The pancake metaphor is far from ideal. The last thing most CIOs should is simply plop technology on top of technology, cover it with a syrupy-sweet interface and hand it to users on a plate. And yet, perhaps thanks to the prevalence of stock art, a pile of pancakes is a common way many people have depicted the notion of IT that runs the entire “stack” of tools and features that run the modern enterprise.
Now, according to Chris Messina, it’s also a way we can think about the kind of business users CIOs need to support.
In “The Full-Stack Employee,” the open source advocate best known for helping create BarCamp, Spread Firefox and other projects looks at the rise of corporate workers who demonstrate a high degree of technology savvy and the ability to cross organizational chasms. Although a lot of the traits he describes sound more common to those in IT departments or application development groups than, say the average sales or marketing professional, Messina believes we’ll be seeing a lot more polymaths in the enterprise of the future:
Being full stack is an exercise in shifting between opposite poles. While there’s often less support for individual work and a greater expectation of self-sufficiency (i.e. setting their own hours, using their own devices for work, etc), they’re also expected to collaborate and work in groups effectively. Previously, you’d have an IT manager select the technology for a large team, but with the increasing reliance on self-provided mobile devices, individuals are left to figure out how to communicate across and connect over different platforms.
It’s worth pointing out that Messina has also worked at Google, which has been on a campaign lately to try to encourage, rather than prohibit shadow IT at work. Even if you don’t accept some of his conclusions (that e-mail is dead, for example), the more dynamic, flexible and responsive employee he writes about are without question going to have higher expectations of CIOs, assuming they even bother to talk to them.
Messina never bothers referring to IT leaders but suggests managers in general should walk a few miles in the full-stack employee’s shoes by visiting coworking facilities and realizing what it’s like to spend your time shifting quickly between networks, apps and myriad communication tools. I doubt many CEOs in more traditional industries will bother, but CIOs who want to show they’re capable of more than merely maintaining and purchasing IT infrastructure could gain an advantage by showing they have plans in place to help full-stack employees succeed.
In fact, there are some CIOs who might even want to use Messina’s concept to self-evaluate their ability to integrate “full stack” skills. Otherwise their efforts to contribute to the future or work — and IT in general — are at risk of falling flat. As in, flat as a pancake.