In the past, hustle, effort, and practicality were rewarded far more than analytical intellect. The fortunes of Sam Zemurray, John D. Rockefellar, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Andrew Carnegie were built on guts as much as brains. Back then an ambitious man could identify a scarcity or inefficiency in plain day and create an empire. If you read the biographies of men born before the 20th century, you rarely see how an studious engineer or solitary nerd made it into the millionaire club. This is now changing. Computer nerds will soon be the most powerful class in the world, surpassing those who rule the finance and oil sectors. Their time has come.
The story of Sam Zemurray, titan of United Fruit, is an illustrative example. An uneducated immigrant, he got his start by noticing unwanted bananas on the New Orleans shipping docks. He bought them at a discount and began hustling them to nearby cities via train. A few decades later he was the most powerful banana man in the world. If he was born today, would he be able to duplicate his success? I think not. Businesses based on shipping and physical commodities have been optimized and consolidated. A young man walking through the docks today is more likely to be threatened with arrest by aggressive security guards than to get his inspiration for a successful business.
In daily walks through your city, are inefficiencies in commerce obvious to you? Are their consumers wanting a product but unable to buy? This is sometimes the case in developing countries where there is ample room to start a restaurant or import/export business, but even then you’d have to search hard to find any gaps. In America, nothing short of massive investment is needed to start such a traditional business. Even opening a basic coffee shop in America will cost over $50,000, and for your troubles you get to face severe competition from giant multinational corporations.
The story of Sam Zemurray can be duplicated today, not be a street-wise hustler but by the nerdy kid with an idea and a computer. There are still many professional jobs like lawyer, doctor, and accountant that pay fine salaries, but the new empires of tomorrow will be based on computing and programming—devices, applications, online stores, social networks, and data gathering and analysis. This is the black gold of the 21st century.
If I had a son today, he would receive his first computer programming book one year after learning how to read. I would turn him into a competent coder who can then choose whatever life he sees fit—making a stable income maintaining the world’s computer systems, robots, and web sites, or striking out on his own with independent ventures. The devices you use every day that you take for granted needs men who can code to develop and maintain them, and I think it’s obvious to all of us that technology will be more a part of our daily lives than less. The technological rubicon has been crossed.
I wouldn’t tell my son to follow in my footsteps. Historically, creative work has been an under-appreciated field that is hard to live off of, and many of the dead famous authors you read died in poverty. The main reason I’ve done well is because I’ve taken advantage of the platforms that the nerds created. I embraced blogs as soon as they became popular, I had my books on Kindle before I even held the device, I learned basic web coding and design to present my work in an appealing manner, and I have been active on the social networks that people now use as their main way to receive information. If I was a fogey old book writer who refused to adopt technology, would I be in the lucky position I find myself in, making book money while I live in foreign countries, chasing exotic women?
The kings of tomorrow are computer programmers. The richest men in the world will be a skinnyfat geek who has uglier girlfriends than you and even more awkward social skills. Only now are those nerds starting to use their massive wealth to influence politics, and once they do, their vision of technological utopia will shower upon us all.