Gone are the days when programmers were considered to be social pariahs. The wealth and grandeur of the tech industry has boosted many programmers and developers into rockstar-level fame, and it’s easy to see why developers are in direct control of the future. And, of course, some level of fame always follows wealth and success. Today’s programmers are rolling with their own agents, commanding huge salaries and, yes, even getting their own groupies.
The “Cult of Personality” Surrounding Developers
Though he may have passed on, his legacy certainly hasn’t; Steve Jobs epitomized the “rockstar developer” persona, in no small part because of his dramatic aesthetics and relentless passion. Jobs sold not only his product, but himself. In fact, never before had the community connected a product with a person so much; Jobs marketed himself with his inspirational, innovative speeches, black turtleneck “uniform” and his demand for constant excellence. It was something that the consumer could relate to, even if they couldn’t necessarily understand the drivers behind the technology involved.
But Bill Gates wasn’t far behind; he, too, was transitioning from the nerdy guy next door (who everyone loved to hate), to one of the most powerful and important philanthropists of his century. Through his anti-malaria initiatives and outreach programs, Bill Gates became a beloved icon… even as people swore in frustration at his products.
And rockstars aren’t always a force of pure good. As Jesse Eisenberg can attest, there are some rockstar developers that the zeitgeist still loves to hate. Perhaps this is the truest definition of a rockstar, and one that both Bill and Jesse epitomize: the ability for the public to have separate feelings about the individual and the product.
Video Games Hit the Mainstream
It’s not all serious business. The movie industry has long had its rockstar directors, but did you know that the global video game market actually grosses twice as much in revenue worldwide? That’s right — the Global Box Office reported $35.9 billion in sales in 2013, compared to the $70.4 billion reported by the Global Games Market. Rockstar developers, especially indie developers, have built up huge and loyal followings. Fame follows where the money is made, and there are very few industries in which raw talent can be seen as clearly as in the video game industry.
Perhaps most interestingly, this has propelled individuals who were quietly creating unique and interesting works into almost instant fame. Many recall the debacle that Flappy Bird created for its indie developer, an unsuspecting young man who was just trying to design games in his spare time. The quirky, little game suddenly garnered so much interest that the developer, then making almost $30,000 every day, had to pull it because he had no idea how to deal with his new fame. To this day, the game remains unreleased, traded through back channels and often replicated by new fame seekers.
Talent, Drive and Constant Persistence
What makes a rockstar a “rockstar”? Simple: they can’t be replaced. Anyone can become a decent programmer, but to become a rockstar developer, one needs passion, drive, creativity and intelligence; a perfect storm of characteristics that cannot be replicated or learned by just anyone. Companies are being built around rockstar talent because these talents break away from the back. That’s why companies like SoundCloud encourage creative “Hacker Time” to allow those employees to differentiate themselves.
There’s always a somewhat magical allure to an individual who does what others can’t — who has the raw talent to carry their ideas to fruition and who is constantly redefining their industry. Today’s rockstar developers will control the products and devices that we use in the future; their visions will become our reality. And that says great things for the programming and development industry as a whole: for those who can cut it.