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Joseph Jude
Joseph Jude

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I have seen the future of jobs and it is Hollywood model

This is summary of the post I posted at my blog.

A.R. Rahman and Danny Boyle came together first for the popular movie Slumdog Millionaire. The movie won eight Academy Awards and seven BAFTA awards. Since then they have worked together many times.

As players in Hollywood, Rahman and Danny Boyle don't work for each other. In fact, they don't work for anyone. "They are jobless," says Antonio Paraiso in his Porto Business School lecture discussing the Hollywood model of working. As he explains in his lecture, they have a career, not jobs. They don't work for a company, they work on interesting projects.

In the traditional IT business, companies hire employees for long-term. They may undergo training or work on client projects or stay on "bench" or retrained or asked to leave. It is common to see employees working in the same company for decades. As long as they work in a company, employees work only on projects within the company that employs them.

Future of Jobs

Hollywood flips this model.

No studio employs director or musician or editor on a long-term basis. As Antonio says, those in Hollywood don't have jobs; they work on projects. Studios identify a project and bring together a suitable team for that project. The team works together as long as needed to complete the project—whether it is six months or three years. Members may come and go as needed. Some members may work exclusively on a project; some may work on many projects simultaneously. They work together to create value for themselves and others. Some get paid; some take a share in profit. When that project is completed, they move on. They may or may not work together again.

Governments embrace Hollywood Model for their premier projects

The government of India (GoI) adopted this model for UIDAI project, the largest biometric ID system. Once GoI identified the project, it appointed Nandan Nilekani to head project implementation.

GoI also brought-in Amit Ranjan, co-founder of Slideshare on the same model.

Taavi Kotka was the managing director of the largest software development company in the Baltic region. The government of Estonia appointed him as CIO to architect the popular e-residency program of Estonia.

Time for companies to embrace this model is now

Technology is penetrating into every domain. Newer technologies like blockchain and newer regulations like GDPR are emerging at a pace never seen before. Such changes disrupt but open enormous opportunities. It is not possible for any company to develop necessary talents in-house to exploit these opportunities. Only way companies can thrive is to embrace this Hollywood style of project-based value creation.

What it means for developers

Until now, if you graduated from an engineering college you could get into a software company. Once you got into a company, if you worked hard you had a good chance of growing up in that company.

Not any more.

Dorie Clark is an author of two books on this subject — "Reinventing You" and "Stand Out". She identified three foundational techniques to stand out in a noisy world. She writes in her HBR article:

These are social proof, which gives people a reason to listen to you; content creation, which allows them to evaluate the quality of your ideas; and your network, which allows your ideas to spread.

Your network plays an important role if you want to work in Hollywood model. Who-knows-whom is an important aspect in this model. Still you need to create a portfolio and put it out in public. This in-turn will enlarge your network, as new people will come in contact with your work.

Under the guise of scientific management, holistic expertise degraded into narrow specialization. As the world becomes collaborative, we all should develop inter-disciplinary skills. Specifically, we should become "T" shaped experts — with deep expertise in few areas and basic understanding of other associated areas.

As Robert Heinlein said:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Peter Merel reframed it for developers like this:

A programmer should be able to fix a bug, market an application, maintain a legacy, lead a team, design an architecture, hack a kernel, schedule a project, craft a class, route a network, give a reference, take orders, give orders, use configuration management, prototype, apply patterns, innovate, write documentation, support users, create a cool web-site, email efficiently, resign smoothly. Specialization is for recruiters.

Gospel for some, tragedy for others

Hollywood model won't be a good news for all. History will repeat. Those who can adapt will succeed. Others might pop up in a song.

The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It's simple and it's plain
Why should I complain

Read the full post at my blog

Top comments (8)

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman

I will offer my critique of this idea. I hope you do not mind.

The Hollywood model has existed in tech for a number of years already -- in pretty large numbers -- under a different name: consultants. So why have not already seen the consultant model take completely over?

You first have to compare the nature of Hollywood's products versus software. For a movie, a group of people come together for a while to create something once. And then perhaps without ever touching it again, they (well some of them) get paid residuals for the sheer existence of that static artwork. (I cannot count the number of times I watched The Matrix, but it never changed between viewings.) Whereas art is static, (business) software is living and breathing in parallel with its host business. It either grows/changes as business needs change, or it dies and is replaced.

The main problem with the Hollywood model in this case is one of missing business context. Businesses have a lot of moving/changing parts. It has to be weighed in the cost analysis either a) how much time must be spent to train a consultant on your business + effort to keep them apprised of changes (aka handling scope creep) or b) how much residual work you can afford in order to fix the missed or misunderstood or changed aspects of your business after initial delivery. Whereas when you hire a person full-time, they are continually learning about your business and are sortof "on-call" to correct things they missed the first time or that changed in the meanwhile. At the end of the day this missing context has to be factored into the cost of the Hollywood model. Then the business can determine whether the Hollywood model or just hiring employees is the best overall value. As is normal, the correct answer will highly depend on the situation.

You do rightly point out that sometimes a company does not have the in-house expertise they need, nor the time to train for it. That is a perfect fit for a consultant. And it is already quite common for companies to retain both employees and consultants.

Lastly I will say that a good team has a "greater than the sum of its parts" quality. This is very difficult to cultivate at all, much less in a group of freelancers. You can actually observe it over and over in Hollywood TV series (that make it)... the first season is ok but they "really hit their stride in season 2," as reviewers often say. Because cultivating a well-oiled machine usually takes a lot of time working together.

