For decades, developers have been starved of good tech films, we’ve been living on Steve Jobs biopics and Mark Zuckerberg remakes. Last time I checked, no one is interested in Facebook and its FED co-founder. Where are all the cool films that are actually made by people who understand tech and aren't in the CIA?!
Fortunately, good tech documentaries do exist — you just need to dig through piles and piles of Hollywood trash. Don’t worry, I've done the digging for you and have found some gems released in the last couple of years (most of which are free to watch).
Of course, there are the classics like Terms and Conditions May Apply, Indie Game: The Movie, We Are Legion, The Internet’s Own Boy, Silicon Cowboys, and so on. But these are documentaries that have been around since the 90s, it’s time to move on and embrace a new wave of filmmaking. Here are eight new tech documentaries you probably haven’t heard of!
1. Dream Market
By Barely Sociable (2021)
Let’s start this list with a documentary on our favourite subject, the Darknet. If you haven’t used Tor or visited at least one Darknet market can you really say that you’re a developer? These are the uncharted spaces of the internet. If you have been curious enough to visit 🤫 you would have discovered a very security conscious community. And whoever these lovely folk are, one thing’s for sure, the outspoken leaders in this space are developers and OpSec professionals.
Dream the documentary focuses on the Dream marketplace, which was one of the longest living Darknet markets. The illegal marketplace was online for around five and a half years – most markets don’t make it past 8 months. And the cool thing is, they didn’t exit scam. The story is truly fascinating, and you’ll also get to hear a bit about AlphaBay (another marketplace) and its creator Alexandre Cazes, who is seen as a martyr by the Darknet community. The documentary is free to watch on YouTube.
Although I do have some prejudice towards Facebook, one good thing has emerged from its government-operated headquarters. That being the frontend framework; React. This documentary follows the story of React with an all-star cast of developers like Tom Occhino, Christopher Chedeau, Pete Hunt, Sebastian Markbåge, Dan Abramov, and many more.
There was even some drama surrounding the release of this documentary which was quite amusing. Some guy named Theo reposted the whole documentary on his channel as a “commentary” like two hours after the doc premiered. They asked him to remove it and he allegedly made threats and took his grievances to Twitter and then got blasted by people calling him out. He’s since deleted and blocked anyone that commented negatively 😂. Anyway the whole thing was pretty funny. Good to see the React community is still going strong.
As a side note: I’ve been following the work of Ida Bechtle (the filmmaker) for some time, and I’ve got to say this is some of her finest work 😍. Excited to see what comes.
Let’s preface this mini-documentary by acknowledging that, yes, this was produced by Norton, so it’s probably biassed and that the hackers interviewed in this doc deserve a lot more air time. That being said, what was discussed (although brief) was incredibly interesting. Basically, you’ve got all these hackers (some of the most notorious in the world) living in this town in Romania. A lot of the hackers now profess to be whitehat but in their heyday they were cracking into NASA, Google, and even Hillary Clinton.
My gripe with a lot of these “hacker” documentaries is that they never really go into any detail about how it was done or what was found. Maybe it's something they are not allowed to talk about (obviously it’s illegal). But you’ve got to give us more details than just, “I hacked YouTube.” It seems like these hackers are really proud of what they’ve done and are even boasting about it. So I don’t think it would be so hard to get the details out of them. Another negative is the colour grading – they clearly wanted to make Romania seem like a cold grey soviet country that’s hacking everyone but it’s really a beautiful place.
The documentary was created by Josiah McGarvie who is the filmmaker behind Ember.js: The Documentary, Elixir, GraphQL, and some newer ones that are featured on this list. All I can say is that these tech documentaries are getting better and better, and I’m excited to see these filmmakers evolve as they tackle larger stories in the tech space.
The Social Dilemma is a documentary that explores the impact of social media on society, and how a small number of engineers in Silicon Valley have immense control over our thoughts and actions. Through a combination of investigative journalism and narrative drama, the film examines how social media platforms manipulate and influence us, often leading to harmful consequences such as conspiracy theories, mental health issues, and political polarisation. The film features interviews with tech whistleblowers and innovation leaders, exposing the hidden machinations behind our favourite social media and search platforms.
This is not a political documentary but I think the questions raised in the film are very important for developers to consider. With everything that’s happening in the AI and machine learning space, creators need to be very careful about how they are designing these tools and to what end. It’s a question of ethical software development. Yes, you are creating a popular product but does it need to be created? Do we need TikTok? Is it pushing the world forward? Important questions. You can catch this one on Netflix.
We’ve been hearing about AI for the last five years but it really wasn’t until the last six months (with the release of GPT-3 and GPT-4) that we truly see the potential of generative AI. That’s why I thought we should revisit the story of AlphaGo because the next two years are going to be crazy. A lot of people are going to be made obsolete due to this AI revolution.
In this documentary, you’ll see DeepMind learn the South Korean game Go and then square off against the world's greatest Go player, putting human skill to the absolute test. This documentary was made about six years ago, and garnered a lot of attention but we haven’t seen anything else from DeepMind since then 🤔. I wonder what they’re cooking. This documentary is free to watch on YouTube.
Envoy is one of the newest tech documentaries out. It’s an inside look at the journey of Envoy from creation to mass adoption. You’ll hear about what was going on behind the scenes at Twitter and Lyft and how they were having all these problems with their microservices which encouraged Mat Klein (an engineer) to build Envoy.
My favourite part in this documentary is when the camera zooms in on a developer’s laptop and you can see the blurry outline of the ChatGPT homepage 😂. At least they are keeping it real! Check this documentary out, it’s free on YouTube.
By Guillermo Lopez & Josiah McGarvie & Speakeasy Productions (2022)
Another documentary from Honeypot — and probably one that’s flown under your radar; Prometheus: The Documentary. This doc is about the open-source monitoring system, Prometheus. Filmed in Berlin, the documentary follows a couple of ex-Google developers working at Soundcloud who recount the origins of this widely popular open source project.
From the interviews you can tell these are some hardcore developers that love building software. It seems like a lot of these projects start because a developer has a problem and within a month it’s a full blown tool with mass adoption on Github. It’s really incredible what you can do with the right support. Watch this documentary on YouTube for free!
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