Old Dog in a 2.0 World


I’m the oldest member of the Civinomics team. I also co-own a local ISP, Cruzio, in Santa Cruz, California.  Cruzio has a large operational footprint spreading across four counties along California’s Central Coast, serving about 10,000 customers. I’ve programmed in about a dozen languages over the last 30 years. I’ve seen and done it all.

Except that’s not true in the biz of bringing 2.0 to the masses. (It used to be called “Web 2.0“, but I just call it “2.0” because, as a way of looking at things, it now applies to everything) In my business(es), the pace of change is accelerating, and it’s impossible to consider any milestone an endpoint. It’s just the beginning of the next iteration of update, upgrade and improve, and it requires a constant learning curve to keep up and stay ahead. The years between my early coding days and the present have witnessed huge reductions in the startup barrier to entry, or “friction”—the enemy of 2.0.

For a developer, there’s been a huge leap since the old days. Back when I first started programming on a DEC PDP-11/44 (…what? You don’t know what a DEC PDP… Okay, um, skip forward … several years… God, my back is killing me… ) Back when I first started programming in C on a PC running UNIX, a professional development environment took a significant amount of time, money and effort to set up: You had to buy a server for a couple thousand dollars with an expensive serial port card for another couple thousand dollars, you had to buy and install an expensive UNIX operating system for a thousand dollars, you had to recompile the kernel with the lame-ass driver which came with the serial card and then debug the long string of failed compiles, you had to buy monochrome terminals for several hundred dollars a pop to attach to it using serial cables, and then you had to set up an SCCS code repository and write your code, and when it was time to write your code in C you had two libraries of “add-on” functionality to give you a leg up from having to reinvent the wheel: libc and libcurses. Great. Just… great.

Today, a development team can set up a virtual server or cluster in the cloud with a credit card for a nominal monthly fee and set up a Github or Bitbucket repository in the cloud with a credit card for a nominal monthly fee all in 20 minutes. They can use a cloud code editor such as Cloud Nine for a nominal monthly fee or use free or cheap desktop apps like the SublimeText code editor, SourceTree mercurial/git front end and a glorified diff like FileMerge . If you want to add functionality to your code, then before you write a single line yourself you ask Google to show you any existing open source libraries and platforms, and since no matter what you want to do it’s already been done, coded and debugged, and published as open source, you can almost always download someone else’s code and wire it into yours.

It takes an hour or so for a seasoned team of laptop-toting developers and a credit card to begin their startup and start coding for realsies.

For a business owner, the leap forward in the back office is, if anything, even more startling. Spreadsheets, databases, billing, taxes, payroll, credit card payment processing, reports, graphs, email, forms and contracts, employment law—in most cases the option exists to Google it, outsource it, or SAAS it in the cloud. It’s never been easier to start-up a fully permitted and papered and compliant startup. You don’t even need to rent an office or buy furniture and get a copper landline telephone and yellow pages ad. You can cowork and scuff up someone else’s furniture and use your cell phone or Skype.

It’s not just the machines, apps and cloud-based services that have evolved. It’s also the culture. In the new development and startup culture, the secret sauce is shared and out in the open. One of the things I love about being a member of the Civinomics team is that it’s basically a graduate level study group plugged into an even larger graduate level study group: The Internet.

As a team, we meet face-to-face/Skype twice a week: once to explore, discuss and deliberate “HQ” biz/corp items, and once to explore, discuss and deliberate product “Dev” items. The dev team works together in the office for a couple of hours (ish) a day (ish) in a sort of hackathon mode. Sprinkled throughout are email and text threads trading links and info.

In HQ, there’s an ongoing quest to define the company we want to be as colleagues and employers. We’ve looked at the Valve and Netflix employee handbooks, and the number of links to material related to culture and values and structure and operations that have been sent around and used as springboards for our internal deliberations are beyond count.

In Dev, there’s an ongoing quest to leverage libraries and platforms and to learn more about what other teams are doing and how. The coding community is incredibly generous in sharing knowledge, and we have benefited greatly from our internal code reviews and sharing of experience but also from such awesome resources as StackOverflow and the other dev forums. It’s not all software, though. We also take in other sources related to human nature, politics and sociobiology (wetware) and try to incorporate that into our code as well.

This all feeds into the impetus behind Civinomics as a platform. Our goal is to apply the tools and culture of 2.0 to civic engagement, to make it as easy to set up an online workshop as it is to set up a blog. And more, we want the online workshop to be an effective engine of civic engagement and improvement.

We want to take all this and build tools people can use to make the world a better place.

Not a bad way to make a living.

(My wife and Cruzio co-owner Peggy Dolgenos is facilitating a Civinomics workshop celebrating 25 Years of Santa Cruz Geekery. Check it out and participate here.)

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