The cut-throat developers coming for you

Let’s talk competition.

This follows on from my post from yesterday, but there are two big trends, in my mind, that are ramping up the competition you’re going to face as a developer. And, it’s only gonna get worse.

First, is this the flip-side of what we talked about yesterday.

All the new technologies.

All the new languages.

All the new frameworks.

By the time you get one thing figured out, there’s three more new ones to learn. When you’re in this industry, it can be overwhelming, frustrating and a little bit scary. That’s one way to look at it.

But, from the outside.

When you’re trying to get in.

All these things are making “being a developer” easier to get into.

They’re lowing the barrier to entry.

The more that happens, the more people will get into it…

And, the more competition you’ll face.

The second is a function of how economies work. Back in 1870, 50% of the U.S. workforce was employed in agriculture. Today, it’s 2%. By 1910, 32% of the workforce was in manufacturing. Today its’ 9%.

Where are all those workers going?

I’ll give you eight guesses… but I think you’ll only need one.

But, here’s the thing that’s not so obvious. 

In 1860, there were only about 2 million farms in the United States. And, that number had steadily grown through the 1800s. But, suddenly, from 1860 to 1905, that number tripled to 6 million.

A massive explosion of the industry.

Same thing happened in manufacturing.

In 1940, there were less than 10 million people employed in manufacturing in the U.S. By 1979, that number was almost 20 million. 

So, what about tech?

There’s yet to be that kind of employment explosion.

Even during the dot-com bubble, only 4% of the population was in tech.

Today, it’s 3.9%.

But, I think that’s going to change.

You only need take a quick look at what’s happening in the world. How computers are being injected into every thing we do. From phones, to TVs, refrigerators… hell, even “smart” toasters.

The future is a tech future.

This is why I tend to roll my eyes when I hear all this “koombaya”, community of developers stuff. Yay. It sounds good. But, at the end of the day, this industry is a competition.

And, a cut-throat one at that.

No developer is going to say, “Oh, ya know, I got that last client, you go ahead and take this one.” Or, “I landed that last job, why don’t you get this one.” Ain’t gonna happen.

You have to compete.

And, you have to compete and win.

Now, I think there are three things you need to do that.

The first is the obvious: talent. Skills matter. The second has historically been less obvious, but I’ve talked about it so much and it’s become more accepted that I won’t spend much time on it.

That is marketability.

The last one, though, I don’t think gets talked about much.

Which is adaptability.

In an environment of rapid and constant change, the people who can read that landscape, quickly identify what’s important and adapt themselves to it… those are the people who’ll win.

And, it’s not just about intelligence.

I was watching this documentary the other day. It was about the transition from Neanderthal man to homo-sapiens. And, they said a lot people believe Neanderthals were just dumber than homo-sapiens.

And, that’s why we survived and they didn’t.

But, that’s a misnomer.

Actually, all the archaeological evidence points toward Neanderthals have larger brains than homo-sapiens. And, in an evolutionary sense, a larger brain means a smarter animal.

So, Neanderthals were probably smarter than homo-sapiens.

But, Neanderthals had wide, fat tongues that sat further back in their throats. So, they were only capable of a handful of sounds — 14 or so. Whereas, homo-sapiens have thinner, narrower tongues.

And, are capable of dozens, if not hundreds, of different sounds.

Which enabled us to develop more sophisticated language.

And, communicate better.

That’s why we “out-competed” the Neanderthals.

So, it’s not just about intelligence.

In our industry, I believe the ability to adapt is linked inextricably to learning. The quicker you can learn, the better you are at teaching yourself, the more effectively you can adapt to this environment.

And so, it’s about making a serious commitment to education.

Now, a lot people when they hear that will say, “No kidding!” Brilliant insight there, John. But, this is where I want to challenge you a bit.


Knowing is one thing… doing is a whole other.

I’ll use myself as an example.

I spend about $200/month on education and training. That’s a bare minimum, consistent, month in and month out commitment. And, of that $200, $100 of it goes toward one thing.

A print newsletter.

Wait, what?

“You’re a web developer and you spend $200/month on a print newsletter?”

“Are you stupid?”

But, that print newsletter has easily been worth 10-20 times what I pay for it. I can track it explicitly to before the newsletter and after the newsletter. So, the ROI is clear to me.

And, I’d happily increase that $200, if necessary, in the future. 

So, again, it’s one thing to know.

It’s a whole other to do.

And, I believe it’s those who make that serious, consistent commitment to their own education… those what actually do it, not just talk about… that will survive the coming explosion of competition we’re gonna see.

Now, one of the things I’ve done to help is to create a free tutorial site, at I took lessons from some of my most popular courses and put them over there…

Completely free.

It’s a good way to get started with that commitment.

But, whatever it is you do…

Do something.

Make some kind of commitment.

No matter how small.

Because, that’s what  will mark the difference between the winners and losers in the disruption that’s coming to our industry — and will allow you to compete and win.



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John Morris


I’m a 15-year veteran of freelance web development. I’ve worked with bestselling authors and average Joe’s next door. These days, I focus on helping other freelancers build their freelance business and their lifestyles.

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