Broadening the Search for Your Calling

How often do we hear about “how to find your calling”, “do what you love”, and “you only have one life to live, so follow your heart”? We may read about or even know some people who found their calling, how they live their passion. For the majority of us, the idea of a calling brings one of two frustrations: either we don’t know how to follow our calling in any practical sense, or much more often, we don’t know if we even have a calling.

Let’s challenge the second of these frustrations. Based on the people I met in my life who did find callings, we need to reframe and expand our conception of a calling, before asking if we have one.

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How to Spot the Next Big Thing

(Or, How Information Technology Became a Utility)

Information Technology, as a profession and as a field of study, has reached maturation. To understand how and why requires three concepts: the growth pattern of a resource, the four stages of technology, and the difference between complex and complicated problems.

The Growth Pattern of a Resource

A resource is a technological means to an end, serving as the foundation for other technologies. The growth pattern of a resource follows four geographic stages: central, distributed, standard distribution, and supplanted. When a resource first appears in a location, people go to that location to use the resource or get more of that resource. The first printed books, the first cars, and the first internet websites all required going to a place, worldly or virtual, to obtain the resource you wanted. Continue reading

Why Techs Don’t (Won’t?) Lead

Every time I read an article about the ever looming shortage of technical talent, I shake my head. Typically, a parade of comments supports the article, alongside rants about how the people who run businesses are just too dumb to understand how they’re hurting themselves by shortchanging technical aspects of their business. Really? Do we really think all those business owners are idiots? Consider another pattern here.

My brother and I often talk about the difference between the yellow shirts and the red shirts in Star Trek. Starting with The Next Generation, and going through Deep Space Nine and Voyager (reverse the colors for the original Star Trek series), the yellow shirts are engineering. They’re the geniuses that come through with an awesome solution, and are shining stars for about 2% of any given show. The rest of the time, we’re watching the red shirts sort out problems, drama, context, and mystery. Continue reading

How World of Warcraft Can(‘t) Land You a Job

An old college friend asked me a provocative question. “If you were hiring people, and you had the time to watch them play a game, what game do you think would show you the best people?”

Let’s start with this: most games are crappy when determining decent employees.

Two reasons support this assertion. First, games are much, much easier than they used to be. Which is to say, designers are much, much better about making games that don’t bring the ridiculously steep, variable learning curves they used to bring. Consequently, watching people play a game won’t tell me much about the players unless the players are good enough to display the nuances that make a real difference in their performance. That, in turn, requires me to be good enough to recognize those nuances, limiting me to World of Warcraft. I could determine certain traits from the Street Fighter series, Tetris, and some old-school Nintendo and Atari games, but World of Warcraft offers a much more rich, nuanced view of players. Continue reading

Abdication of Advocacy

How do we advocate for ourselves and the groups we want to promote? A friend of mine showed me an article about Information Technology support politics. As a longtime IT worker, the article disheartened me by ending in the same mistaken way so many advocacy articles do: making a plea to power holders for help. Using IT as an example, let’s talk about how IT advocacy goes wrong, and how to make it right.

Start with a quote from the first page: “When I’m recruiting support people, I don’t recruit them for their technical skills, I recruit them for how they get on with people.” So much yes. If we’re in IT support, we do two things when someone comes to us looking for support: validate their feelings, and help them find an answer. The former is more important than the latter, because Google and other search engines made knowledge much less important than the ability to find the knowledge. That’s why data science is the hottest tech job in the market right now. The issue isn’t finding data (although doing that correctly matters a lot). It’s figuring out how to shape data in useful ways. For IT support, validating a person’s feelings about a problem in turn validates the IT helper, and then both people can proceed to a solution. Continue reading