The Code Issue

What Is Code?

You’ve got to read it.

I famously said I’d buy a computer when you could talk to it. This was after trying to do a sociology project via the Dartmouth computer from a terminal at Middlebury back in ’73. Dartmouth was famous for its bleeding edge computer but I couldn’t get it to work, and I punted on computers until 1986, when I bought my Mac Plus to start my newsletter.

That’s right. I ignored the Apple II. I never read an article about Steve Jobs. I knew his company went public and everybody got rich but it was just too complicated.

And then it wasn’t.

First there was the GUI of the Mac.

GUI stands for Graphical User Interface. Which few now know, because it’s so embedded in computer culture. But to make it simple, the GUI of the Mac resembled a desktop, which you could navigate via mouse, and the world was revolutionized, especially when Microsoft caught up with Windows 95.

Then came AOL and even grandmothers had computers, everybody wanted to communicate.

And communicate we do, via our computers, tablets and smartphones. But how does this happen? What makes it all run? You don’t need to know, just like you don’t need to know how your car works, but there’s a new dividing line between those who do and those who don’t.

And those who don’t are being left behind.

There’s too much hype about finance and tech.

Finance, because that’s where the money is. Those guys on Wall Street are close to it, they’re touching it. But it’s a soulless endeavor. Rather than building things like their predecessors, today’s financial titans just make money from money. But the best way to do this is via tech. You may have read Tom Wolfe’s book about the Masters of the Universe. They’re history, they’ve been set out to pasture by the techies writing algorithms.

And then there’s Silicon Valley. We all hear how much money is to be made there. You can go from nowhere to somewhere seemingly overnight, like a rock star of yore. But what is never mentioned is that these enterprises run on code. And sure, ideas rule. He who comes up with the concept wins. But he who doesn’t know how to code loses. Because he can’t talk to the programmers doing the work. And the programmers will have contempt for him. And programming is a walk into the wilderness that can burn money faster than a director on a film set.

This is why Jimmy Iovine is screwed.

As am I.

Jimmy thinks it’s about relationships. That you can fake your way into the center and then steer people where you want them to go, extracting cash along the way. But in tech, you either win or you lose, you don’t make money unless you’re victorious, and just like music is the determining factor in an artist’s career, code is the essence of tech.

I feel like the train left the station while I wasn’t even looking.

I grew up in the sixties. When culture ruled. Arts won. Hell, Steve Jobs lionized Bob Dylan.

But those days are through, for now, because all the smart people have abandoned the arts. They’re learning how to code. They’re desirous of changing the world, something musicians did, before they whored themselves out to corporations and kissed the asses of third world dictators for a paycheck.

It’s deeper than tech running the culture. Tech is pulling away from the rest of America! Delivering goodies while it leaves old businesses in its wake and makes the proprietors ever richer. This is the story of Amazon. This is the story of Uber. This is the story of Spotify.

Spotify is written in Python.

Now I’ve heard of that. But until I read this article I didn’t know the difference between it and Ruby, never mind C or C++ or Java.

That’s right, Daniel Ek is not winning because of his idea, every week people e-mail me the same idea, really. Ek is winning because he knows how to code.

And coding is both easy and hard.

The barrier to entry is not unscalable, but it requires much more effort than posting a YouTube clip or uploading your music to iTunes.

And people are afraid of hard work. Which is why they’re being left behind.

I don’t have the cure for income inequality.

But I do know if I was twenty two today, I wouldn’t go to Hollywood, I’d go to Silicon Valley.

And I also know I wouldn’t major in art, I’d learn how to code. Just like I learned so much about the recording studio, just like I learned so much about music business infrastructure, I can now see the future is not there. Am I too old to change?

I can read this article. I can understand it. Well, most of it.

And I don’t think it would be a good use of my time to go to a coding academy today. Although Ivy League graduates are going in droves. Because they can’t get jobs and if you know how to code, you can. Work, that is. But the schools are nearly 24/7 and they kick you out if you don’t keep up. They’re the opposite of our coddled society. That’s right, you’re dressing up little Johnny and Josie like a gangster or a ho thinking fashion rules but the truth is you’d be better off putting them in a uniform and getting them to learn how the world works. Which is on code.

And the truth is there are few women.

And code without culture is death.

But baby boomers have no idea what’s going on. And right now, baby boomers run the old world. From the government to the entertainment business. Which is why young techies got Obama elected when Romney was sure he was gonna win and the internet has eaten the music business’s lunch.

We need tools people! We need building blocks!

We’ve got room for great musicians, great thinkers, great analyzers, but only a few. The rest of you…boo-hoo. You can post on your Facebook page, you can post snaps to Instagram, you can tweet a hundred thousand times, but you’re losing and don’t even know it.

Our whole world has changed. And I only just learned it.

I’ll make it simple. I get e-mail from rock stars all day long. I know who they are. It feels good.

But then I’m reading this article and they mention that WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg is backing NPM, which is short for Node Package Manager, and my eyes bug out… HE E-MAILED ME! I didn’t believe he was telling me the truth! I didn’t think he really started WordPress.

Yes, I could have Googled him. But if I Googled everybody who wrote me, I wouldn’t have time to write.

And Mullenweg reached out to do me a favor, unsolicited, he offered to help me with my WordPress site. I’m so inured to entertainment culture I figured he had to be a nobody. Because access is everything, and you can’t get access in Hollywood unless you’re somebody, and somebodies don’t e-mail nobodies.

But in Silicon Valley they do. It’s a fluid culture. It’s THE culture!

This article is imperfect. It will leave you with  more questions than answers. But it’s written in a breezy style and if you’re over forty and you don’t read this the joke is on you.

Because everybody younger knows the world has changed.

And either they know how to code or they don’t.

And those who do know code is the building block to success.

Your move.

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  1. […] The Code Issue Bob Lefsetz describes why and how code and coders take over the world and culture. […]

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  3. […] 551. Bob Lefsetz’ article on code struck a chord (struck a code?). Code is everywhere in our lives and most of us are at the mercy of […]

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