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Technology news was entertaining this week, if nothing else. The fact that we started the week learning that Elon Musk had bought a material percentage of Twitter’s stock, spent the midweek period learning that he had joined the board, and by the end of Friday were busy reading about how employees processed case, it’s been busy.
But better busy than not, and the saga has given us plenty of food for thought. Today I want to take another look at this issue through the lens of voting rights.
Something we’ve seen in recent years is multi-class stocks in startups. In simple terms, multi-class stocks exist when investors and founders create a share class that gives them more votes per unit of share than what is offered by other lesser types of company stock. This does a few things, including concentrating power in fewer hands. In extreme cases, multi-class stock configurations can leave a founder in full control of a company forever.
Facebook is one such company. Twitter is not.
The difference between the two companies is not silent. Facebook is struggling to reinvent itself under the leadership of the same leader who brought it to early success, while Twitter, on the other hand, is now run by a non-founder and has just added a controversial power user to its board. These are very different results for listed social networks.
This brings us to what makes me laugh. If I understand current tribalism in technology, the people most fascinated by Elon Musk and his own kind of capitalism are also the ones most in favor of using multi-class stocks to control companies. Or more simply, the people who have little problem with Facebook’s CEO holding all the cards are also the ones who are excited about what Musk can do on Twitter.
It’s an example, I think, of intellectual dissonance, and an example that forces me to ask people who share my view – that creating corporate governance that resembles a monarchy is a bad choice over a long time horizon – a question: since a very wealthy shitposter has just appropriated himself on Twitter’s board through creative use of their checkbook, does this change how we think about corporate governance, and the importance of shareholder voting rights beyond mirages?
New. Not really. Elon does things with activist shareholders, and that’s fine, even if some people find him just as distasteful as some see him as a mixture of visionary and role model.
What will Musk bring to Twitter? Who knows. But at least it will be entertaining.
Mine friend and colleague Ron Miller wrote this week about a project at Salesforce that allows people to write code by having a conversation with a computer. I recommend you to read it. It reminded me a lot of what GitHub recently built, which is a method for introducing code to developers as they type. Tools are coming for boring development work, it seems.
Neat technology from Salesforce and Microsoft – GitHub’s parent company – won’t crowd out developers. There will continue to be a lot of demand for the tricky work they do. Instead, consider code-writing tools from the perspective of people who don’t write code every day, but sometimes need it to do their job. For them, the market seems to remove obstacles from their path.
Between the rise of no-code and low-code services, and the above work related to more automated code generation, we are slowly moving towards a future where development work will be much more in the grasp of the novice, and even more of the enthusiast. This could unlock one lot of human potential. And maybe even reduce the developer shortage on a modest basis.
All in all, I’m excited about this part of the technical work. Let’s give more people more power. It will be good for humanity as a whole.