The annual World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, bills itself as the place for "Reshaping of the World," with "Consequences for Society, Politics and Business." In reality, it's anything but.
While organizations will spend an average of $40,000 to send their CEOs, heads of state and moguls to the ultimate schmooze-a-thon, the reality is the world won't be reshaped in Davos next week.
It will happen on GitHub. And it won't cost you a dime.
How The World Was Run
There was a time—before Google and Twitter—when world leaders had a credible claim to control. It's a small wonder, then, that executives of all stripes would happily pay the steep fees to mingle in Davos. If Bill Gates could rub shoulders with the CEOs of Ford, General Motors and Toyota all in one place, the odds of Microsoft efficiently getting deals done in car infotainment systems would increase, perhaps dramatically.
A look at the 2013 attendee list reveals a slew of executives, academics and government leaders. No doubt each justified his or her trip by advertising a significant return on their organization's investment.
While networking of this caliber is invaluable, it's hard to argue the World Economic Forum is a "must attend" event when so much that shapes the world doesn't happen in Davos, and certainly isn't driven by C-level executives. Marc Andreessen famously argued that "software is eating the world," and that "we're 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."
He's mostly right. Software companies will, indeed, have a major impact on our world. Just look at Twitter. Or Facebook. Or Google.
But software companies start with software. And software starts with developers. Developers, according to Redmonk's Stephen O'Grady, are the new kingmakers, and they're in short supply at Davos.
Developers, Developers, Developers!
Everyone knows Microsoft loves developers. But by embracing developers so early on in the company's history, Microsoft ensured its Windows platform would become—and remain—the dominant desktop computing platform. Developers, in other words, can become a hardy defense against would-be competitors, something hinted at by O'Grady:
While the actual number might be up for debate, the importance of technical talent is not. The most successful companies today are those that understand the strategic role that developers will play in their success or failure. Not just successful technology companies – virtually every company today needs a developer strategy. There’s a reason that ESPN and Sears have rolled out API programs, that companies are being bought not for their products but their people. The reason is that developers are the most valuable resource in business.
But the importance of developers extends far beyond creating an ecosystem advantage for any one company.
Take Linux, for example. When Linus Torvalds set out to create a free alternative to UNIX, he wasn't trying to change the world. He was simply trying to build an operating system that he could run on commodity hardware. And yet, change the world he did.
Drupal also exemplifies the power of developers. Started by Dries Buytaert while he was studying at the University of Antwerp, Buytaert was interested in setting up a small news site so he and his friends could keep tabs on where they were having their next round of beers. As a result, Drupal became one of the world's most popular content management systems, and likely powers your own website.
See also: GitHub's Future: No CS Degree Required
And then there's Twitter, a side project spun out of a failed podcasting company. Yes, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo now gets fêted at the World Economic Forum. But Twitter wasn't some grand compromise between heads of state or executives of technology companies—it was built by developers, and now can be used to undermine the best-laid plans of the world's elite.
The Developer's Davos Is Called "GitHub"
If you truly want to see the world change on a daily basis, check out GitHub. Unlike the World Economic Forum, there's no price of admission or pedigree requirement. In fact, GitHub has been doing everything it can to lower the bar to developing code, most recently by acquiring Easel. If you watch which projects are trending on GitHub, you'll have a reasonable approximation of where the world is heading.
No, GitHub won't give you insane Davos swag. But it will give you geek cred with your developer peers and a far better chance to change the world then you would have in Davos.