Career Opportunities

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A Technological World

May 6, 2005

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The integration of technology into our everyday lives continues apace. More and more we are coming to depend on technology that would have seemed fantastical only a decade ago: Cell phones, wireless networking, “always-on” devices, GPS and more. As this integration continues, governments and large corporations are being forced to take action. Technology issues that might previously have gone unnoticed are now front page news. This means that all high-tech workers must direct more of their attention to the political ins and outs of technology or risk unforeseen consequences to their careers and lives.

Who talks loudest?

The basic truth is, most governmental decisions about technology are being made by people only moderately knowledgeable in the state of technology today. Sure, senators and representatives have some tech-savvy staff, but they themselves may have only a limited understanding of what their votes might mean to millions of people in the country. When they start hearing mention of BitTorrent, Metropolitan WiFi, and blogs, many will rightly think that people have started speaking in tongues.

Large corporations, such as cable providers, telecomm companies and the recording industry are well aware of this dearth of technological knowledge among legislators. They clearly understand the effects of legislation on their businesses and take great pains to communicate their desires and agenda to elected representatives. In some cases, they are even crafting the legislation that will later apply to their businesses.

Regardless of your views on the propriety of such persuasion, it helps illustrate the need for technology workers to be aware and active in protecting their interests. Lately we have seen proposed legislation that could conceivably outlaw entire classes of technology in an effort to protect copyright holders and other owners of intellectual property. Imagine your business being declared illegal overnight.

The next step

So, what does a concerned high-tech careerist do? First, get informed. Instead of just glossing over articles about telecomm regulations, mergers and often confusing court cases, learn more about them. Actively try to gain a deeper understanding of the issues and how they might directly effect you. The Internet provides excellent resources for research including the full text of proposed legislation and analysis on all sides of the issues. Even though you might not understand all the intricacies of a new law, you should at least be aware of it. With luck there’ll be a lawyer among your friends, family or client list that can help clarify some of the issues.

Currently, I am delving into the confusing world of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and how it applies to IT operations at public corporations. I never thought I would be drawn into the world of SEC filings, but the world has become an increasingly complicated place and technology is an integral part. Without a deeper understanding of this law, you or your managers could find yourself facing a subpoena, if your company has to restate earnings or has other accounting issues.

The next step is to get involved. There are organizations that seek to influence public policy in regards to technology issues. Probably the best known entity today is the Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF. Their stated goal is “to protect your digital rights” and they go about that goal in a host of different ways. According to their web site, “EFF opposes misguided legislation, initiates and defends court cases preserving individuals' rights, launches global public campaigns, introduces leading edge proposals and papers, hosts frequent educational events, engages the press regularly, and publishes a comprehensive archive of digital civil liberties information.”

Getting involved can also mean assisting your local governments with technology decisions through advisory boards. Maybe your city wants to establish security cameras in public areas, renegotiate agreements with cable or telephone providers or provide free WiFi networking throughout the city. As an independent contractor or even as an employee of a corporation, your detailed expertise can help. You can provide an informational balance to the large corporations who seek to create more favorable terms for themselves, sometimes at the expense of the general public.

One thing is sure, a person in your position can no longer ignore technology issues. Everyday legislation is being written, court cases are being filed and lobbyists are pressing their views. If you want to have a voice in the future of technology, you need to step away from the computer and deal with the real-world issues of governmental policy, politics and an increasingly complicated technological world.


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