Death to techie greedhead weenie scum

It appears to be happening again: I’ve seen signs that point to an emerging trend with serious implications for the IT industry.

The potential broader implications of a varied and disparate series of personal events have been rolling around in my head for over a month now, and they’ve just started to jell into a broad observation. And here it is: we’re all a bunch of techie greedheads, fuelled by an unquestioned faith in technology, stock options, the supposed wisdom of our corporate masters, and too damned much Starbucks coffee. What the hell is a moccachino, anyway?

All right, not all of us, and as usual I characterize too broadly. But it is time for many of us in the business to “get” what those wiser than us (wiser than me, certainly), with a different perspective than our own, have been saying for a while now. They’ve tended to get drowned out by ringing cell phones and the baying of the unrepentant CNBC corporate cheerleaders that I listen to in the morning. Of course, I for one wasn’t listening anyway.

For me, the pieces started to click last week when I was in London.

The Londoners I met were first rate, technically competent, and a little cooler and less garish about the power of technology and stock options to save the world. They still meet in the pub with everyone else, techie or not, and their newspapers (the quality ones, anyway) seem to be more concerned with the England vs. West Indies cricket match results than they are about the ridiculous wealth of the latest Internet millionaire.

And back on this side of the pond, Al Gore is leading George Bush by 10 per cent in the polls.

And courtesy of the Verizon (formerly Bell Atlantic, GTE, and Vodafone) strike, unions are seeing the possibility of flexing long unused muscles in the technology arena.

And on its cover, Business Week speculates on the possibility of “Too much Corporate Power?” On the other hand, in the same issue they’re running an ad that highlights a fictitious customer known as “Pablo, 26, a CEO.” Bleah.

So what’s going on here?

A constructive backlash, that’s what’s going on here.

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so you (and a million other people) probably picked this one up a while ago. Bear with me.

Does it mean that those insufferable, newly-minted Web programmers who took themselves so seriously in the last couple of years (“I only work on Web stuff, I won’t do maintenance and I’m gonna be an options millionaire by the time I’m 30”) are going to shut up already?

Of course, given what they’ve seen in booming IT and the booming economy in the last few years (if you’re under 30, that’s all you’ve seen), these folks might be forgiven for thinking that the model of unrestrained growth, unbridled wealth, and unquestioned technological advancement really was it for the long term.

So I’m a little older than 30 (not that old, I’m still this side of 40 thanks), but I do know that nothing lasts forever. And that there are smart people in our business who do see it differently than all the wannabes.

Some of these very smart IT people work for the various levels of government, and some work in public-sector organizations. And they care about something other than IPOs, the Web and big-buck stock options.

And for those IT types in private industry who thought that their IT brethren in government were somehow less competent? Wrong.

So why would they work for less pay when they know they could get more in private industry? Why would they work without a chance of striking it rich? Because they’re not competent enough? Not aggressive or ambitious enough? Because they won’t work more than 40 hours a week?

Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

Those of us who’ve operated with unrestrained ambition, unquestioned confidence in our corporations and blind faith in our technologies just might find ourselves struggling when the world demands that we shift from swinging right to swinging left (no political overtones intended).

In a grubby shop in North London, I couldn’t resist buying a T-shirt with an oversized image of Che Guevara on it. “Rage Against the Machine” it says under his picture. I’m sure Guevara never said exactly that himself, but it works for me.

Maybe I’ll be just brave enough to wear it to a meeting with some of my American clients. And maybe some of us owe it ourselves to question the way we’ve been looking at the work we do. And maybe, once in a while, we need to rage a little against the machine that we’ve had a big part in creating.

Hanley is an IS professional living in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected].

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