I have been both an employee and a consultant during my career. Both are good (and bad) in their own way. That will naturally lead people to prefer one over the other. Especially in software right now, I'm sure there is room for both.

jjude profile image
Joseph Jude

Thank you for taking time to comment. Comments in this forum educate me (I use a consume-produce-engage model for learning. If you are interested refer this post).

Like you, I have been a consultant and an employee. I have been a consultant (contractor) at lower levels (developer) and as a CTO.

I'm not defining a future that I wish to have. I observed around and I'm just documenting what I see around. The future seems to go in this path. I'm saying, if this is the future then this is how developers should prepare for it.

Earlier consultants were not hired at the top level. Those who were called as consultants were simply contractors (who worked at one job and not really considered as experts. They were commodities). Recently, I am observing there is a need to hire at the top level because of changing business realities. They are not constrained to work only at one job.

You make a valid about with making Matrix. I differ slightly. AFTER the movie is made there is no change. But conception and production has many moving parts. Movie makers go through that change too -- script changes, actors changes and so on. Business find ways to handle those changes.

Thank you again for comment. Hope this engagement is mutually beneficial.

craser profile image
Chris Raser • Edited

This is well-researched and expressed, and I generally agree. I think it's going to be more and more common for groups of programmers to break off into small consulting shops, or go freelance. (It's already happening. Several companies I've worked for have small in-house teams for day-to-day maintenance and new features, and hire larger teams of outside devs to help with bigger projects.)

But my dad worked in TV for nearly his whole life, and I got an inside look at what it really means to live and build a career within the "Hollywood model." It's... not all rainbows.

The Hollywood model (and it's attendant oddities) arose not from a pursuit of efficiency, but because of a massive power imbalance between production studios and the crews they employed. The trade unions (SAG, DGA, AFTRA, etc.) formed to (try to) correct some of this imbalance and give the crew members a fair shot at getting paid what they're worth. When you say the "Winner takes all", the winner in the Hollywood model isn't the guy sweating in the sun holding a boom mic. It's the studio. Always.

In the Hollywood model, each "expert" in this loosely coupled network of specialists must devote a significant portion of their time and attention to finding their next gig. Most in the industry form informal crews who move together from project to project, and that helps, but there's usually a designated "Producer" who the group relies on for finding work.

Literally everyone I've met in the industry (and my dad worked in TV for decades, so I've met plenty) has had dry spells between projects, lasting anywhere from a few months to a few years. They end up waiting tables, hanging drywall, selling their homes, or getting by on their spouse's paycheck. The swings in Hollywood are hard on the bank accounts, marriages, and health of the people who work there.

I think of this as a corollary to Conway's Law. The employment patterns in an industry reflect the power structures of that industry. And the Hollywood gig model reflects the power of the studios. Unstable, decentralized employment is a response to stable, centralized economic power.

I love the idea of working for a small consulting firm, and being able to specialize in the things I really love to do. But we as an industry should be very, very careful about what other industries we model ourselves on.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Super well-described. This is a great example to point to. Some go really extreme on the gig economy mindset, and this outlook is a bit more grounded.

Gospel for some, tragedy for others

Ain't that the truth. I hope we wind up with a diverse set of options. A menu to pick from.

jfrankcarr profile image
Frank Carr

So, are software developers going to be like actors/musicians/gaffers/etc between jobs, waiting tables at a local bistro? I guess restaurant owners will appreciate having someone around who knows how to reboot the POS system and create new menus in PowerPoint.

I agree with the "specialization is for insects" idea but that doesn't seem to be borne out in the current job market. Most employers are looking for highly specific skill sets and using software to screen out resumes from anyone without those tight requirements. Interviews, if you get one, are usually focused on narrow language/framework trivia rather than concepts and previous project results.

Connections are important but maintaining them can be difficult for the typical introverted programmer. Given that bridges are often burnt both ways (example: security escorting the 'shamed' out the door) when departing a job and the paranoia of lawsuit prevention restrictive covenants, connections with previous jobs is also difficult in some cases.

jjude profile image
Joseph Jude

Software developers are already doing "waiting tables" jobs. It is called low paying IT jobs until I launch my own products or go for higher studies. Patrick (well know as patio11 and has described his initial jobs. He would work late into night, check into his rooms, develop his software. He launched the software. Ran a successful firm. One thing led to another and now he is in Stripe.

I'm generalizing here and quoting a well known example. I'm sure there are plenty of others who didn't succeed developing their own product (looking at myself). But the trend is becoming more and more common.

When I started development, a developer was expected to code db, server side, and front-end. And communicate with clients about the benefits. We started specializing and now we have bootstrap experts who can't figure out server side code even if it is in node.js. Am I talking about developers becoming experts in, say, medical science? No (well, unless they are working in healthcare). But a software developer should understand all layers of software architecture (UI, API, db ...) and do decent job in all layers, if needed.

From my own experience and from the examples I quoted, I definitely see a trend towards collaborative solution creation crossing the borders of corporate entities. The term Hollywood model might have anchored the debate on a different side than intended, but I don't know of any other metaphor which is closer to this point.

markszymik profile image
Mark Szymik

No, it's not. You got this wrong. Sorry.

jjude profile image
Joseph Jude

Mark: I quoted examples in the article (the full one in my site). Can you please tell me why you think I got this wrong?

From your perspective, what will be the future of jobs? Is it continuing to be corporate style jobs?

I'm asking genuinely, because that is how I learn. I am keen to know your perspective.