances were about to unleash a new boom. But the boom refused to show: growth in productivity—the best measure of how technology enhances worker output—remained mired near generational lows.
Recently, however, there have been intriguing signs a boom may be in the offing. In the first quarter, American companies for the first time invested more in software than in information-technology equipment. Indeed, outside of buildings and other structures, software surpassed every type of investment, including transportation equipment such as trucks and industrial equipment such as machine tools. Software spending is even higher if the cost of writing original software programs, now classified as research and development, is included.
Adjusted for inflation, software investment grew 11% from the first quarter of 2018 through the first quarter of 2019. By contrast, investment in equipment grew less than 4% and in structures, just 1%. (Revised data are due out Thursday.) The headwinds buffeting capital spending broadly, whether the waning tax cut, trade war or slumping commodity prices, have largely spared software. Meanwhile, productivity growth has picked up to 2.4% in the past year, the fastest since 2010.
Whether that can continue is debatable: business investment and productivity growth appear to have slowed in the current quarter. Nonetheless, a recent survey by Morgan Stanley & Co. found chief information officers planning to boost software budgets this year by 5%, and hardware budgets just 2%. Their main target is cloud computing, under which businesses pay external providers to host their data and supply tools to analyze that data.
After Chief Executive Satya Nadella took the company’s reins in 2014, Microsoft shifted focus to cloud-based services. Dubbed “Azure,” the services now account for half of the company’s revenue. Microsoft lacks the hipness factor of consumer-facing Amazon, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc. Yet it has achieved comparable growth by making itself a partner for businesses bent on “digital transformation,” a nebulous term that means using technology to remake processes or products.
I’ll never forget launching my first open-source project and sharing it on Reddit…
I had spent a couple of days at my parents’ place over Christmas that year and decided to use some of my spare time to work on a Python library I christened Schedule.
The idea behind Schedule was very simple and had a narrow focus (I find that that that’s always a good idea for libraries by the way):
Developers would use it like a timer to periodically call a function inside their Python programs.
The kicker was that Schedule used a funky “natural sounding” syntax to specify the timer interval. For example, if you wanted to run a function every 10 minutes you’d do this:schedule.every(10).minutes.do(
Or, if you wanted to run a particular task every day at 10:30 in the morning, you’d do this:schedule.every().day.at('10:
Because I was so frustrated with Cron’s syntax I thought this approach was really cool. And so I decided this would be the first Python module I’d release as open-source.
I cleaned up the code and spent some time coming up with a nice README file—because that’s really the first thing that your potential users will see when they check out your library.
Once I had my module available on PyPI and the source code on GitHub I decided to call some attention to the project. The same night I posted a link to the repository to Reddit and a couple of other sites.
I still remember that I had shaky hands when I clicked the “submit” button…
It’s scary to put your work out there for the whole world to judge! Also, I didn’t know what to expect.
Would people call me stupid for writing a “simple” library like that?
Would they think my code wasn’t good enough?
Would they find all kinds of bugs and publicly shame me for them? I felt almost a physical sense of dread about pushing the “submit” button on Reddit that night!
The next morning I woke up and immediately checked my email. Were there any comments? Yes, about twenty or so!
I started reading through all of them, faster and faster—
And of course my still frightful mind immediately zoomed in on the negative ones, like
“Cool idea, but not particularly useful”,
“The documentation is not enough”,
“Not a big fan of the pseudo-english syntax. Way too clever and gimmicky.”
At this point I was starting to feel a *little* discouraged… This was just something I wrote in a couple of hours and gave away for free!
The comment that really made my stomach churn was one from a particularly well known member of the Python community:
“And another library with global state 🙁 … Such an API should not even exist. It sets a bad example.”
Ouch, that hurt. I really looked up to that person and had used some of their libraries in other projects…
It was almost like my worst fears were now playing out in front of me!
I’d never be able to get another job as a Python developer after this…
At the time I didn’t see the positive and supportive comments in that discussion thread. I didn’t see the almost 70 upvotes. I didn’t see the valuable lessons hidden in the seemingly rude comments. I dwelled on the negative and felt terrible and depressed that whole day.
So how do you think this story ends?
Did I delete the Schedule repo, switched careers and never looked at Reddit again?
Schedule now has almost 3,000 stars on GitHub and is among the top 70 Python repositories (out of more than 215,000). When PyPI’s download statistics were still working I saw that it got several thousand downloads per month. I get emails every week from people asking questions about it or thanking me for writing it…
Isn’t that crazy!? How’s that possible after all of these disheartening comments?
My answer is “I don’t know”—and I also don’t think that Schedule is a particularly great library that deserves all this attention, by the way.
But, it seems to solve a problem for some people. It also seems to have a polarizing effect on developers who see it—some love it, some hate it.
Today I’m glad I shipped Schedule that night.
Glad because it was helpful to so many people over the years and glad because it helped me develop a thicker skin when it comes to sharing and launching things publicly.
I’m writing you this meandering email because not very long ago I found this comment buried in my Reddit message history:
As someone who has posted a number of projects and blog posts in r/Python, just wanted to drop you a line and encourage that you don’t let the comments in your thread get you down. You see all those upvotes? Those are people that like your library, but don’t really have a comment to make in the thread proper. My biggest issue with /r/Python is that it tends towards cynicism and sometimes cruelty rather than encouragement and constructive criticism.
Keep up the great work,
Wow! What a positive and encouraging comment!
Back when I felt discouraged by all of these negative comments I must’ve missed it. But reading it a few years later made me re-live that whole situation and it showed me how much I’d grown as a developer and as a person in the meantime.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, maybe feeling bogged down by the developer community who can be unfiltered and pretty rude sometimes, don’t get discouraged.
Even if some people don’t like what you did there can be thousands who love your work.
It’s a big pond, and sometimes the best ideas are polarizing.
The only way to find out is to ship, ship, ship.
— Dan Bader (RealPython.com)
Capterra : The Smart Way to Find Business Software
In Thrall to Scarcity
(open source, or whatever you want to call it): the economics of it, like anything else, are rooted in scarcity, and if you don’t have a bit of that scarcity yourself, you have a lot less leverage
.. Market economies work via the exchange of scarce goods and services. If you have nothing to trade, you have nothing. Now, free software is worth something. Worth a great deal – that is beyond the shadow of a doubt. But since anyone can make a copy, there is no scarcity – once it’s out there, you can’t trade for it.
.. If you’re writing free code that will simply become a cog in their proprietary system, the actual money comes from the scarcity they have created, so while you may be writing free software, in one sense, you’re simply offloading the burden of creating scarcity to someone else, who is then able to pay you for your time. The other possibility is that your client works in the “real world” of scarcity directly – they sell books or beer or cars or something else where the product is, by its nature inherently scarse.
.. to make money at something in the long run, you are going to have to find and sell a product that people cannot effortlessly get for free.