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Why Software Devs and IT Geeks Make Good Politicians

Posted by bryan on November 29, 2013 in E-Government with No Comments


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Project Management Lifecycle

Project Management Lifecycle (Photo credit: IvanWalsh.com)

I’ve thought about whether I wanted to post this one for a while. However, I believe it to be true and since the web was made to enable free speech and remorselessly sharing ones thoughts and ideas, then here it is, my hypothesis:

 

Software Developers and IT Geeks Make Good Politicians

 

Why?

I think this for a number of reasons, not least of which is because I could potentially be biased, being a Software Programmer/Analyst by trade, however I don’t believe this is solely an unfounded personal bias, so please hear me out. The following traits make Software Developers particularly well-suited to be high-level politicians:

  • Decision Making – The ability to process large amounts of information then make decisions is crucial in both software development to choose the right technologies, platforms and tools for the job, and even more important in politics.
  • Information Filtering – In IT, we have to process hundreds of specifications, manuals, API docs, tutorials and other assorted reference materials; knowing what is important and quickly filtering what is not is critical to making timely, informed decisions.
  • Eye for Details – Knowing when further information is required before requirements can be signed off on and budgets agreed to is a critical asset for anyone in charge of an entire nation’s budget and economy.
  • Problem Solving – years of fixing bugs and resolving software issues helps build the capacity to quickly survey a given problem domain, evaluate a set of options and choose the best approach to solving the problem, then take action until said problem is solved.
  • Software Patents – licensing issues around software can be hairy; any developer whose worked on any worthwhile project has no doubt encountered some form of license requirement on code they’ve written, integrated, or referenced as an external library or service. This requires a basic knowledge of software patents and the patenting system in general, meaning developers have a higher awareness for legal frameworks, national and international rules & regulations than the average person (ok maybe not more qualified to code laws than a lawyer or judge, but they definitely know when to call on one and which questions to ask).
  • Documentation – being able to present information cleanly is what separates good Designers from bad, and in many ways effective programmers from less effective ones. In the end, the design that wins out is the one that gets the point across to the end-users (i.e. the audience). In addition, good programmers write self-documenting code but still use good commenting principles to leave notes for their fellow developer who may come by later and need to understand a piece of code they have written. This makes us more adept at doing thorough and clean documentation (although even good developers hate doing this, they tend to have a skill for it; though not always).
  • Motivation – These days, its not enough to be a genius mathematician or just a brilliant programmer, to stand out you also have to have an entrepreneurial spirit which includes a strong focus and self-motivation.
  • Public Speaking – Ok, so those in the IT world traditionally don’t score well here; however these days, up and coming developers have had to master the art of communication, mastering everything from video-conferencing tools and screen-sharing for teleworking, as well as knowing how to create screencasts that get their points across and get people attention on their project or help teach something. Furthermore, the recent rise of massive developer conferences has made an environment where developers are getting used to presenting their works (even while still under development) and getting their ideas out to large audiences, all on a limited time allotment. This makes these type of developers particularly well-suited for roles that require frequent public speaking engagements.
  • Transparency – Society is demanding more and more transparency and accountability from government. Those in the IT industry are accustomed to being on tight budgets and needing to report what they are doing with their time, right down to the minute for accounting purposes; using tools such as Time Tracking, Bug/Issue Tracking and adherence to strict Project Management processes such as SCRUM burndown charts, RUP methodology workflows and GANTT charts. In addition, a good developer is prepared to turn in reports on their progress for review at anytime, and will often take the initiative by send out their own weekly, monthly or quarterly reviews when necessary. 

 

These are just a few of the reasons why I believe Software Developers actually may make good Politicians in the long run, if we just give a few a chance. What do you think? Please respond in the comment section below.

 

  

Here are some famous software developers or IT industry leaders who have gone on to actually play a significant role in politics:

