Thursday, March 09, 2006

I'm Software

What would you suppose is more important for the operation of a computer, the hardware or the software? A little like which came first, the shell or the feathers, isn’t it? The answer, of course, is that both are equally important. A computer is not a computer without the chip, screen and keyboard. But without the spreadsheet, word processor and OS program, the computer is just a shiny thing on your desk without purpose.

In spite of that obvious truth there seems to be in the business world, and especially in the religious world, a greater emphasis on the hardware than software. People like to support building projects, feeding programs, schools for orphans, and halfway houses for those on the way to recovery. Why? Because it’s tangible, something they can see, take a pictures of, even write to (the child one sponsor’s for $10 a month, or the national evangelist for $20 a month). It’s all good. Part of God’s equation in bringing people to himself is those involved in hardware ministry.

Software developers are not nearly as popular, but they are no less important. Those involved in software work range from administrators to consultants. Software makes the hardware function and without it it's merely a ministry that drains resources but doesn’t really produce anything of Kingdom value.

The worth of software depends on its function. I can’t imagine trying to write without a program that doesn’t have a spell checker, font options or has the capacity to move text around. Good software provides a helping hand. If it doesn’t make my job easier then I don’t need it.

When I got my first computer, back in 1984 (which I still have, a Kaypro II with its awesome power of 64K memory, pictured above), software was bulky, but so was the computer. As I upgraded (going to a Mac and never looking back) I use to put all type of junk on my computer. I had so many bells and whistles that it talked and giggled every time I turned it on, off or made a mistake. Much older and wiser now, I put nothing on my hard-drive except for what I absolutely need. Software is not something to collect, it’s something to use.

When I lived in Kenya I started out in the hardware business. I built churches, schools and operated feeding programs. There’s good money in hardware (obviously not my motivation) and people loved to buy bricks for the glory of God. Later I switched to software and wrote lessons for our institute. Twenty years later, I’m still in the software business.

There are tons of generic software programs on the market today -- leadership, interpersonal relationships, evangelism and discipleship seminars. Those who sell these products are usually mono-cultural common brands that one pulls off the shelf in Colorado Springs and teach in Calcutta. It’s all good. It’s all part of God’s equation in bringing people to Himself.

My software is not a big seller, though I believe it’s one of the most important programs on the market (of course I would say that!). There are not many of us who teach people how to effectively communicate the message to people of different ethnic, socio-economic or cultural backgrounds; how to take what is taught and apply it to real life situations. Businesses, non-profits, institutions, even the military and governments would benefit from this software product as it helps people think about others and their needs. When one understands their market, they are better able to sell their product, whether that is an ideology, policy or the latest computer.

I’m grateful for those who deal in hardware. Those of us who are in software know that to make that machine work efficiently our work is equally important. We may not be the sexiest thing on the market, but without us, you can’t even boot up.