Software & The Snake Oil Salesman
February 11th 2023

(Pictured: notorious software Snake Oil Salesman Mr. John McAfee)

I’ve been in the industry of software for six years now, and let me tell you, the biggest cultural battleground is between sales and engineering. The sales team work flexible hours, they enjoy lavish dinners (fully expensed of course), they travel on the companies dime, they play pickleball and occasionally they have to make a phone call. All the while, the engineers are hunched over their keyboard, coffee in hand, headphones on, silently sweating in their seat trying to build real things (yes, REAL things).

Oh and to make matters worse, the sales person routinely takes home 3-4x what the software engineer makes. I was made aware at one (small to mid sized) company close to me, where it was widely known that a particular sales person brought home $700k when the entry level engineers were getting by on a $50k salary.

The software Snake Oil Salesman’s arbitrage is predicated on consumer ignorance and privileged information. Enterprise SaaS companies, in particular, are built on top of this shaky foundation. To the consumer who came of age without software, the invention is effectively magic-made-real. But, for those consumers who grow up digitally-native, it’s no different than a hammer & nail. And there are lots of companies making hammer & nails.

Everyone sees the recent news headlines about the Tech Giants laying off a bunch of engineers who make $500k a year, but I’ll point you to where the real unequal distribution is — the sales team. And this makes the Fiat World worse for all of us.

Here’s the truth the software Snake Oil Salesman doesn’t want you to hear: the software is not magic.

Software is merely an encoding of ideas, and defined entirely by human communication structures. When we place that truth on the table, as a matter of fact, then suddenly the engineer possesses much more leverage than they realized — and deservedly so. At which point, the business of sales turns into the business of nepotism. Gross, as it should be.

Today, looking forward, I think, the largest amount of software entrepreneurial alpha is in systems of morality. And in particular, applying software to defend morality. It’s not about some buzzword sales pitch like “Blockchain™!” Nope. The alpha is in understanding human behavior and broader sociopolitical paradigms. Study the positioning of the software Snake Oil Salesman. He captures the alpha not because he deserves it, but because he has lucked-into the particular social position he sits in. His luck is your alpha for the taking.

As an Engineer, you should do more art. Thank me later.

One area, which I think is under appreciated, but will grow in significance in the coming decade(s) is the intersection between Law & Software. And I’m not referring to, “the AI bot is going to replace the job of the lawyer!” Give me a break. Have you not read everything to this point?