As of late I have had more reason than usual to think about the technology culture of the modern workplace. Technology marches ever onward and there seem to be two distinct camps when it comes to how we react to all the new whizzbang gadgets that arrive on the marketplace every single day.
In one camp you have the Bleeding Edgers. They want to adopt new technology just because it’s new and shiny and different. The entry criteria for the attention of this crowd is merely that it exists and has a newer ship date than the previously newest thing. Generally those with this brand of thinking work in technology at their jobs and they play with technology when they’re not. The books on their bookshelf are tech. Most of their everyday conversation is about tech. They eat, drink and breath the newest technology and often their minds are guarded sanctuaries where no data shall pass excepting that it pertain to tech. Often these are terrifyingly intelligent people who can rattle off the detailed functional specifications for 47 microchips and push out code with almost mechanical efficiency. They operate in some unintelligible realm that makes the common man cower in response.
In the other camp you have the Boat Anchors. They’re bloody well stuck in whatever era they started working in and come hell or brimstone they shall not move from it. COBOL was good enough for them in 1989 and by God it’s good enough today. Why on EARTH would anyone want to use anything different? We already know this so why learn something new? It’s already working so just leave it alone.
In my professional life I’ve worked with both camps and I have to admit that they both exceed my ability for comprehension. The argument against the Boat Anchors is fairly simple. Change is inevitable and in the past several decades we’ve made revolutionary changes in the way code is structured to adapt to that change. Through good programming practices we can build code that will not only satisfy the needs of today but also make it easier to satisfy the needs of tomorrow. You cannot resist change forever so you’d better prepare for it when it eventually arrives.
The argument against the Bleeding Edge is more subtle. In the minds of many, new always equals better. Sometimes this is the case and sometimes it is anything but. Anyone who has done Palm OS programming knows that you can throw a lot of effort down a rabbit hole only to find that the rabbit is long since dead. Personally, I love new technology but I’m not nearly enough of a savant to say with any accuracy which one will still be around in a year. Therefore I don’t go chasing every rabbit. Once a technology has demonstrated stability, lasting power and usefulness then it’s ready to have my attention. Until then it’s just a museum curiosity.
To put it more broadly, my personal interest in technology is only as deep as its ability to help me solve some business problem or do so in a more efficient way. That’s it. If a new technology comes along that promises more flashy bells and whistles but has no impact on my ability to do my job then I really couldn’t begin to care. I’ll spare it the 10 minutes it takes to determine its functional value and then that’s it. In terms of technology I am a strict pragmatist. Show me the ROI or go away. In terms of technology, at least for me, sex does not sell.
I’m finding that increasingly this is a hard sell in the employment marketplace. My rather laid-back attitude tends to put me in the Boat Anchor bucket because my shelves are not filled with books on technology, I don’t memorize the specs for anything and my focus is on GETTING WORK DONE rather than on using the newest flashiest thing. I’m not a technophile. I’m a problem solver. If some piece of technology can help me solve a problem without causing more problems than it creates then great. If not, I’ll stick with my technology from three whole years ago and wait for the new tool to prove itself. In the end, it’s all about the economics of workplace. What gets the work done? Not, what’s new and flashy and interesting?