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Unmarketable Innovators?

Posted by rsmudge on October 8, 2008 at 10:35 AM PDT

I have a friend. He wrote his own programming language. Then he proceeded to embed said language into his own webserver. He found someone crazy enough to host his mishmash. Now he does all types of server side application development in this stack he cobbled together.

I know building things to understand them motivates my friend. In fact, I think his motto is "certum quod factum". We believe it, if we build it. Except this friend gets very invested into his tools. Its understandable isn't it? If you build something you have to eat your own dog food for awhile. Then, oh then, :) you start to like the dog food. It tastes so yummy.

That is what has happened to my friend. He built his entire stack and he is very productive with it. He explains that most common stacks are unnecessarily complex (although much less work than inventing a new one from the ground up!) and so he is unwilling to switch.

I worry for my friend. Isn't he hurting his marketability? There aren't many jobs advertising "We need a developer familiar with Bob's Stack". Of course Bob could open source his stack, market it a little, and if it survives peer review maybe he'll become a rockstar. (I prefer ninjas).

I'm directing this at the Bob's out there. Do you ever experience an unmarketable innovator's dilemma? Is the unmarketable innovator a myth? Does your proven ability to take things apart show you could learn anything you needed to? Or are you doomed to keep hacking, waiting for the day you can market your brand of dog food?

I suspect my friend doesn't really care. He just loves learning.

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He/She cannot be so unremarkable or else you won't write about him. I know that the age of a programmer sitting in a dark basement producing code that earns him millions are long gone, but why deride the activity of someone so devoted to something he likes? People write bad poetry, hunt innocent animals and eat them, rap about gangsters, vote republicans to high office , etc. so his activity seems to be quite benign.

As long as his skills translate to tools and techniques that are actually used in companies he's marketable.

If however he's so narrowly focussed on his own toys that he can't work with anything else (the traditional one-trick horse) he's in trouble.

It depends on your friend's motivations and goals. If his motivation is money and his goals are to have a stable job and well-rounded life, then I'd be worried for him. If his motivation is developing cool technology and his goals are to spend as much time as possible working on his code and he's making enough to pay his bills, then what's to worry about? Marketability is only a concern when you want to sell something. If your buddy is doing what he loves, he's a wealthier man than most.