Has the Internet Killed the Software Millionaire?

Do you remember the Video Professor?  It’s a company that sells “how to” videos that teach people how to use the Internet and lots of different software.  I never tried the service myself although I have heard they got into trouble with customers over billing.  The Video Professor may be the last of the big CD software sellers because now everyone is moving software on the Internet, and a lot of it is available for free.

A picture of H. Ross Perot
H. Ross Perot, Sr. founded two software companies (EDS and Perot Systems) that he sold for over $1 billion (each).

Is it possible to become a millionaire by selling software any more?  I know there are big companies selling “enterprise” solutions but what happened to the little guy who just wants to sell a few hundred or thousand copies of his cool program?  Or is there any way you can launch a whole new industry and still become rich?

I was reading about this guy, Nicholas Bredimus, who launched a travel software company in the 1980s.  He became a millionaire because his software made it easier for travel agents and airlines to change flight reservations for customers.  That was a pretty significant advance in travel industry services.

But what would happen if someone tried to change an industry like that today?  Would they be able to sell their software or would they have to make it available for free over the Internet?

One of the interesting things about my question is that programmers think they are on a sure course toward success, according one recent study.  But most programmers never become millionaires.  In fact, they struggle to remain relevant in their industry after 10 years.

The competition to come up with the next new idea is making programmers focus on starting things rather than finishing them, and I think history shows us that it is the finished product that makes the most money.  People may try something new for a while but eventually they grow tired of waiting for the features that are not cool enough to make the cut in the next release.

To become a successful software engineer today does not mean you have to start your own company or create something new every year but it does mean you have to run hard and run fast.  The burnout rate in programmers may be higher than we see in the news media.  Why else do companies keep trying to higher more and more programmers?  What is happening to the older programmers?

If you haven’t yet decided what your career will be but you want to become a millionaire, go into the race with your eyes open.  Just being a guy who can code isn’t enough.  You need something else because today’s millionaires and billionaires are made by their connections.  If you don’t know the right people you’ll never get anywhere no matter how hard you try.