Platform under development

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By GUILHERME HENRIQUE GUILHERME*

Investors celebrate Google for laying off 12 workers, say the cut is modest and also call for a reduction in average wages

The beginning of 2023 took many workers linked to the technology industry by surprise. On January 24, one of the most circulated and shared tweets among the famous Brazilian “BolhaDev” summed up the feeling well: “Bomb in the tech world”. With 1,4 million views when we wrote this text, the tweet by user @viderotulo featured a print of an open letter from a large investment fund addressed to the CEO of Alphabet/Google.

The letter congratulated Google on laying off 12 workers, suggesting, however, that this number was still very modest. According to investors, a bigger cut would be necessary, and not just in the number of workers. It would also take a cut in the average salary of the company's workers. This is because, still according to the document, the competition for developers, programmers and male and female engineers would have decreased, allowing the consequent decrease in wages.

The theme of layoffs and mass layoffs in the information technology sector remained on the agenda during the months that followed. There were several companies that laid off a large percentage of their workers. META (from Facebook, Instagram and protagonist of the Cambridge Analytica scandal), which had already fired 11 thousand workers at the end of 2022, announced in March/2023 that another 10 thousand workers will be fired in the near future. the british magazine this is money he even called all these layoffs a “Silicon Valley bloodbath” (MONTEBELLO, 2023).

This situation was not a “privilege” only for the “Bigs” of Big Techs. There were several layoffs also in smaller companies and startups. Platforms were even created to make it possible to monitor and systematize all these layoffs, as is the example of Layoffs.fyi and layoffsbrasil.com.

Some explanations began to be elaborated to justify all these dismissals. However, Silicon Valley, the great illusionist of our time,[I] seems unable to present a plausible narrative. Although the recurring arguments are “excess hiring during the pandemic” and the “crisis” in companies, the Alphabet workers union (@AlphabetWorkers), in a survey, points out that the company has 110 billion dollars in cash; recently used 70 billion dollars to buy back some of its own shares in the market (a way of financially rewarding its shareholders by reducing the number of shares on the market and increasing its value – or signaling to the market that the company is confident in its shares, and that it expects an increase in its value in a close period); and finally profited, in the last quarter, 17 billion dollars.

The question then arises: why are so many technology workers being laid off? Would this sector, which seemed immune to the crises of the rest of the economy, have slowed down? And what about the work of these workers? Could a professional category that seemed atypical in relation to the rest also be subject to the same management, control and precariousness typical of the capitalist mode of production?

Although this text does not intend to provide an immediate answer to the question of layoffs, our intention is, based on this question, to provide elements to think about trends in the management and control of the information technology workforce, as well as elements to think about the restructuring of productive and work processes in this sector. Restructuring that, we believe, is ongoing, with the possibility of platforming large margins of this workforce.

Preparing the ground: brief history

The work inserted in the productive processes where Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) predominate is, according to a certain bibliography, a work that would have a strong intellectual, cognitive component, being centrally based on the autonomy and creativity of the worker. Such a characteristic would represent, for capital management, major challenges from an organizational point of view. After all, how would it be possible to manage a job for which one could not, in theory, prescribe tasks? How to subordinate a productive force whose most fundamental characteristic would be the use of creativity?

However, what the historical and empirical analysis of the sector shows us is that we have no reason to believe that the work of technology workers would operate in a fundamentally different way from the rest of the work processes in the capitalist mode of production. Although the idea of ​​“exceptionality” in this sector and in this work is strong and permeates both the business/managerial discourse and even some more robust analyzes by scientists or journalists, close and critical observation shows us that, at first, in the early days of industry, it was indeed possible to state that the work collective organized its work process in a similar way to what would be “craft work” (AMORIM; REIS GRAZIA, 2021; CUSUMANO, 1989), based on the know-how from the developer. However, sooner rather than later, the management of capital over labor began to create methodologies in which it is possible to organize, rationalize and, therefore, subsume and subordinate the developers' work process.

The sequential method, or cascade model, still strongly supported by Fordist precepts, emerges as the first way for capital to organize work in the , establishing linearity and sequentiality of work processes, inspired by the conveyor belts of the automobile industry (MIGUEZ, 2018). This form of organization and control of work processes in the development of was the reference among companies and the literature on the subject during the 1970s and 1980s. Many certifications required by customers, such as CMM (Capability Maturity Model) or ISO, standardized these methodologies by creating a ranking of best practices in the development of which served as the basis for hiring companies.

The sequential-linear characteristic of this methodology, however, incurred high costs when it was necessary to return to some previous stage of the development of the project. . This model becomes outdated for the context of increased demand for software customizable and “(…) growing need to meet a complexity of technologies, business scenarios, driven by globalization and flexibility imposed by the restructuring of capitalism” (PORTUGAL, 2017, p. 90).

