Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Big Idea: The Age of Hyperspecialization - Harvard Business Review

The Big Idea: The Age of Hyperspecialization - Harvard Business Review

Just as people in the early days of industrialization saw single jobs (such as a pin maker’s) transformed into many jobs (Adam Smith observed 18 separate steps in a pin factory), we will now see knowledge-worker jobs—salesperson, secretary, engineer—atomize into complex networks of people all over the world performing highly specialized tasks. Even job titles of recent vintage will soon strike us as quaint. “Software developer,” for example, already obscures the reality that often in a software project, different specialists are responsible for design, coding, and testing. And that is the simplest scenario. When TopCoder, a start-up software firm based in Connecticut, gets involved, the same software may be touched by dozens of contributors.

An Iv-B economy grows much finer roots and branches of specialization, it is also much more vulnerable to booms and busts.
TopCoder chops its clients’ IT projects into bite-size chunks and offers them up to its worldwide community of freelance developers as competitive challenges (opening the possibility of becoming a “top coder”). For instance, a project might begin with a contest to generate the best new software-product idea. A second contest might provide a high-level description of the project’s goals and challenge developers to create the document that best translates them into detailed system requirements. (TopCoder hosts a web forum that allows developers to query the client for more details, and all those questions and answers become visible to all competitors.) The winning specifications document might become the basis for the next contest, in which other developers compete to design the system’s architecture, specifying the required pieces of software and the connections among them. Further contests are launched to develop each of the pieces separately and then to integrate them into a working whole. Finally, still other programmers compete to find and correct bugs in the sundry parts of the system.

At each point people compete in Iv-B rather than cooperate together, the system then buids a high momentum towards prodct innovation that can hit a ceiling and collapse if the market falters. 

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