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Wasted Energy

by Douglas E. Welch

October 22, 1999

© 1999, Douglas E. Welch

There is no denying that the past several years have been very good for technology companies and most technology workers. The blistering pace of innovation and the creation of new companies has led to unprecedented opportunities for many people. However, looking back on these same years I find myself wondering if we haven't missed one important aspect of this entire upswing. While I have seen great things come from technology companies and their employees I have also seen a great amount of waste. Wasted time; wasted energy and wasted talent.

A new company every minute

As we all are aware, never before have there been so many people abandoning the typical corporate workplace for life on their own. Whether this is an individual deciding to work for themselves or a small band of entrepreneurs forming a startup, the country is flooded with small business as never before. Along with this increase in startups is a corresponding increase in failures. Never before has so much time and talent been thrown at projects only to have them come to naught. Never before have so many people slaved so hard for so little.

Wasted effort has always been one of my pet peeves and is just one reason why I don't do web development for anyone but myself anymore. I produced too many detailed presentations and mockups that never did anything more than take up space on my hard drive. It is very disheartening for anyone to toil over a project only to have it killed or worse, ignored. Due to my own experience I have begun to wonder just how much damage this has done to people who are caught in the endless cycle of one startup company after another.

What have we done?

I believe this constant industry treadmill has an underlying effect of which we should be aware. Think of all the technology projects you personally know of or have worked on. Now consider the number of those projects that never saw the light of day. Now consider how many hours were spent on each project. How many of those hours would have been better spent elsewhere?

For years the business mantra has been to "worker smarter, not harder", but this seems to have been ignored in the Internet world. Instead, startup companies generate project after project, service after service, throw them all against the wall and pray that something sticks. I find this a waste of time, energy, money and, above all, people. Isn't it about time we gained a little more respect for people's time?

The major problem that arises from the current job situation is that of burnout. How many people can take disappointment after disappointment before they decide to remove both themselves and their talents from the marketplace? People only have a certain amount of love and energy that can be poured into the latest greatest project. If it is used up on poorly planned and poorly designed ideas we have all lost something extremely important. Companies cannot continue to use up people's talent. Eventually we will run out of other's to take their place.

What could we do?

Watching projects such as these makes me wonder what could have been. What new technologies and services might have been developed if so much time and energy wasn't wasted on failed projects and incremental improvements to existing technology? Once again we need to fall back on a popular business concept, faster failure. Too often, the sheer will of developers cause them to pour more time and energy into a project even though it has significant flaws. All I ask is that companies treat projects realistically. We all need to learn to objectively analyze our projects and make better decisions about which to continue and which to halt.

The people are out there

There is an ongoing discussion in technology circles about the lack of technical talent. My own experience makes me wonder, though, if the talent is not available or merely tied up in projects that will never come to fruition. How many programmers and web designers at this very moment are devoted to projects that will disappear without anyone ever hearing about them? If companies were more selective of their projects there would be plenty of talent available. Instead they squander the talented people they have.

Instead of generating endless projects that go nowhere, it is time to judge the merits of each project. Companies should continue to develop all the ideas they can, but fewer of these projects should be implemented. There is plenty of talent available for every technology company that wants it, as long as we stop wasting the talent we have.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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