NJL Heavy Industries

Orangutans and Koalas

2011-01-23

The koala has tightly adapted to its niche. Koalas pretty much only eat eucalyptus, which is such an awful food source, they don't have any competition. Their habits and digestive tracts have been deeply affected by this choice. They even have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their gut that allows them to survive. Baby koalas need to eat some of mom's poop to get that strain going. They are specialized and successful animals. They have been perfectly optimized to inhabit the niche they inhabit. The problem is, they have reached a local maxima. They are tightly, tightly dependent on a collection of circumstances that could be ended by one nasty strain of some eucalyptus blight.

Orangutans are highly opportunistic. They can find dozens of ways to feed themselves. Rather than adopting to and optimizing for one niche, they are optimized to be creative and find ways to make it happen. Orangutans have levels of patience and focus that are apparently near unique among animals, which pay off on long-term survival of the species. Orangutans are endangered, but all of the reasons lead directly back to the most effective of omnivores, human beings.

A developer who settles into a niche these days better find an amazingly good one, because the velocity of change in our world is insane. I think I lost track of that when I stepped away from developing for a few years, but it's exhilarating and scary to be back in it.

So the hell with being a koala, or an Enterprise Java Developer, or a jQuery Developer, or an embedded Atmel processor expert. Be an orangutan.