David Chappell


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The Most Important Profession in the World  
# Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Wharton School of Business has created a list of the top 30 innovations in the last 30 years. The complete list is here, but here are the top ten:

  1. Internet, broadband, WWW (browser and HTML)
  2. PC/laptop computers
  3. Mobile phones
  4. E-mail
  5. DNA testing and sequencing/Human genome mapping
  6. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  7. Microprocessors
  8. Fiber optics
  9. Office software (spreadsheets, word processors)
  10. Non-invasive laser/robotic surgery (laparoscopy)

Notice what they all have in common? Every single one is dependent on software. Some of them, like email, are purely software. Some, like microprocessors, exist solely to run software. And the rest, like mobile phones and MRI, rely heavily on software.

Going deeper into the list doesn't change this. Innovation number 11 is open source software, 14 is GPS systems, 21 is graphical user interfaces, and number 23 is RFIDs. Almost every one of the 30 innovations relies on code in some way.

For anybody who works in software, the takeaway should be clear: We work in the most important profession in the world.

Innovations are what underlie growth in productivity--the ability to do more with less--and productivity growth is what raises everyone's standard of living. Quality improves too, through better medical technology and more. In the most literal sense, the work we do is the most important factor in making the world a better place.

Ever feel like you're just writing another app, just doing technical marketing for another faceless corporation, or just supporting another piece of meaningless code? Don't. Our efforts have been a primary force in improving the world for the last several decades, and this isn't about to stop. All of us who are engaged in software are in fact doing the same thing: We're creating the foundation for a better world.

6 comments :: Post a Comment



This the most inspiring post ever. Yes, you be I'm a programmer.

Yes, nice to hear that... but I'm a little bit afraid of that... are you sure we are creating better world :)

I am. Not all code makes the world a better place--progress is not monotonic. Still, look at the innovation list again: Does it contain anything that on balance doesn't improve the world?

Perhaps you're working on a project that doesn't leave you feeling like you're moving us forward. If so, it's time to look for a new gig.

Very good reality check. ;-)

I think people often forget how radically productive software has made us. It's almost unimaginable that just 20 years ago the height of tech wizardy for most office workers was an IBM Selectric!

The problem is that "productivity" is not a sacred value. If productivity means eficiency, that is, making the most out of fewer resources, that I guess it can be seen as a "good force", though, when if means "transforming and consuming the biggest amount of resources" than it is clearly an horrible thing.

To me, productivity measures output per unit of input, and so improving productivity means creating more with less.

We don't always create the right things, but still, can anybody seriously argue that software hasn't made the world much better?

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