Three Great Jobs in the Fourth Xerox Revolution

In the history of innovation, Xerox (where I work) has starred in three stories so far: Xerography, personal computing and production digital printing. The first created the modern workplace, the second destroyed and recreated it. The third, probably the least familiar to end-consumers, since it is an industrial technology, might end up topping the first two — the technology is on the verge of dethroning the venerable Gutenberg press. But that’s all old hat. Let’s talk about how Xerox is poised to launch a FOURTH history-making disruption (*gasp*, most companies have trouble doing it once): making social media grow up from its chicken-throwing infancy (sorry Facebook widget coders; couldn’t resist that dig!), and turning the world of services-work upside down. And how, if you have the right skills, you can join my buddies and me in the eye of the perfect storm. Call this a Job Posting 2.0, or a Kool-Aid infomercial — I am helping recruit for 3 seriously exciting positions in the lab I work in. The kind for which you should ditch your startup idea.

First the Jobs

I am hoping that publicly posting fragments of the ‘inside story’ of these job opportunities will attract the kind of seriously heavy-hitter resumes that match the magnitude of the opportunity we are uniquely positioned to go after.

The job descriptions might look ordinary enough in today’s economy, and are part of an intrapreneurial 18-month-old social-media group within the Documents, Workflows and Services laboratory at the Xerox Research Center, Webster (though we are open to remote-work models for the right people):

  1. Experienced Web Architect
  2. Social Computing Researcher
  3. User Interface Designer

Please forward these PDF job descriptions around by the way; even if you aren’t a match, you may one day be able to say, “I pointed him/her to the job that led to THAT revolution.” And feel free to contact me if you want to learn more.

Those are the sorts of professionals who, at ordinary skill levels, might serve to do routine enterprise s/w development work, or be capable of launching a run-of-the-mill startup. At the “seriously-talented” level we are looking for, this sort of group might be able to create a “hot” startup or open-source project. In fact chances are, at the talent levels we want, the potential candidates are already thinking “startup” rather than “job.” (Hmm… maybe I should add to the job descriptions, “If you aren’t already thinking of a start-up idea that we may have to lure you away from, don’t apply”)

So let me explain why you might want to consider these jobs instead. The short answer: we are working on the sorts of fundamental technologies that might, among other effects, disrupt the very ecosystems within which startups live. Definitely a more exciting idea, don’t you think?

Of course, I can’t reveal any details in a public blog post, since we are talking about an early-stage R&D effort, but here’s what I hope is a tantalizing backgrounder.

Social Media for Grown-Ups

Let’s face it: startlingly creative though it is, the Web 2.0 revolution so far has largely had an impact in consumer markets. And on the non-mission-critical (eg. vacation photo-sharing) and even downright frivolous (Facebook chicken-throwing — fun, admittedly) parts of the consumer marketplace.

On the other hand, the world of business — both SMBs and enterprises — is largely integrating these technologies in non-disruptive ways. Even the most sophisticated Enterprise 2.0 conversations don’t seem to expect a truly wall-shattering, foundation-cracking impact on business-as-usual. Window-shattering at best.

All of the conversation today is around what I frankly think is the important, but relatively tame stuff: enterprise-class security for social applications, cheaper cloud-delivered IT, some moderate democratization of decision-making, work and customer-interactions, more transparency and sharing.

It all sounds like “take the consumer technology, make it a little bit worse, and deploy it as a sop for employees who are grumbling about a better level of technology infrastructure in the public space.”

So what are we attempting to do differently? For starters, we are not attempting to apply variants of existing social media technologies to enterprise problems. We are attempting to create wholly new technologies based on a first-principles understanding of the enabling capabilities, to change the way people, businesses and entire economic ecosystems work. The operative word is work, not play (though we believe the new model of work we are dreaming up will be as fun as play). Here’s what we are doing by way of negative definition:

  • Not YouTube watching in place of TV in the evenings, or reading blogs instead of the newspaper.
  • Not catching up with just-discovered high-school friends via Facebook on the weekend.
  • Not getting GPS-based mobile-phone recommendations of nearby tourist spots.
  • Not running the world in a compute cloud, excitingly Matrix-like though that sounds.

These are all great things, and I personally appreciate the improvements they’ve brought to my personal quality of life, but what we are working on is changing the very nature of work itself — the stuff that takes up most of your waking hours, all the way from 1-person freelancers working out of Starbucks, to the board rooms of large enterprises. And just in time too, it seems, given gas prices.

We don’t have a name for it yet, but my personal placeholder term for what we are working on is “Service-Oriented All-Scale Economics.” I admit that sounds a little vacuously big-picture, but it describes well the intent of the micro-level pieces we are putting together.

Of course there is risk. But if our ideas work out, the nascent, clumsy lab prototypes can, we think, trigger a complete re-wiring of the  infrastructure for information work, in the economy at large. Present-day Wikinomics will look tame by comparison. If this works out, we’ll take on World Hunger for an encore.

Why Xerox?

You are probably asking, why Xerox? You are also possibly asking, why not Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, HP or Facebook?

All these companies are great, and we deeply admire the playbooks they are bringing to the party, and we’ve been freely inspired by the best of their ideas and models of innovation. But yeah, we think we have some unique ideas up our sleeve (I can’t resist a competitive dig — in case you didn’t notice, 3 of those 5 “usual suspect” companies make most of their money through innovations that started at Xerox, and there’s a chance a fourth could be dethroned by a baby Xerox spin-off!).

There are things we are positioned to do which they can’t. Neither can any startup, no matter how smart and creative.

At the micro-level, our group has the serious backing of a very enlightened management chain that knows how to nurture a string of increasing-magnitude wins into major and complex achievements. We are small, but with as much room to grow as we are able to show we deserve.

Just a hint about the starting point of our ideas: Xerox has the deepest understanding and mastery over the fundamental atomic unit of economic life in the information age, the document. From paper-napkin onwards, whether in digital or physical manifestations, whether fragmented into super-fluid sub-atomic XML fragments or bound into frozen, super-atomic books, whether dynamically composed via Web services or printed in just-in-time personalized form, we understand the darn thing with a comprehensiveness and depth that nobody in the world can match. Think of our group as building a particle accelerator to shatter the material reality of the world of work into its smallest pieces, and putting it back together again to generate nuclear power to fuel the next era of work (yeah, I am the metaphor-engineer-in-chief in the group :))

So if you think you can handle the challenge, apply! If you want to help indirectly, forward the jobs to people you think are potential history-makers. And like I said, contact me if you want to find out more.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. some very mature thinking hidden beneath the surface here….

    i like to imagine the walmart friendfeed room, or the verizon friendfeed room … the equivalent, the design has to be way cooler … but the transparency of 2.5 is going to turn a lot of walls into glass, and everybody will fight it, and then everybody won’t believe they could ever live without it .. the usual human thing

    and the tech problem is easy to say … every node connects to every node … and a bit hard to do, but that is what is coming

    because consciousness is like that already.

    ha, no job app for me, i know jack, but i can see the space this all will sit in

    enjoy, nice post, gregory