More on Commoditization


DSCN5295, originally uploaded by trekr.

I should have said more in my last post about how a skill may become a commodity.

Standards, tools, and for that matter, any advance in the art that constrains the allowable solutions such that the output of different practitioners is undifferentiated, leads to commoditization. For example, a hand saw requires more skill to use than a circular saw. However, anyone with reasonable competence can cut wood more than good enough with a circular saw. For most cuts it doesn’t matter that the handsaw is more precise in the hands of an expert.

There are many great photographers now that we have digital cameras. The technical aspects of film type, shutter speed, focus, lighting, are hidden from the user. However likely it is that a skilled photographer can do more with film, even the pros have switched to digital cameras for most of their photography.

Java programmers don’t need to master memory management or even know what a pointer is. Fundamental algorithms are now in libraries. Most programmers will never need to implement a sorting routine. Does Java constrain the expressiveness of the programmer? Certainly, but not in ways their customers care about.

In some sense all tools abstract and hide details. That is the power of the tool. One need not master the details to successfully use the tool to solve a problem. In order to hide, you must constrain yourself to a hiding place. If your hiding place is big enough, it’s good enough.

The process of commoditization is a net benefit for most of us. It is difficult when your skill becomes a commodity and you need to make a transition. Hopefully, these incomplete thoughts will give you some insight into how to see when its about to happen to you.

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