Dan Pink’s recent quote of the day asked, “Have your skills become commodities?” Dan quoted Catherine L. Mann from a New York Times article, where Catherine observed, “C++ is now an international language. If that’s all you know, then you’re competing with people in India or China who will do the work for less.”
I agree with Catherine, if C++ is all that you know, then you have a problem in the making, and your skill – understanding a programming language – will rightly be perceived as a commodity skill. To be perceived as more than a commodity worker you need to move beyond coding skills. You need to be able to design and architect software. You need to be able to collaborate effectively with other people. You need to contribute to solving those difficult problems that can’t be completely specified in advance.
I’ve been concerned about the commoditizing of white-collar work like software development for while. In my post, Is Commoditized White-Collar Work on the Horizon? I referenced the book The Numerati by Stephen Baker, and how there is a movement to turn white-collar work into numbers with the goal of “optimizing productivity.” Unfortunately, this optimization is all about keeping those defined as commodity workers laboring as close to 100% as possible, making it impossible to generate the creativity and innovation that companies claim they desire.
Commoditization is all about keeping white-collar work in the mold of factory work, or at least duplicating the factory model as much as possible. I explored this topic (referencing Dan Pink, Micheal Lopp, and Seth Godin) in my post, Are You a White-Collar Factory Worker?
In the final analysis, you definitely don’t want to be viewed as a commodity worker whose work is indistinguishable from that of someone else; chances are, those skills can be easily and cheaply obtained elsewhere. Be a difference-maker and tackle the difficult problems. And don’t let the fear of failure get in your way.