Engineers aren’t winning tech battles anymore

John Shinal in CIO Today makes the interesting argument that engineers, once viewed with “an almost mythic reverence” for their technological and coding skills, are losing clout at technology companies because the biggest battles are being won by the marketing and legal departments.

He backs up the assertion with a few examples of how Apple Inc. has strong-armed its way to a lead in the mobile market. For example, it took only a few lines of code for Apple to make its own mapping app the default on its iconic mobile smart phone, which has turned the mobile mapping software market on its head; 71 per cent of U.K. mobile users opted for Google Maps last fall, whereas in 2013, 60 per cent were Apple map users. (This despite well-publicized glitches in the software that turned the Manhattan Bridge into a roller coaster and placed a Burger King in a cathedral.)

He also cites several examples of situations where lawyers won the day (Apple versus Samsung) and wins and losses in the boardroom rather than by the engineers.

There’s an argument to be made that intellectual property rights litigation has become a major tech growth industry. We have our own examples in Canada, including i4i’s courtroom whupping of Microsoft over XML technologies and the “Rockstar Consortium” wrangling over $4.5 billion in Nortel Networks intellectual property. And on the marketing side, Apple’s buzz management within its built-in fanboi base made a huge contribution to the success of the iPhone and the iPad.

But it wasn’t buzz that made the iPhone an icon. The design and engineering was the steak to marketing’s sizzle. If Apple engineers had come up with just another smart phone (especially given it was a time with smart phones were generally awful), we’d be talking about just another MP3 player manufacturer.

And given the complexity of the infrastructure behind the mobile and social revolutions, I’d argue the role of the engineer is more relevant than ever. I think most tech companies get that; Cisco, for example, will hire up to 1,700 R&D workers in Ontario alone in the next six years. That doesn’t soun d like doubling down on marketing.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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