Re: Peer Economics

James Rogers (
Wed, 27 Nov 1996 13:41:33 -0800

>The widespread use of computer networks will make it much easier to be
>self-employed and contract one's services and talents out to those who offer
>an agreeable trade, much like a free lance artist does. It will become less
>necessary to have a "steady job", where one trades with the same person day
>after day, and it will become easier and more secure for someone to have
>several clients that they work for and multiple streams of income, so they are
>not dependent on any single source of income.

I both agree and disagree. In some industries (like software engineering)
it already is easier to work for multiple clients at the same time. I am
generally working for about three different clients at any given time. And
this method almost always gives more flexibility and a lot more money than a
static "9-to-5" type job. *However*, there are a lot of negatives that go
along with this as well. The stress levels are generally much higher
because you have many more obligations than a "normal" job. Also, you don't
get that "warm-fuzzy" secure feeling of always knowing what you will be
doing 6 months from now. Even though I can objectively say that I have no
difficulties getting work (their has been an ongoing computer professional
deficit in Silicon Valley), and have never had a situation where I had to
worry about finding a job, it isn't quite the same as knowing exactly where
you will be working and what you'll be doing in the future.

To be honest, I enjoy the dynamic nature of this situation, but I know a lot
of computer types who have gotten really burnt out in this type of work
environment. There is still something to be said for a steady job, such as
the ability to spend more time with your family. TANSTAAFL!

>If one is interested in completing a very large and complex project, such as
>building and maintaining hydroponic greenhouses, then one will want to
>organize teams of people to work on this project. One could first hire a team
>of engineers to plan the project and organize it into sub-projects. Then one
>could hire teams and individuals to complete the various sub-projects until
>the greenhouses are built and food is being grown in them. Then one would
>receive requests for food and hire people to transport the food to the
>appropriate places. This is not fundamentally any different than what has
>been done for thousands of years now. People have been organizing companies
>and groups to complete projects for quite a long time. Now it's becoming a
>lot easier for the average person to do, because computer networks are helping
>to lower the costs of organizing a business.

Agreed. The Internet has been an enormous help in forming project teams. I
have a not too small list of developers and programmers that I call or email
whenever I have a large project. More and more software work is being done
this way. Most of the software people I know do freelance work for various
projects. I am working on a $1,000,000 project now where the 25-man
development team is made up entirely of freelancers from around the country.
Meetings and discussions take place largely via a mailing list on the
Internet. There is usually one or two consultants or freelancers who "run"
the whole project.

In fact, if you are strictly interested in making money, this is the way to
go. Sure, you don't have job security, but the pay is great. Many
independant developers I know have spouses who work steady jobs. This way,
they have a guaranteed minimum income and usually medical benefits. But
when you consider that the average freelance developer makes between
$100-500k per year, this is extremely attractive, especially to the younger
age brackets.

>I predict that as computer networks become more widespread and their use
>becomes commonplace, a very large percentage of people will be taking
>advantage of this technology to make their economic lives extremely flexible,
>dynamic and lucrative. I predict that it will become increasingly less common
>for someone to have a "steady job". That concept seems radical now, because
>there aren't so many secure alternatives for employment than working for the
>same person day after day. However, I believe this will change within a few
>years, and it will seem foolish and dangerous to have only one major client
>that one is dependent on for income.

In some industries, "steady job" is already meaningless. Better get used to
it. Actually, I think the "many client" type of environment separates the
wheat from the chaff much better, ability-wise, than the "steady job"
environment. I think the "many client" environment will cause a wider
separation between the living standards of the competent and incompetent in
a given skill category, not at all a bad thing, IMO.

>I believe that people will become much more "project oriented" than they are
>today. I think people will look at employment more in terms of working on a
>particular project than they do now. People will hire other people to
>complete particular projects or tasks, and when the project is done or the
>task is completed, they will each go their own way. As a project manager, you
>may find someone who consistently does excellent work, and you may hire them
>regularly to work on various projects, and this will probably be common. But
>that same person will likely have many other clients that they work for as
>I believe that in the future, one's financial situation will more accurately
>reflect the quality of work one does and thus be more fair. Good workers will
>develop a good reputation, and there will be a high-paying demand for them,
>and they will generally only accept the highest-paying offers for their work.
>Those who don't prove themselves to be such good workers will not receive such
>high-paying offers for their work. Of course, they could always hire someone
>to teach them how to improve their skills and become a more excellent worker,
>and thus improve their financial situation.

This is exactly the way it currently works in the independant software
development industry. You can only screw up so many times, and then no one
will hire you.

And incidentally, the majority of independant developers are self-taught.
If you want to increase your skills, you take it upon yourself to learn more
skills. This is the way it works. No one else is responsible for your
welfare except *you*. I learned a majority of the skills I have by studying
a particular subject I wanted to learn, and then finding a short-term
mediocre job that required those skills. This way I was able to get the
practical experience, but not at the expense of someone who was paying good
money. I would then go on to take on the good paying jobs after validating
my newly learned skill. A lot of people learn this way. (Lesson here: You
get what you pay for!) You don't have to pay money to learn a valuable new
skill. Usually it only involves time, some books, and a short-term pay cut.

>Considering human history, it seems that people's economic lives have become
>increasingly dynamic and are continuing to become even more flexible. At one
>time, most people were pretty much confined to living in the same village,
>doing the same tasks, all their lives. As we've progressed and developed
>large cities, it has become much easier for people to relocate and to change
>employers. Our lives have become much more flexible and filled with more
>options. I believe that the widespread use of computer networks will create
>even greater flexibility in people's lives and allow people many more options
>for organizing their lives, including greater flexibility of who they work
>for. Technology is providing people the tools they need to take care of
>themselves better and manage their own lives.

Flexibility and options are good, but there is a price. Large scale
networks are a key component of implementing this flexibility, but I think
it has limits to certain professions and industries. This would not
generally help a grocery clerk get ahead. Mostly just skilled professionals.

-James Rogers