Dark Matter Companies

An old Scott Hanselman article about “dark matter developers” made the rounds on Hacker News this summer. Much like the dark matter that makes up much of the invisible universe, these developers are also largely invisible. As Scott said, “We call them Dark Matter Developers. They don’t read a lot of blogs, they never write blogs, they don’t go to user groups, they don’t Tweet or Facebook, and you don’t often see them at large conferences.” This got me thinking about another type of dark matter I’ve recently become aware of – Dark Matter Companies.

These “Dark Matter Companies” – You probably don’t see them unless you work in their industry. Or stumble upon them. But they’re out there. And they’re doing great. For one, they don’t have the drama of ready-for-reality-TV companies like WeWork. They’re just out in the world, business as usual, doing their thing. Namely, making money. And usually invisible to the naked eye.

I’ll try to localize this, as I’m only explaining what I know. I’m active in the Utah data and technology scene. Between running a rapidly growing data company and helping run several popular tech meetups, I’d like to think I’ve got a pulse on all of the companies doing “something technology related”. Wrong. Very wrong.

I know of the companies I see, but I’m constantly coming across companies I’ve never heard of. In nearly all cases, these Dark Matter Companies have large revenues and profits. Many of these Dark Matter Companies have technology stacks you’d call “legacy” or “old school”. They use technology to solve business problems; very rarely have we seen them doing technology for its own sake. And they make money. Lots of it. As I recently heard somewhere, “legacy is a condescending term for describing things that make money”. It is what is is….

Consider the rough numbers (this is by no means an exhaustive analysis). It’s hard to say how many tech workers are in Utah. The Salt Lake Tribune puts it at 116,000 in direct employment, with a total of 300,000 jobs supported (direct or indirect) in some way by technology. From the article, “The study analyzed four parts of Utah’s technology sector: IT support; information technology, such as software and telecommunications; trade and e-commerce; and manufacturing — but excluded in-house programmers and IT support specialists working at non-tech-related companies in Utah.” Ok, so what of this excluded group?

Anecdotally, given that most technology meetups only have around 20 to 200 people attend on a recurring basis, and the recent Silicon Slopes event attracted nearly 30,000 people, I’m guessing a lot of these unaccounted-for tech workers are “dark matter developers”. They’re out there, doing something else besides participating in the social tech scene. And given that there are around 60,000 businesses in Utah with employees, most of which I’m guessing employ at least one person in charge of something related to IT, many of them probably work for companies you’ve never heard of – The Dark Matter Companies .

These Dark Matter Companies have IT budgets (sometimes very substantial), mostly for on-prem Windows-based technology that runs their business. Might their Windows software be in need of an update? Or a migration to Linux? Probably. Are they developing their micro services frameworks in Go? Very unlikely. Do they care? Definitely not. Despite their seemingly unhip behavior, these dark matter companies can teach techies like me a lesson – they use technology to keep their business running; they’re companies who use technology, not technology companies. 

These Dark Matter Companies aren’t the hot tech startups lining the I-15 corridor, with their VC-funded building signs and cute billboards along Thanksgiving Point. Their offices are probably tucked in the shadows of those popular companies in the limelight. These Dark Matter Companies are invisible to you unless you have a reason to know of their existence. You drive by them everyday. You don’t see them. They’re just out there, doing their thing, making that almighty dollar. And they know they will eventually need to modernize their tech stack. Just not TODAY. Welcome to the bulk of GDP.

Here’s a salute to the Dark Matter Companies. We may stumble on each other in the future. Or not. Thanks for creating jobs and keeping the local economy humming along.

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