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Category: musings

04/06/09 11:13 - ID#48312

digital existentialism

This is a narrative from the guy who wrote the software that enabled "Collateralized Mortgage Obligations," one of the extremely complicated financial instruments that helped bring down Wall Street. It's an interesting perspective and a good read if you've got the time.

He feels bad, of course, but he can't bring himself to accept more than a little responsibility - nor, really, would I expect him to. He understood exactly what the program was doing; meanwhile, the firms kept pushing it to enable riskier investments, and the traders complained it didn't insulate them enough from the pesky details. Naturally, he made a lot of money off the software, but a lot more people made a lot more money off of it, and spent it on [insert wall street debauchery boilerplate]. He says he didn't expect his software to cause financial armageddon, but considering the people who were using it he's not surprised. He retired a few years ago and now raises oysters on Long Island.

It's a funny situation we programmers live in. Mercenary. People ask us for things they think they need. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. It's not really our position to editorialize. We quote them a large pile of money and, if they're rich and deluded enough, get to spend the next couple months to several years learning every minute detail of a business we don't care about so we can write software we're not interested in. When the day comes, your application goes one way and you go another way, on to the next client. And if you find out a couple years down the road that your application happened to cause a global economic meltdown, well, chalk it up to user error.

Today I discovered that an old business relation of mine had started a new local software company [dare I say... hyperlocal?] and was hiring Python programmers. I told my current boss/client, who said he was actually bidding against him on a project just this afternoon. I noted how incestuous the local IT sector is and joked that I would be on the project whether he got it or not. He called me a dick. I told him I was going to become a metaconsultant - get in on every software project in Buffalo, and let the web developers fight over who gets to bill it. I thought I was hysterical. He closed the chat on me.

- Z


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