First Advisor

Greg Schrock

Date of Publication

Summer 9-7-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Software engineering -- United States -- History, Computer software developers, Computer programmers



Physical Description

1 online resource (xii, 271 pages)


Through mixed-methods research, this dissertation details the regionally variegated and place-specific software production processes in three second-tier US software regions. I focus on the relationship between different industrial, firm, and worker production configurations and broad-based economic development, prosperity, and inequality. I develop four main empirical findings.

First, I argue for a periodization of software production that tracks with changes in software laboring activity, software technologies, and wage-employment relationships. Through a GIS-based method, I use the IPUMS-USA to extensively measure the amount and type of software labor in industries across the US between 1970 and 2015. I map the uneven geography of software labor that produces different clusters of various software occupations. Second, I argue that between each software period, locational windows provide an opportunity for second-tier software regions to challenge Silicon Valley. I combine the IPUMS-USA dataset with interviews of software workers to analyze forms of regionally specific modes of production in Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas. I trace how software production in these three cities evolves between each software period, taking on different spatial configurations, firm strategies, labor practices, and technological characteristics. Third, I argue that software labor is hyper-sensitive to deskilling because of software production activity produces software. I combine occupation classifications and interviews with software workers to interrogate the ever-present need for software workers to learn the newest development practices and software languages as firms seek to automate software production. I define five key moments since the 1970s that exemplify software labor market dualization and segmentation.

Using interviews, and conference observations, I find that community-based organizations and labor market intermediaries locally mitigate the structural tendencies toward labor market dualization and segmentation. I argue that without intervention, the layered and bifurcated labor market for software production reproduces existing inequalities. Further, the organizational, technological, and spatial changes in software production reduce the potential for equitable wealth production. Ultimately, this dissertation argues for the importance of labor organizing in software, contributing empirical and theoretical work in a lineage of regional-based industrial restructuring literature. The regional and industrial geographies produced by and out of software production are significant forces in the economy at regional and national scales. I connect this process to the feminization of other industries, noting how the technical nature of software production structurally genders and racializes the labor force. Leveraging a labor feminization framework highlights the flexibilization of labor and the rift between the pace of software skill building and technological development.

Both software production and regional economies are necessary entry points to understand new capitalist relations. Understanding these new relations thus requires examining how configurations of software production differ across regions, how they impact industry and regional economic development outcomes, and how they weaken or strengthen actions of local workers, local organizations, and local firms. These processes offer a glimpse into how the contemporary moment of production differs from other moments of production. Armed with this understanding, this research will be able to connect industry and regional economic-development outcomes to regionally specific modes of production, answering relevant software-based economic-development policy questions.


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