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Why Danish programmers are the best in the world

April 7, 2005 by max

A friend of mine was trying to sell one of his companies a few years ago. The company in question collected sportsinformation from various sources, condensed and filtered it, and offered it as an SMS based service to media outlets, so that these could offer their customers up to date sporting information and not have to handle all the technicalities themselves. The company did quite well, and were leading in their technology. Eventually a large American corporation approached them, and wanted to buy them. The initial terms were drafted and due diligence performed. br /br /Then something strange happened. When the Americans discovered that the company had only one technical employee they got very worried, because according to them there was no way that a company with that kind of technology could have only one technical employee. According to them it would take at least a staff of eight to develop and maintain the product they were seeing. And so the deal fell, because my friend could not convince the potential buyers that this one guy had actually programmed the whole thing. Which he had. br /br /This made me wonder. Especially as this is not unique, I have seen similar cases before. br /br /So the obvious conclusion is that Danish programmers are just plain better, or at least more effective, than their American counterparts. And why is this ? After having thought about it for a while, I came to a conclusion: In Denmark programmers (and other employees) are paid to think about what they are doing, in America they are, at least to a greater extent, paid to do what they are told. The implication of this is that a Danish programmer will spend a substantial time thinking through the the project, asking questions, and coming up with alternative solutions before he starts doing anything whereas an American programmer will start coding right away, changing things as he goes along. Often with the result that things need to be redone, and that unexpected problems arise late in the development phase. br /br /It is obvious to me that paying people to think is more productive than paying people to do as they are told. So why don’t more people (especially Americans) do it ? Well, because it is hard and because thinking has to be part of your culture. br /br /It is harder to manage people that constantly ask questions, and leave if they don’t get sensible answers than it is to manage people that do as they are told. It requires management to be very fluid and constantly open to new ideas. And actually know what they are talking about!br /br /It is also a culture thing. Danes take pride in doing a good job, and shipping a great product that works flawlessly. Americans take pride in shipping a product that sells, no matter how it looks. This is also why Danish design is generally held in very high esteem, why American cities and cars are terribly designed, whay Windows always crashes, and why Danish designed products don’t sell as well as they should. Americans may be terrible designers and developers, but they are the greatest salesmen in the world. br /br /So when I grow up and become a billionaire I will place my R D labs in Denmark, and my sales force in America. Maybe Danes are great at designing and creating products, but nobody beats Americans on sales.

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