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

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