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  • Writer's pictureTim Burns

Post-pandemic is a Golden Age for Developers

Updated: May 12


The author completed a Coursera course on AI while waiting for his laundry.


I spent the bulk of my career at a company called “Retail Solutions.” Shortly after moving to Providence, sight unseen, I joined in 2001 after interviewing at a converted doctor’s office in Lincoln, RI. It was a small startup. They had received a couple million dollars from CVS. They had hired a COO from a greeting card company. A troubled but prolific developer had created the entire stack: An Oracle database with a Kimball-style star schema on Stores and Items, a reporting website based on some technology long since dead, and a machine room just off a loading dock. Sadly, the same developer died in a head-on car accident with an oil truck while heavily intoxicated, and three developers inherited the stack. I was one of them.


The stack was based on an Oracle Kimball model with Stores and Items. The primary language was Delphi, and the primary environment was Windows NT. I liked Oracle but hated Delphi and NT, and I made it my mission to convert everything to Java and Struts, which I did, and it was a struggle amid pushback from my colleagues. At that time, the pushback on innovation was intense. The culture of software design had not percolated outside innovation hubs like San Jose, New York, and Boston. It certainly had not percolated to Lincoln, Rhode Island.


Retail Solutions had several developers salvaged from the Dot com bubble crash of 2000. I was one, and I had entrepreneurial dreams: I studied Wikis, the teachings of “Uncle Bob,” and devoured the design pattern books like Gang-of-Four. Despite the pushback, I managed to keep my job as I steadily converted a Delphi mess to Java and Struts. I made it until Verisign acquired us in 2005, and I got my first real taste of working for an actual technology company. Verisign sold us again in 2008 to T3I out of Mountain View, California. The Silicon Valley link was initially exciting, but the company never had an innovation mindset and stagnated, as did my skills until 2018, when I left.


RSI was run entirely by risk-averse leaders who focused on stabilizing the data platform. Company direction came entirely from those able to work office politics and improve their titles by building job security walls rather than new products. I was a part of that machine. In retrospect, I’m embarrassed by the effort I put into building Sharepoint apps for a pointless UI simply because I was laughing all the way to the bank.


All the effort was focused on building operational tools, and the company was essentially a data clearing house. The same Oracle data warehouse is probably still providing store sales using the same Delphi code I could never replace. A company like that cannot survive in the modern market, and it has been sliced and diced a few times and is now a part of a company called Circana. I suspect the few folks still left are still doing the same data work they did twenty years ago.


Fast forward to the present. It’s post-pandemic, and a developer like myself can work remotely anywhere. I’m not constrained to work in Lincoln, Rhode Island. I work for a very innovative vacation rental company based in Denver, Colorado. A new generation of technical leaders from companies like Uber and Netflix are in positions of real power to guide business direction. The focus has shifted from pleasing every single customer to one where failing fast and moving forward is the norm, so product managers are always coming up with exciting projects to build. Good developers are in high demand. Power players who mastered office politics have no office to work in anymore. It’s the best time ever to be a developer.


The Rawah Range


Add the corporate culture changes to how we learn things, giving developers who love to stretch their skills and build new things an entirely new angle. I can learn anything on Coursera or half a dozen similar learning platforms. The content is excellent, and the interface is straightforward. I have AI assistants to consult as I write code. They hallucinate, choose bad libraries, and sometimes miss the point entirely, but they give me an edge I’ve never had before when writing code.

Beyond the fantastic knowledge resources, remote working policies and cellular networks have opened up in nearly every location as a place where we can work. I’m writing this article in Gould, Colorado, west of Fort Collins, about 100 miles away. It’s about 8900 feet between the Never Summer Mountain range and the Rawah mountains. The fact that I can spend Saturday learning, Sunday writing, and the rest of my week doing my regular job is something of my wildest dreams twenty years ago when I sat on my porch and resolved that one day, I would work from my cabin.



The Never Summer Range


So here I am in a world that rewards risk-takers and knowledge-seekers, no matter where they live. The most innovative companies realized that remote work allows them to hire the best, regardless of location. I can live my daily life in Providence, Rhode Island — hardly a tech hub — and spend extended time working remotely from my beautiful cabin in the mountains of Colorado. What a time to be alive!


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