2012 The Year of the Craftsman

I'm calling 2012 the year of the craftsman (or craftswoman!). We're seeing a resurgence of small batch, handmade products in the food industry in particular–with craft beers, small batch coffees, and small organic farms becoming popular. Niche craft items even have their own ecosystem, centering around sites like Etsy.

I was inspired to write this post after reading a Bicycling Magazine article about Campagnolo, an Italian bicycle component manufacturing company that has inspired great loyalty because of their focus on beauty and craftsmanship. Recently, they've lost market share because of rapid technology advancements and offshored development employed by their competition. However, Campagnolo's dedication to their craft is something that people in the business industry are starting to pay more attention to. These experts note that the costs of meeting delays due to time differences, long flights, and additional work to fix quality issues are starting to eat into any cost savings of offshoring.

I see this new emphasis on quality and value happening in the software industry as well. When I started my career as a web developer in the very late 1990's, offshoring software was just starting to become a hugely popular cost savings tactic for large tech companies. I was (and still am) confused as to how this could actually produce a better product. Were these people machines? How could an army of software engineers really get anything done efficiently?

Maybe it's because I started my career in the interactive/digital agency world, but the ability to be a mind reader was an implied part of the job description. As "the expert", web engineers are supposed to read people's minds; when a client says they want a calendar, it is implied that said calendar better include alerts because this is how "they all are". This is unfair to developers because there never has been (nor will there be) a universal anything.

In addition to reading people's minds, software engineers also have the daunting task of predicting the future. You have to be able to anticipate the needs of your client before they even know what it is that they'll be needing.

Which brings me to the crux of my early thoughts on the offshoring dilemma – how can it be possible to read minds and predict the future if you are so far away from the client? By the time a project manager has distilled down the instructions, some meaning has been lost for the people actually doing the work.

Part of "reading minds" and "predicting the future" is really about understanding the cultural context of where you are, right down to the simple nuance of body language exhibited by your clients. Being able to walk across the room to get clarification or hop on a short 2 hour flight to meet with a client are invaluable in the long run.

This phenomena is what craftsman have always known and business experts are just now starting to take notice of. It's great to see this emphasis on quality, not quantity coming back into fashion.