So when in Rome (or in my case Palo Alto), I decided to go to the Churchill Club’s 15th Annual Top 10 Tech Trends event last week. What I didn’t realize I was in store for was a panel of five esteemed VCs arguing the next biggest technology trends set to take off for the next five years. “To be a good investor you must be contrarian and right” pointed out Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and these VCs were certainly proven as being good investors. Perhaps these are ordinary run of the mill VCs for Silicon Valley, but I must admit I was a bit star struck at their investment CVs consisting of not only great educational backgrounds (although these Stanford and Harvard diplomas were later argued as archaic, more to come on this later) but also right investments in a heap of startups including some recognizable household names such as Hotmail, LinkedIn, OpenTable, and Zappos.com just to name a few. So with this knowledgeable panel in place the debates began.
While some trends that were highlighted (read the Forbes article here) I had felt were already commonplace (and therefore not trends) like technology giving individuals power over large organizations or the fact that we are living in a ‘right now’ economy (I work for a big data company – we’ve realized this for quite a while now), there were a couple of trends I wouldn’t mind discussing with this blog and one that was not on the list but worth mentioning that I feel warrants more discussion.
The first trend I alluded to before is perhaps one of the more controversial ones for people like me with degrees from prestigious institutions (not to toot my own horn, OK maybe a little). The VCs also had mixed feelings about the following trend forecasted: academic institutional degrees will become a thing of the past, and technical certifications will become the new norm. Take software development. It was reasoned that it’s not about what you have studied but your ability to perform the task which is more easily determined through tools like GitHub (i.e. through the lines of code you have submitted) or LinkedIn (i.e. what products you have worked on that has shipped). I would argue that University institutions do not exist to give you on-the-job training but rather the necessary foundational knowledge to learn or apply yourself to a job (like critical thinking). Some of the best interns I have had in software development come from very different academic backgrounds like mechatronics engineering or fine arts, not because they knew what to do day 1 when they started, but because they could learn very quickly and bring new perspectives and ideas to their tasks that weren’t expected (innovation much?). So while this may be a trend I don’t think it will be sustainable. Who wants code monkies? </end rant>
The second trend I thought that was rather insightful (and the audience thought so too as it was the number one trend of the evening) was this idea of machine learning. One VC argued that it wasn’t just about big data, it was also about the machine’s ability to take this big data and process it beyond human comprehension. Essentially it was argued that this is what Google does really really well. A great example that came to my mind was Google’s translation services based on a learning algorithm (my assumption) and a repository of past translated works. Even though the translations that come out aren’t perfect, they are good enough to understand the material of the initial message and as was pointed out, the services will learn and get better over time on its own.
Finally the unmentioned trend that I think should have made the list but didn’t (perhaps because it’s already last year in Silicon Valley) is the collaborative consumption trend. Think one asset with many people consuming it, like the Zipcar or Airbnb. The availability of technology has created this disruptive business model and I think it’s one that we as enterprise software makers need to be watching closer. SAP’s cloud offerings are definitely a step in this direction, and I would suspect that as we advance, along with our competition, we will start to see interesting co-opetition business models also advance. How many times have we heard content is King? What about pay-as-you-access content for just-in-time business process transactions? I guess time will only tell.
PS – Also a small shout-out to Waterloo. The last trend mentioned was wearable phones and Pebble was specifically mentioned (another Waterloo startup) that apparently garnered some attention from Charles River Ventures. YEAH!
PPS – Thanks Ben Boeser for introducing me to the Code Monkey song.