The “rigidity” of the waterfall model, therefore, is being replaced by methodologies whose main foundations are adapted from Toyotism/Lean Manufacturing. These methodologies, known today as Lean Digital, agile methodologies or simply Agile, go through a process of popularization that takes shape from the 2000s onwards, with the publication of the Agile Manifesto[ii] and become the reference for the organization of software production, with its adoption by large companies and the creation of organizations that drive its propagation.[iii]

The structuring of the project according to Lean Digital seems to follow a very similar script in companies: in direct and constant relationship with the client demanding the (which can be an internal customer, in the case of companies that have their own IT sector, or an external customer, in the case of companies that specialize in systems development), the project manager – who can be given several different names depending on the company - elaborates its general characteristics and passes on to the development teams the programming tasks and delivery deadlines stipulated in the project.

O Lean Digital, as its name announces, has great influence from lean production Lean Manufacturing and, therefore, the productive restructuring that has, among its fundamental characteristics, the reduction in the number of formalized and directly contracted workers, increasing, with this, productive outsourcing, based on outsourcing and delegation of certain tasks of the productive process to other companies .

Shortening a history of decades in a few lines, lean production kicked off the generalization of subcontracting, outsourcing, outsourcing, creating a way of producing in which there is a hard core of relatively well-paid workers in certain companies and a mass of low-paid work and in worse conditions working throughout the supply chain of these first companies.

This process is quite visible according to the following data: in the USA, in 1950, the most capitalized company in the market was also the largest employer. When we reach the 2010s, the company with the highest market value is only the 40th employer (SCHLINGEMANN; STULZ, 2021).

The work of developers software, however, could it follow the same path as subcontracting? Or, despite being organized by lean-inspired methodologies, could it keep the majority of workers in this sector in contractual relationships with good relative remuneration and guaranteed rights? In other words: the work of software developers could it be in a trend of precariousness, a deepened trend from the platformization of this work? In the next item, we will discuss this issue.

The work of developers follows the trend: developing platformization?

Harry Braverman, an American worker and intellectual, still in 1974 dedicated himself to the analysis of work processes, conducting a debate that started from the principles of the subsumption of work to capital, passing through the advent of “scientific” management with Taylorism, and, finally, , it goes as far as the rise of office workers. For him, there would be a structure, throughout this process, that polarizes those who are reserved for instruction and those who must perform simple work.

This would be a general law of the capitalist division of labor, which would shape not only labor, but entire populations as well, since in the long run it would create a large mass of simple labor, while there would also arise, in much smaller quantities, workers whose processes of work would be more complex (BRAVERMAN, 1977).

Ursula Huws, already in the second decade of the 2000s, he notes that this process and the division of labor have become more complex. This is because the possibility of fragmenting productive activities into separate tasks, both manual and intellectual, is growing, as well as the possibility of geographic and contractual dispersion of access to the workforce. This, for the author, is a continuous process, with each task subject to further divisions between more creative and (or) control functions, on the one hand, and more routine and repetitive ones, on the other (HUWS, 2014).

Specifically with regard to the work of software developers software, In recent months, we have carried out research based on texts that we call management bibliography: administration manuals and academic research focused on work management from the point of view of companies related to the work of software developers. We noticed in this research that the concern with fragmenting this work into smaller and smaller tasks that are more capable of standardization and platformization is increasing. On the topic of platformization, between 2008 and 2015 there was a 210% growth in the number of these publications (MAO et al., 2017), an increase that demonstrates the interest of managers, administrators and researchers on the subject.

Most of these publications are quite complimentary of the idea of ​​platform work adoption for more and more steps of information technology work. In relation to the “traditional forms” of development of (the authors refer here to the direct hiring of workers), platformization would offer a reduction in workforce costs and the possibility of flexible integration of “external human resources” (LAKHANI; GARVIN; LONSTEIN, 2010).

In this bibliography it is possible to find, as one of the main topics, the discussion on how to operate a greater “fragmentation” of the software development process. This is because “Tasks considered complex can limit the number of potential workers” (GODINHO, [Sd]). In this way, authors, managers and engineers of dedicate themselves to thinking about a greater decomposition of work, making the transformation of “(...) large tasks into small tasks, with relative independence between them” (LATOZA et al., 2014). Even more: these authors even propose a method that promises to “decompose the work of programming into a work of microtasks”.

In this way, it would be possible to “enable multitudes of workers with different qualifications to complete large tasks, quickly, by decomposing them into small and independent microtasks” (LATOZA et al., 2014, p. 43).

It is from this breakdown of the product of the development of software in smaller tasks that the possibility of assigning these tasks to workers on platforms becomes visible. Platforms such as TopCoder, for example, subdivide the product to be developed into several “challenges”, each one characterizing a stage of this production process: from product concept to testing, including prototyping.

In this sense, it seems possible to state that the work of software developers , although it has been for a long time the flagship of theories that advocated a post-industrial society, is itself also pressured by the very same forces of capitalist industry itself. The possibility of platforming this work is only possible, in turn, due to previous incursions of the scientific management of capital over work, which have been designing an ever greater standardization, division of tasks and separation between conception and execution of work.

