What Vending Machines Mean For Progeeks And Their Careers

Last week I had my in-depth examination of where I think Coinstar is going, and why they could move into food.  Not a geeky thing on the top, but very pro geek when you look at target audiences and the technology that will be employed.  So, I want to expand on this theory, specifically . . .

If there’s an onslaught of automated vending, what does it mean for we professional geeks?  What does it mean for our careers, beyond, you know, easily accessible coffee.

First, let me explain my pursuit of this in the first place:

  • As noted, I see Coinstar validating vending systems, often unusual ones, with their current plans.
  • There are a lot of vending devices out there.  Be it Shop24, or the bizarre electronic vending machines here in Silicon Valley (really, want to get a DS?  An iPod?), it seems vending machines are slowly becoming more and more common.
  • Vending machines, done right, offer benefits to the consumer: fast, automated service, known stock, constant availability, the potential for useful geographic access, and technical integration.
  • Vending machines, done right, offer benefits to the provider: predictability, 24/7 access, integration with existing technical systems, less human interface.
  • Japan, which is infamous for having vending machines for everything, may show potential for success of increased automation.
  • There is a cultural acceptance of technology that seems to only be increasing.
  • Changes in people’s living due to gas prices, de-suburbanization, etc. could be taken advantage of by companies providing automation.  Or in short, throw the machines where demographics mean you can make money and where you can take advantage of the changes.
  • Machines can be deployed in many ways.  They can be permanent, experimental, even temporary.  They can be mobile – imagine strapping a bunch of vending machines onto a truck and driving that thing around to where it’s needed.
  • Timeshifting.  As sad as it is, some people don’t want to take the time to cook, go to an Apple store, or whatever.  Vending machines provide that.

So, I feel there’s enough evidence that increased vending machine development and deployment is probable, and thus will be something companies will engage in.  I don’t see this as immediate (though I could be wrong), but an increasing trend over the next few years.  I don’t even feel we’ll see increased presence and pursuit for about 2-3 years and are around 5 years out from a Big Shift.

But as I think it’s very probably, I began asking – as we do here – what it means for your career.

These things have to be programmed, and the people programming them won’t be your typical code jockeys.  You’ll have to work with different embedded systems, things that are likely experimental (or just plain odd), and technology from a variety of sources.

Those who are developers might not be involved in the machines themselves, but their integration: wireless warnings, data storage, tracking, analytics, etc.  It takes a lot to make these machines run, and it also takes a lot to see if they are working.

Finally, this will change supply chain programming.  If you haven’t thought about what it’s like to program supply chain software, then you’re missing an amazing and unseen world of software.  It’s not easy, it takes specific skills, and involves factors from timing to monitoring food storage temperatures.

It’s going to take a hard-nosed, practical group of programmers and developers to make this work.

Hardware Engineers
I almost envy the people that will be designing these things in the future because it’s probably pretty cool.

It also is going to involve a lot of intense hardware and scientific knowledge.  What about temperature regulation?  What about alerts to prevent break-ins?  What about making them easy to maintain and fill?  How the heck do you get everything down to the right size?

Marketing and Media
I don’t know if future marketers and media-producers what work to promote, sell, and educate about these machines have it harder or easier.

You’ll have to convince people that these automated devices are what they want.  You’ll have to make them accessible and interesting.  For that matter you’ll need to figure out how to instruct people to use these interesting devices.

On the other hand, you’re going to get to market, promote, and educate on some very cool things.

Research, Economics, and Analysis
OK, these people are going to have fun if automation of sales increases because they get to figure out how to make it work best and how it’s working.

Thing of the statistics you’ll have to process.  Think what analyses you’ll have to do.  Imagine all the ways you can improve things or even figure if they’re working.  Now do it with a network of automated mini-stores in diverse geographic locations.  If you’re a research junkie, this is going to be heaven, and it’ll come with automated coffee production.

There are papers to be written, academic studies to be done, sales figures to calculate: someone could make a living just being an expert on market automation.

As you can see, I expect a move towards automated vending to be incredibly progeeky.  People like us will need to get in there and make things happen, analyze data, sell it, and figure out if it’s working anyway.  It may take time, but as I think this is the future, maybe it’s something to look into.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.