[NEW: Many readers have criticized this post, interpreting it as offensive or dismissive for the developer category. I wanted to assure readers that the tone of this post was not meant to be offensive but rather humorous. The tone was deliberately chosen to challenge the certainties expressed in Clay Johnson’s post, which sounded equally dismissive of other categories that are better represented at the Congress. It is a pity it turned into a more ponderous discussion, although this has been useful and revealing of attitudes and stereotypes]
The day before yesterday I read a blog post from Clay Johnson encouraging software developers to run for Congress. He gives five reasons for his position.
First, developers are under-represented as a profession: there are more programmers than lawyers, but the latter hold over 40% of the seats. Clay admits that
one might make the case that Lawyers are better equipped at writing laws and programmers are better equipped at writing code
but also adds
I’m not so sure that the founders set up the House of Representatives to work that way. I think developers may write more rational public laws than lawyers do and developers are certainly better public communicators than lawyers are.
Developers would be better communicators? This is quite laughable. Good programmers are often shy, self centered, geeky. I can’t see how they could be particularly skilled to communicate complex political platforms.
A few developers in Congress could reign in the spending and help their peer representatives appropriate better. If a revitalization of Government technology is going to happen smartly and wisely, we need some developers inside Congress to help lead the way.
Well, I would have thought that developers might be needed to advise Congressmen, but not necessarily sit in the Congress to do so. I can hardly imagine a Congressional debate on whether to use .Net or Java to implement a mandate.
Third, great developers are systems fixers and systems hackers. Clay says:
There is no system more ripe for elegant process hacks than the United States House of Representatives. Put a developer in Congress, and they’ll start exposing data on their own. They’ll build systems to make it so they can hear from their constituents better. .. A developer in Congress will seek to use new technology to make their job easier. That’s what hackers do.
I can’s wait to see a congressman furiously typing on his laptop to hack the workflow management system or hacking into the text of a bill to change it at will.
Fourth, web-native developers hire other developers. This implies that
A developer who is elected a member of Congress that’s a true developer will likely be smart and hire a developer or two as staff. … A few of them working inside Congress — with a Member of Congress who is also a developer — can start bridging the gap between citizens and their government in new ways.
Again, Clay seems to confuse the role of a Congressman who can use the expertise of developers, and the ability of a developer to act as a representative of a given constituency.
The last point that Clay makes is that
Developers are great digital communicators. They’re great at using the medium to connect directly with people in ways that others cannot. They can build their own tools to connect with people, too. With a Developer who understands the guts of the web in a leadership spot inside Congress, Congress can start communicating more effectively online.
I am not totally sure that a web developer is necessarily a great communicator. On the contrary, developers tend to (indeed) develop rather than use somebody else’s technology. Isn’t the not-invented-here-syndrome something that developers are usually affected from?
So my bottom line is that developers have the right to be elected to Congress, like pretty much anybody else, but I am no sure they are a better fit than anybody else for that role.
I do really hope that Clay’s post was meant to be humorous. If not, we should start paying attention to a new breed of technocrats that has coalesced around the Obama administration, ill-advising about the unlimited power of web 2.0, fantasizing that government would be something else than an organization that develops and implements policies and provides services.
Championing transparency and participation and illustrating the endless possibilities of technology is a good thing. Believing that the ability to write an iPhone app or develop a web sites makes us better candidates than – say – lawyers or political scientists to represent a group of citizens in one of the most revered democratic institutions in the world is less so.