The Decade Software Ate the World
As we cross the threshold from one decade to another, it’s natural to look back at the previous 10 years and try to make sense of events.Putting narrative order on the past decade, a 10-year-period that has somehow remained stubbornly nameless, is quite the challenge, but it’s impossible to make sense of the 2010s without understanding the role of software.It was in August 2011 that Marc Andreessen coined the famous phrase “Software is eating the world” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. He suggested that “we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.”“In many ways, our growth has reflected the trajectory of the decade in technology”Just a few days after Andreessen published his piece, Eoghan McCabe, Des Traynor, Ciaran Lee and David Barrett founded Intercom – and in many ways, our growth has reflected the trajectory of the decade in technology, fulfilling Andreessen’s prediction that small startups can reach previously unimaginable scale faster than ever by leveraging the increasingly affordable power of mobile and cloud computing.Here, we trace some of the biggest trends and stories in technology over the past decade, and try to find a narrative to make sense of it all.Big tech takes overThe tech equivalent of the “great man theory” of history is the “big tech company” theory of technological progress.Viewed this way, it might seem like the 2010s were less eventful than the 2000s – after all, the tech giants of today are largely the same as a decade ago. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and, to a degree, Twitter, are all pretty much as prominent today as they were a decade ago. If anything, this was the decade they collectively became leaders not just of the technology industry, but of industry itself – Apple overtook ExxonMobil as the world’s most valuable company by market cap in August 2011 (that month again), and then became the first trillion-dollar company by market cap in 2018. As the decade wore on, the title of most valuable company has basically rotated between Cupertino, Mountain View, Redmond, and Seattle ever since.“Microsoft pivoted from chasing after Apple’s success in the consumer space under Steve Ballmer (don’t mention Nokia) to successfully focusing on the cloud under Satya Nadella (please do mention Azure)”But each of these giants evolved in different directions over the past 10 years, many under new leadership, while facing up to the unfolding responsibilities of this new era of tech dominance.Apple survived the death of Steve Jobs in October 2011 under the thoughtful stewardship of Tim Cook, and continued to essentially be the iPhone company, while branching into wearables and services. The ultimate failure of Siri to dominate the AI personal assistant game might come to be seen as its biggest miss of the decade.Google, too, saw a smooth transfer of power from its founders to a new CEO, Sundar Pichai, while also strengthening its core business of search advertising and reorganizing under Alphabet.The most triumphant transfer of control from an original generation leader to a new CEO was surely that of Microsoft, which pivoted from chasing after Apple’s success in the consumer space under Steve Ballmer (don’t mention Nokia) to successfully focusing on the cloud under Satya Nadella (please do mention Azure).Facebook and Twitter, meanwhile, struggled under the unavoidable pressure of hosting half a globe’s worth of daily online communication. It is impossible to police such a digital realm to everyone’s satisfaction, of course, but Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey frequently seemed fazed by the very responsibility. Facebook was…
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