Digitization is an irreversible trend that is taking the world by storm — rapidly. Our lives are already intertwined with traces of digitization: the process by which text, visuals, and virtually anything are converted to a computer-readable format to be digitally existent on the Internet. With the mass of information online and the advent of big data, the progressive future is one powered by digitization and its vital foundation: software.
Ada Lovelace is the first programmer in the world to attempt software writing in 1860 for the first mechanical computer. It was not until the 1950s and the invention of the computer that Software Development became a recognized occupation. Following that, Computer Science emerged as a college subject with the aim to equip students with computer knowledge and the software-writing skills. The growing relevance of computer science in facilitating the world’s daily processes has spurred the expansion of the software engineering industry, and many of the world’s improvements can be attributed to the contributions of these software engineers.
Over the past few decades, programmers have created countless source codes. However, the rapid development of the software industry and its ever-evolving software codes has given rise to the problem of redundancy and the need for constant revision. Many classical codes, except for fundamental basic codes hardwired in hard-drive systems, have now become useless in the face of new code scripts.
It is time and effort-consuming to conduct software development. To be a qualified programmer, one must possess a solid foundation of Mathematics, a large capacity for logical thinking and an adaptable learning ability to keep up with improvements and new findings that arise daily in the field. Creativity and skill are also required to solve unprecedented problems that arise in this relatively new industry, along with English proficiency, patience and perseverance. The demanding standards required of a software developer have resulted in the scarcity of qualified programmers in the field, making each individual highly valued.
However, in spite of all their hard work in building source codes from scratch, the legal rights of programmers have not been adequately protected. A programmer may create miracles with game-changing source codes that garner millions elsewhere in the world, and yet reap relatively meagre benefits such as a good reputation and track record. In a field in which intellectual property demarcations determine profit margins, there is a glaring disparity between the software’s high economic value vis a vis the relatively lower returns for programmers.
No one has protested the unfair returns for programmers since most people consider it a common practice in the trade. Some even believe that a programmer’s relatively high salary is enough reward for their efforts. However, the current practice is not only unfair to programmers, but also damaging to the whole software development industry.
Individuals, companies and non-profit organizations (foundations, colleges, government-funded research) are the three main bodies that influence the software industry. Profit-maximizing enterprises offer programmers a fixed salary and, if needed, one-time premiums for milestone achievements. As software construction becomes increasingly complex, the programmer’s fixed salary is spread over more effort - a loss on his end. Some programmers may turn freelance or start up their own firms, but the situation remains the same as these start-ups expand.
Damage 1: Programmers cannot expect direct financial payoff from their past achievements and may face intense financial pressure in the short run. A similar illustrative example can be referenced from the real estate industry. Assuming that two students graduate from the same university - one becomes a programmer, and the other, a land agent specializing in housing speculation. In ten years, both professionals become reputable in their respective industries: student A becomes the CTO of a famous company earning millions earning each year, while student B owns numerous properties around the world. While it seems that they are both living good lives, student A has to consistently work hard to feed his family with his fixed salary whereas student B has already achieved financial security with sufficient rental income. (Leave out the special circumstance of extreme property prices.) The root cause of the disparity in financial security lies in their income component. Student B’s past achievements keep benefiting its owner with no further effort on his part, but student A can only reap benefits with consistent work. Detractors may contend that such cases are specific to the real estate industry, but similar disparities occur in other professions (singers, writers etc.) too.
Damage 2: Programmer do not attain passive income, which means no work, no pay. They also undergo much pressure and suffer long work hours due to the complexity and rigorous demands of their highly specialized job, resulting in a high employee turnover rate for the industry. In the face of such bleak prospects, a brain drain may eventually occur as developers lose the passion to further their careers. If programmers lose their enthusiasm, little improvement can be done.
Damage 3: A loss of passion often leads to a loss of creativity - the crux of software development The industry as a whole may suffer from stale ideas and a lack of advancement.
Damage 4: The profit-maximizing objective of enterprises naturally conflicts with workers’ wage interests. Relying on companies as the main drivers of the software industry may not be the best strategy.
Is it possible to adopt a fairer approach that allows programmers to reap salaries proportionate to their achievements? The answer is Yes! Before sharing our ideas, I would like to introduce an inspiring example which reflects some of the afore-mentioned sentiments: Huawei.
The salary of Huawei employees consists of three parts: fixed payments, annual bonus and bonds share. For a senior employee, the largest proportion of his earnings come from bonds sharing. To gain phantom stock, one is required to work hard and maintain excellent performance. As long as Huawei is making profit, the employees can have a share of the pie through stock splits. Relying on its special distribution mechanism, Huawei overtook several foreign tycoons and gained distinguished reputation in the Telecommunication industry. The above example highlights the importance of the employees’ motivation which is raised by the profit sharing incentive, and more importantly, their past contribution was rewarded through phantom stock and awards.
Huawei’s management mechanism is unique and difficult to emulate. Successful firms would prioritize profits over employee motivation; start-ups can barely survive without sufficient profit, much less grow.
Thankfully, motivation-based creativity is the prized soul of the software industry. The time is ripe to refine its organizational structure and introduce awarding mechanisms to sustain the industry. Source Code Chain (SCC) aims to make source code — the priceless treasure for programmers — a long-term source of profit. That’s why we are gathered here today.
In the following parts, we would like to share our plans to make it happen—a historical task: Babel.