When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I’m sure this pattern emerges in other industries, but here are some strawman personalities of web/tech types of people, and how they respond to business problems…
- The Value Personality — This person can stop themself and ask about what sort of problem they have. They’re not rushing to a solution. They want to understand the problem and determine if it’s worth solving, and how to most efficiently solve it if it does. They’d rather buy something than build something, if buying is cheap and building requires continuing to own and operate a service after the fact.
- The Mixed Bag — These people have the ability to answer the question “is this a technology problem?”… but they don’t always use it. They’re giddy to solve the problem and use the skills they have, so they jump head-first into creating a solution. They can be steered into agreement in discussion by being forced to confront “value” as a worthwhile component of the decision making process.
- The Builder — This person has trouble contemplating a world where the answer to any question doesn’t involve them building software. They’re not clear why they would even be involved in a conversation which comes to another conclusion. The logic is something like “I am programmer; hence any discussion about a problem should lead to me writing code”.
Practical examples of problems, think about how each role might react to each:
- We want to launch a company blog
- We want to host events and need a registration system
- We want to serve ads on our website
- We want to monitor google for mentions of certain keywords
There are “build” and “buy” solutions for all of these, and I think the psychology and personality types of our strawmen will strongly dictate which direction they want to go.
So who’s “better”?…it depends. This may not be true in large organizations or very top-heavy organizations, but in the context of a small self-directed team, I think you want to make sure you’ve got the first personality type as your owners/operators and managers, and try to get as many of the first and second type as you can for your employees. Unless you have a large team with a lot of management and oversight, be careful about the third type.
That being said, there certainly is a time and place to write software! The key here is to realize that just because you happen to be capable of using technology and software to solve problems, or because you happen to be in the technology service business, does not mean that you must build new technology to solve every problem you encounter.