  1. Tim Berners-Lee – Founder of the Web, appointed as director of the UK’s “Open Data Institute” and chosen to lead the “Open Government Data” project. Recently, he has also become critical of excessive government surveillance practices and policies, especially as related to eavesdropping on web-usage and other internet-based communications protocols.
  2. Eric Schmidt – Already asked to be Obama’s “IT cszar”, but declined in order to focus on management role at Google and launch a few new products.
  3. Lawrence Lessig – As a leading figure in the open source and free software movement, Lessig has long had a passion for public access to tax-payer sponsored information and decision-making, as well as the individual’s rights and freedoms to exchange ideas, products and services within a well-defined legal framework. He also clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court, on top of serving on numerous boards including the Board of Creative Commons, one of the largest Free Content and Free Software non-profit organizations enabling people to build upon legally and to share ideas and information.
  4. Richard Stallman – Free Software Foundation (FSF) Director, has had a long-running “Political Notes” section on his personal site and is outspoken against monopolistic companies and tyrannical governments.
  5. Meg Whitman – Former CEO of eBay, and 2010 GOP nominee for governor in California. In politics, money talks, and Whitman has invested $140 million of her own funds to try and beat Democrat Jerry Brown. The billionaire also has accepted more than $10 million in political donations from individuals, businesses and other groups, according to the Los Angeles Times. There’s an old saying that “it takes money to make money”, and the ability to raise money for important causes is crucial. Her knowledge of gained running the world’s biggest online auction company can surely lead her to the ability to sell her ideas and projects for a better future.
  6. Rick Snyder – The former president of Gateway Computers and current CEO of Ardesta, a venture capital firm in Ann Arbor, is the Republican candidate for governor in Michigan.
  7. Ross Perot – The founder of Electronic Data Systems, Perot may be remembered by many voters as the ultimate tycoon-turned-politician. Perot ran for president in 1992 and 1996 as a third-party candidate.
    “Better than any other business politician in American history, (Perot) sold voters on the idea that he had superior problem-solving skills than traditional politicians of either party,” Muhammad said. “The governing style he portrayed merged the American progressivism of President Woodrow Wilson with the brand of American conservatism represented by President Reagan.
    “He fused his business success story and Texan confidence into a formula that gave the electorate the impression he could manage the nation’s affairs more efficiently and face its fiscal difficulties more bravely than a Republican or Democrat.”
    And then there were the pie charts.
    At seemingly each campaign appearance, Perot accompanied his everyman delivery – and supported his talking points – by wielding and referencing cardboard economic graphs and fiscal tables.
    “He combined his ability to break down (economic trends) to the average person with a visual – before visuals were really commonplace on television,” MacManus said. “You know, what he did with those charts was fabulous.”
  8. Stephen Downes – Canadian software developer (for National Research Council of Canada), tech blogger and occasional political activist. He can be highly critical and certainly keeps a publicly accessible journal of his thoughts, ideas and observations; something which could immensely benefit our current political aura of secrecy and back-room deals.
  9. Julian Assange – Accused mastermind spy behind WikiLeaks, but in reality was just a programmer/hacker and publisher of text links to leaked political cables and documents on his small organizations website. He is one of the world’s leading advocates on transparency in government, and a perfect example of how politicians should behave and conduct their business, in the public limelight rather than behind closed doors or at shady getaways hosted by foreign governments or sponsored by big corporations seeking to influence decisions.
  10. Jimmy Wales – Has garnered quite a bit of political might through the creation and ownership of Wikipedia, the free and open encyclopedia (though he denies such or rather chooses not to look at it as a broad power but only one focused on protecting the freedom of information), and has used it to oppose internet censorship (i.e. CISPA), attacks on privacy of information (i.e. SOPA & PIPA) and other acts that threaten the free sharing of ideas on the web in countries around the world.

 

 

  

Conclusion
Maybe there’s something to my theory? Maybe I’ll even run for office some day, who knows?!? I’ll close with a quote from Ghandi which I came across on Richard Stallman’s personal pages, but it is particularly relevant to this post, and the reason that a true IT leader is also a good candidate for becoming a political leader too:

  

“You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

 

UPDATE (2014-12-11): Interestingly enough, it seems the creator of the web himself, Tim Berners-Lee would agree as described in this article by LinkedIN editor Isabelle Roughol:

How do we take back control and build the world we want? We start by educating ourselves. Elected officials and the people who elect them should know code, not to build the next Facebook, but to write laws with a real understanding of what technology can do. “The social systems we build are partly technology, partly laws,” he says.

 

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BC$ = Behavior, Content, Money

The goal of the BC$ project is to raise awareness and make changes with respect to the three pillars of information freedom - Behavior (pursuit of interests and passions), Content (sharing/exchanging ideas in various formats), Money (fairness and accessibility) - bringing to light the fact that:

1. We regularly hand over our browser histories, search histories and daily online activities to companies that want our money, or, to benefit from our use of their services with lucrative ad deals or sales of personal information.

2. We create and/or consume interesting content on their services, but we aren't adequately rewarded for our creative efforts or loyalty.

3. We pay money to be connected online (and possibly also over mobile), yet we lose both time and money by allowing companies to market to us with unsolicited advertisements, irrelevant product offers and unfairly structured service pricing plans.

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