The platforms indicate the radicalization of this process, and also the precariousness of this professional category, transforming these workers, as well as several other platform workers, into workers just-in-time: workers who start their journey without any guarantee of what their workload, remuneration and duration will be, and who must also always be available and logged in waiting for work (ABÍLIO, 2020).

The process of platforming this work may not explain the more recent mass layoffs in the information technology sector. But the process of which the platforms are the tip of the iceberg in the analogy of Amorim, Bridi and Cardoso (2022), is precisely what threw millions of works from one side of the globe to the other and which shattered the rights and working conditions that , for a long time, were believed to be consolidated. Thus, if the outsourcing and subcontracting of IT work processes to countries considered “underdeveloped” was a first movement, platformization can be the radicalization of this process, opening frontiers of labor exploitation to other, ever-increasing levels of restructuring and recomposition in the world. sector.

Changes in the division of labor and the complexification of this division are a constant dynamic from the real subsumption of work processes to capital, which inaugurates typically capitalist production. Thus, a dynamic of composition and recomposition of jobs and qualifications, or even a process of standardization and decomposition of tasks permeates most forms of organization and management of work in the capitalist mode of production.

The result of this entire process will be a synthesis between the forces of capital and the resistance of workers to their precariousness, leading to better or worse conditions for these workers based on their ability to organize, articulate and think about new forms of struggle.[iv]

*Guilherme Henrique Guilherme is a doctoral candidate in Social Sciences at UNIFESP.

References


ABÍLIO, LC Uberization: the era of the just-in-time worker? Advanced Studies, v. 34, p. 111–126, 8 May 2020.

Goodbye to naive optimism | INTERNET THREATENED [5]. . [Sl: sn]. Available in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LY3gcYvUY7M

AMORIM, H.; CARDOSO, ACM; BRIDI, MA PLATFORM INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM: externalizations, syntheses and resistance. CRH notebook, v. 35, p. e022021–e022021, 10 Oct. 2022.

AMORIM, H.; REIS GRAZIA, M. The Precariousness of Immaterial Labor: Self-Taylorization in the Brazilian Software Industry. Latin American Perspectives, P. 0094582X20988720, 30 Mar. 2021.

BRAVEMAN, H. Work and Monopolistic Capital: The degradation of work in the XNUMXth century. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores, 1977.

CUSUMANO, MA The software factory: a historical interpretation... New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

GODINHO, MB Analysis of the HTA Method (Hierarchical Task Analysis) for Task Decomposition in Crowdsourcing. P. 16, [Sd].

HUWS, EU LIFE, WORK AND VALUE IN THE XNUMXst CENTURY: untying the knot. CRH notebook, v. 27, no. 70, 3 sep. 2014. Available at: https://periodicos.ufba.br/index.php/crh/article/view/19628 .

LAKHANI, K.R.; GARVIN, DA; LONSTEIN, E. TopCoder(A): Developing software through crowdsourcing. Harvard Business School, Jan. 2010.

LATOZA, TD et al. Microtask programming: building software with a crowd. UIST, 2014.

MAO, K. et al. A survey of the use of crowdsourcing in software engineering. Journal of Systems and Software, v. 126, p. 57–84, apr. 2017.

MIGUEZ, P. Work and new technologies: an approach to computer work according to the theses of cognitive capitalism. Flexible, virtual and precarious? Information technology workers. Curitiba: UFPR, 2018.

MONTEBELLO, L. Tech jobs bloodbath rockets to 200,000. Available in: https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-11659373/Tech-jobs-bloodbath-rockets-200-000.html  

MOROZOV, I. Big Tech: The Rise of Data and the Death of Politics. São Paulo: Ubu Editora, 2018.

PORTUGAL, AC The contradictions of Post-Fordism: the unbearable lightness of immaterial work in software production. Accepted: 2017-12-04T11:54:57Z, 18 Oct. 2017. Available at: https://repositorio.pucsp.br/xmlui/handle/handle/20623

SCHLINGEMANN, FP; STULZ, R.M. Have exchange-listed firms become less important for the economy? . Rochester, NY: [sn]. Available in: https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=3706131

SCHRADIE, J. Silicon Valley Ideology and Class Inequalities: A Virtual Tax on Digital Politics. Magazine Paragraph, vv 5, n. 9th edition, 2017. Available at: http://revistaseletronicas.fiamfaam.br/index.php/recicofi/article/view/564

Notes


[I] About this, we strongly recommend the texts by Morozov (MOROZOV, 2018) and Schradie (SCHRADIE, 2017) or even, on video (“Farewell to naive optimism | INTERNET AMENACED [5]”, 2016)

[ii] Published in 2001. In this manifesto, seventeen men – developers and company CEOs – list some principles and values ​​that should guide agile methodologies, summarized in 12 points.

[iii] This is the case, for example, of the Agile Alliance, which has “corporate partners” (sponsors) that are companies of enormous size and global reach such as HP, Accenture, CEMEX, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Paypall, Societe Generale, BAE Systems and also the Brazilian company based in Campinas, CI&T.

[iv] I thank Fapesp for the support.


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