Week 7+8 – Is what I think about software companies real?

I feel like I have a picture in my head about what tech companies are like but given most of my information is second-hand or from pop culture, it’s likely not that accurate. Since people seem to like it when I compare my experience working for legacy Bell Labs telecom defense contractors to the tech industry, I thought I’d write down some of my impressions of what tech companies are like and then ask my batch mates to offer their take on them. It turns out by the time I wrote down just one thought, it was a pretty long post so instead of my full list, I’m just going to start with one opinion I have.

A bit costing way less than a bolt is revolutionary – It costs basically zero to prototype software ideas which has huge implications for the Tech ecosystem. If you wanted to recreate one of the hottest software products in tech and you had the right knowledge and time, you basically could do it for free. However if you wanted to recreate even a moderately priced hardware product like a smart phone, you’d probably need the disposable financial resources that maybe .5% of the world’s population has.

Because software is “cheap” people are constantly experimenting with new ideas. This means more innovative software products and tools are available. Not only is their less risk to develop them, there’s more flexibility to price them with trials, freemium, free, and “free” (but paid for by selling your data). This means more people experiment and adopt innovations faster. Cheap software also allows more people to enter the space. The Recurse Center would probably not be viable if I was spending $100 a day on McMaster parts to “become dramatically better at mechanical engineering.” But because all it takes to study at Recurse is time, a computer, and wifi, a huge range of diverse people are able to attend.

The reaction from my batchmates – One interesting thread that emerged is I probably need to define what terms like “software companies” and “tech” really means when I use them. A lot of companies would probably consider themselves to be “tech” if you used the most generous definition, while some people could use a definition as narrow as MAANG companies (Meta, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google). Someone questioned if I could even be considered as working in “tech” at General Dynamics since at a high level I work in “telecommunications”. I’ve never really considered myself as being “in tech” and I have my reasons (for another blog post?) but it’s a good point.

Another comment agreed with my thesis and pointed out that VC funding for hardware is much more difficult to obtain than software, in part because of the higher level of investment needed to create a hardware product.

Another line of discussion centered around my statement of building a smart phone would require at least being in the .5% of income in the world. Someone did the math and pointed out that .5% is about $100k of income which in their opinion still wasn’t high enough. But another batchmate countered that 3D printing and cheap PCB manufacturing have gone a long ways towards making hardware cheaper to develop and more is achievable than you might think. As I think about it more, building a DIY smart phone is probably cheaper than I first thought if you allow yourself to use prebuilt chunks like a display or ICs.

Finally, in my post asking my batchmates for their thoughts I said I was open to other feedback about my post, so I also got a few responses that helped me edit this post to maybe be a little more clear. (In true Recurse fashion though, I declared a boundary around doing more than minimal editing work and stuck to it since my Recurse goals do not include being a better writer). Those comments and reactions are also appreciated even if I neglected to actually take action on them.