One track minds often fade

IS Guerrilla

Gawd help me if I run into one more single-technology bigot in our business. You know the kind – the one-trick ponies who insist that their one-technology trick is the one solution to every problem there is, was, and ever will be, even if they’ve only been in IT for a couple of years.

Of course, they have no idea where that trick they’re advocating came from – its precedents, its ancestors, its relatives – they just know that it’s the best thing going, mostly because they were fortunate enough to get training in it just ahead of everyone else.

A believe-it-or-not recent example: I had an otherwise innocuous discussion over coffee with a graphic designer who insisted, “Windows is the best environment there ever was for the kind of work that I do”.

Just to test out my one-trick pony theory, I asked her, “Ever tried a Mac?”

“No” came the wide-eyed answer, along with the unsaid but felt addition: “Why should I?”

Lack of context, that’s why. You need to know that Xerox PARC begat Apple’s LISA and the Mac, and that Windows was a blatant, and in early versions, much inferior rip-off of the Mac interface (Remember Windows 3.1? I still wince…). And that the move to a standard interface GUI is “sort of like the move to ensure that the gas pedal is on the right and the brake is on the left,” or so said Microsoft in their defence against Apple’s lawsuit. But I digress.

If we happen to be dealing with the technology of the moment, the tech du jour, as it were, the one for which industry is willing to pay a premium for a particular moment in time, these bigots become particularly insufferable.

The problem with those who bank on the marketability of one particular technology or competence set (usually the newest and coolest – ever seen a group of programmers fighting like dogs over the chance to go to a conference/training course on the newest language?) is that unless they can deftly skip from trend to trend, at some point they’re going to stumble, to be the one guy or gal who doesn’t get to dance at the prom.

Remember the premium that relational database architects commaded in the days when we were moving away from IMS flat files to DB2, for you young whippersnappers? Same for DBAs who could tune big Oracle databases. And 3GL programmers. And object-oriented analysts. And HTML and XML and Java wizards.

All had their day or two in the sun, and then they all too became part of the broad mix and nosh of technology that slowly moves us forward. It’s those of us who don’t see the broader mix and mess of technologies we’re dealing with who suffer from a fairly common ailment that exists in the broader society: a poverty of context.

This single-technocentric thinking would explain some of the stupider dot-com start-ups, but not excuse those Dutch-tulip-craze-like investors who threw their money in.

What I’m hearing lately: “I know that wireless is the solution.”

Let’s make sure that we have a context-rich answer next time we hear something like that.

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

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