Seattle Times technology columnist Brier Dudley, who’s moving to the Times editorial board, marvels on the changes he has seen in the industry and in watching Seattle become a major player.
Being assigned to cover Microsoft and the technology business was scary for a math-challenged English major.
But it turned out to be an incredible opportunity to see and report on how software and computers were changing the world and Seattle’s outsized role in the transformation.
After 14 years in the front row at this parade, I’m transferring to another job here at The Seattle Times. Starting April 20, I’ll become an editorial writer and opinion columnist, writing about a broader range of topics and policy issues.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have worried so much.
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From Bill Gates on down, the people I’ve met in the business almost always have been generous with their time, willing to patiently explain what they were building and glad to share their insights.
These interactions have been a constant reminder that the best tech stories are about the people who write the software, create the hardware, build the companies and change our lives.
There’s no real significance to the timeline of my tech reporting, but it did parallel the proliferation and simplification of consumer computing devices. These gadgets may still drive you crazy sometimes but they’re much more affordable, accessible and easier to set up and use than they were back in 2001.
Today, most everyone has tech expertise. Kindergartners are blogging, grandma has a potent wireless computer in her purse, and we spend our days and nights connected to and through glass displays.
Technology journalism also has evolved. Reporters on every beat now cover tech at some point, reflecting how it has permeated our society.
Meanwhile, new phones — and sometimes just rumors about a new phone — are now front-page news.
At the same time, the shrinking news industry spends less time reporting on the various companies in the tech ecosystem that bring these miraculous devices to life and make them essential tools.
Tech is partly to blame. Over the past decade, it has laid claim to much of the news industry’s advertising revenue. That has resulted in a business model for news that can skew coverage toward statistically popular, click-friendly topics.
Perhaps another reason the broader tech industry gets less coverage is because it seems so mature nowadays.
I started covering Microsoft during its antitrust battle, when the industry was defined by a handful of brash, brilliant and sarcastic pioneers who were still running the companies they founded.
Now those characters have mostly retired. The smooth pros who replaced them, and the next generation of tech pioneers, say little in public about their competitors.
I think this is pragmatic.
The companies may still want to kill each other. But they have decided to appear more civil and work together because their customers are mixing, matching and weaving together products from rival companies.
People just want this stuff to work together so they can get things done and get on with their lives. They’ve come to expect compatibility, not divisiveness, and the industry is delivering while still offering a way forward.
Wouldn’t it be great if other institutions — Congress, for instance — followed suit?
Thank you for reading and for all the tips, advice and feedback over the years. I hope to see you a few pages away, in the Opinion section.