I’ve been thinking a bit more about the list of disruptive technologies on Richard’s list, and then I watched Dan Pink’s TED talk on the surprising science of motivation. There must be some relationship between the list, which is comprised of almost all open source software products, and Dan’s assertion that the 20th century reward system won’t work for the cognitive tasks performed by workers in the 21st century. What is it, though?
We develop open source software to scratch a personal itch, ease the pain in performing a certain type of task, or create a more compelling alternative to a commercial product. While the professional open source model has emerged the last few years as a way for the open source community to create a sustainable business model, none of the open source technologies on the list were initially developed that way. They were developed in response to need. Ant because Java lacked a good build system. Spring because Java EE was cumbersome and bloated. JUnit to help increase quality. In many cases, these tools have grown to become defacto standard technologies widely used by enterprise development teams.
In Dan’s mind, the new incentive program within organizations must revolve around three things – autonomy, opportunity, and purpose. We must be given autonomy, or the empowerment to make our own decisions. We must be given the opportunity to master something that matters to us. And we must be given purpose, which is the desire to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. Dan notes that financial incentive is also important, but is not the decisive factor in what motivates us.
There are a lot of ways to connect the dots between the open source products so prevalent on Richard’s list and Dan’s point about incentives. I’ll allow you the opportunity to connect these dots any way you wish. A few that immediately come to mind for me include the way commercial software is sold, corporate incentive programs, empowering developers, and flaws in corporate culture. But here’s something else to chew on.
In most of the cases, it was the developer who spurred adoption of the most disruptive application development technologies of the last decade. We weren’t motivated to develop or adopt these great products because of financial incentive or a reward system. Sure, in some cases that’s a positive side affect, but it is not the force that motivates. Instead, we were motivated because they make our jobs a little bit easier and our software a little bit better.
Developers are fighting like hell to create better software. While a lot of commercial vendors are selling shelfware (they aren’t selling it to the developer, mind you), developers are driving adoption of the technologies that are making a difference. Developers seek autonomy, opportunity, and purpose. Given corporate culture, it’s not always easy to find. But if the last decade is any indication, we are finding it, developers do have a voice, and that voice is being heard.