Why does work exist?
How is it that we literally spend our entire adult life working and yet we seldom stop and think about work itself? I for one, haven't spent much of my career thinking about work, rather, I killed myself working. Funny how we work without thinking about work, isn't it? How is it that we keep on running, sometimes in never-ending professional circles, and yet we forget - or we never start - to reflect on why we started running in the first place?
As I write these words, this summer, the summer of 2021, marks my 20th professional year working in the tech industry. I started working professionally in the summer of 2001, as a linux administrator and haven't looked back since. Until recently. As I approached this milestone in my career, I decided to give the concept of work a lot of my attention. I've been going deep, as deep as possible into what work is, why it exists and how work actually works. Especially in the tech industry.
Every Job, A Tech Job.
In 2021 it's truly impossible to imagine a future where non-tech jobs will exist. As we look forward to the next decade or two, it's really difficult to make a case for the existence of non-tech work as we advance technologically at an unprecedented pace. Every job will be a tech job. 100%. I just had some dental work done a few months ago and the dentist showed me how they use 3D printing among other cutting edge technology. Incredible. Mechanics will need to adapt they way they work too, as more and more electrical cars hit our streets. The mechanics of the future will be more tech savvy than a lot of 20th century engineers. Lawyers are already busy using AI to "memorize" past cases and build legal intelligence in a way that was absolutely not possible before. Teachers, doctors, accountants - you name it. Every job is going to be a tech job.
Once upon a time, reading and writing was not accessible to everyone. You had to be an intellectual to have access to books and to reading and writing skills. We're still struggling as a global society with illiteracy, more so than we'd want to admit. But we've made progress. Reading and writing are commodity skills today. Table stakes. Working with technology is the new reading and writing. Reading and writing code will be commoditized in the next decade. To write code and to read code will be considered table stakes in every possible job - just as reading and writing today. The way we approach tech work, will determine the future of every kind of work. I'm convinced tech work in 2030 will be simply - work. Just like today we don't talk about non-illiterate jobs vs illiterate jobs - we just have jobs, where reading and writing just happens naturally.
Building tech is the new literacy.
So in this new context, what's really the purpose of work?
The Future of (All) Work.
We've messed up the Tech Industry.
If I look back, I realize we made a lot of mistakes. Costly mistakes. The system we've created is broken. The tech industry we built, organically, is patched up like a piece of legacy code that keeps on getting updated, bug-fixed and tweaked over decades. At some point though we will have accumulated so much debt, technically debt, organizational debt and a lot of other unfortunate flavors of debt, that a major overhaul is in order.
That time is now.
I believe it's time we refactor the Tech Industry. It's time. If it wasn't clear by now, it's obvious as of 2021. We're building the wrong kind of world. We didn't set out to build this world. We wanted to make the world better, more human. Yet, we've built ourselves a world that's in grave danger of being dehumanized by the tech fruits of our misguided labour. The amount of depression and technology-related mental health issues is astounding. None of us set out to destroy lives. We wanted to make life better with technology. They way we architect tech products today is scary. We literally have come to a point where we built in tracking algorithms and all kinds of mechanisms that serve no other purpose than to collect information about our behaviour. We know this. Everyone knows this. Yet we keep on doing it and we keep on telling ourselves it's for a good purpose. But it's not. It's not.
So why do we keep on doing it? Why do we keep on working on building the wrong world?
I think it has to do with the fact that the way we actually build technology is not optimized for humans.
We've got the purpose of work backwards.
We've built a machine-centric world for ourselves. Where humans are essentially pushed to the periphery. We're literally excluding humanity from the world we're building and we're prioritizing for systems, for networks, platforms, markets, companies, processes, businesses - anything but humans. We're putting all kinds of machines first. And humans second. Sounds ominous and yes, it is. But how will we ever build a better world unless we debug the current one? It's time we admit our shortcomings and step back and rebuild. But first, let's ask this and make Simon Sinek proud.
Why? Why work?
What is the purpose of work?
Why do we work?
Let's be honest. We work to produce. Work is a means of production. A force applied to resources to produce more resources. We even refer to it that way - workforce. Work as a force, a means of production, is the way we've been accustomed to look at how we spend our entire adult lives. We're all part of some workforce, we're all part of a wave of creative energy utilized to produce.
But something's not right with this way of looking at work.
The problem with looking at work this way - through the lens of production - is that it puts humans second. A human being as resource utilized for the purpose of producing, ends up being a means. Not an end. The problem of using people as a means to an end is that this system opens the door wide open for replacing humans - the workforce - with machines. If that increases production, why not, right? If what we measure is production, if what we're after - the end - is production, then the system will plug in whatever makes that bottom line surge. That's how systems work. Even if that means replacing humans with machines. So be it. Production first.
The productive dimension of work is essential. We have to produce. But focusing on that as the number one priority perpetuates a system that puts humans second. And machines first. It betrays a core value of "humans being more or less like machines". Resources used to produce. And like any good and effective business, the most effective resources will be promoted and the less effective ones will be demoted - or displaced.
In this model then - why work? Well, to increase production.
What if we turned that on its head though? What if humans came first? And production second?
What if turn the answer to the purpose of work on its head. Why work? Why not, to develop the human person? Instead of growing production.
What if we start there? What would the world look like over the next couple of decades if we redefined the purpose of work like that? What would 2031 look like? What would 2041 look like?
What would we look like?
The Carmel Way
Let's find out.
As I celebrate 20 years of my professional career working in the tech industry, I've decided to make a commitment. Here it is. I will spend the next 20 years of my career redefining work in a human-centric way and contributing to building a more human world for ourselves, for our loved ones and for future generations. If I had to give this commitment a name, let it be Carmel.
I'm inviting you today to join me. Let's redefine human work in this machine era, in a new way, in a human-centric way. Together. Let's put our minds and hearts together and redefine work together, the Carmel Way. Can we build a tech industry where human growth comes first and production second?
What would that look like? Would we be worse off?
What do you think?
You know what I think. This is the only way forward o building a world we can all be proud of.
Look. If you're in - join the movement and get involved. This is bigger than any of us. It will take a global village to make this happen. But what choice do we have?
It's time we refactor the tech industry and it will start by redefining tech work itself.
Let's do it.
Fill in this form and let's get to know each other.
We've got so much work to do.