Futuretripping (Parts 1-4)
© Douglas E. Welch 1998
Judging from the questions I have received via email, many of
you are just starting out in a technology career. While you may
not be in charge of your own department or division today, you
probably will be in the future. Being aware of some common pitfalls
can give you a head start on your future. Keep an eye on your
current boss and you just might find some good (and bad) examples.
Even if you are currently in an entry level position, keeping
the following issues in mind can keep you pointed in the right
direction as you journey through your career. Your current boss
may not care about these issues, or even be aware of them, but
this doesn?t mean that you can?t be developing ideas and solutions
for the day when you are elevated to a position of more responsibility.
Y2K and beyond
The press has latched onto the Year 2000 problem with the tenacity
of a badger. While there is some good involved in computer problems
being part of the mainstream news it can lead to hype, paranoia
and hyperbole. Surely, there will be many problems associated
with the Year 2000, but as a technology worker, you should be
thinking beyond this problem, as well.
Every computer system under your control should be examined with
an eye toward the future. What is the life span of the current
system? Is the system operating as designed or is it merely a
series of Band-Aids applied over many years? How are old systems
retired and new ones put in place? It is issues such as these
that you will need to be addressed year after year. American business
is notorious for only thinking as far ahead as the next quarter.
You can give yourself a tremendous advantage by breaking out of
this mold. You will still have to deal with less forward-looking
people, but you will have an added advantage.
In almost every company, technology workers are excluded from
project groups, regardless of how useful their input and insight
might be. This often leads to situations where projects come close
to failure because of previously unknown issues that could have
been addressed by technical staff. Worse still, technology workers
are then saddled with the support and training for a project that
could have been better if only they had been includedat the starts.
To combat this sense of frustration, always be on the lookout
for opportunities to have your opinions heard. Develop ways of
including technical staff on every project that is organized.
This often means helping other staffers understand what you do
and what skills you can offer to a project. Whether people understand
it or not, there is a technology aspect to every project whether
it is designing a house, a new dress or a new payroll management
system. Offering helpful ideas and opinions where you can will
help you bridge the gap between project teams and technology.
Last week I talked about looking beyond the Year 2000 problems
and looking for the next technology crisis that could be brewing
in your company. I also mentioned the issue of involving technology
people early in the life cycle of any project. This week I will
address a few more issues that deserve to be remembered as we
build our careers.
One of the silliest, and yet destructive issues of many corporations
is the evolution of computers into a status item instead of a
tool. Little is more disheartening to a technology worker than
an executive who has a state-of-the-art computer system and never
even turns it on. We have all seen them. Nineteen inch monitors
covered with paper Post-It Notes instead of spreadsheets. Millimeters
of dust on the expensive, ergonomically correct keyboards. All
the while, technology workers are trying to get their work done
with 2-3 year old computers that require them to take 2-3 times
longer to complete their work. While the absurdity of this is
clear to technology workers, getting an executive to give up his
or her computer system (or swap with his secretary!) is worse
than pulling teeth without anesthesia. It could even jeopardize
your job. The best way to solve this problem is to avoid its occurrence
in the first place
I have no simple answers for this problem, nor does any other
technology worker. It requires patience, finesse and constant
vigilance. Do what you can to make sure that people use the tools
they are given instead of using them as desktop decoration.
The Right Tools
There is another problem related to the one mentioned above. Often,
technology workers are not given the tools they need to do their
best. Crippling your technology workers with outdated technology
is a waste of company money and productivity. A company cannot
expect to grow if it chronically under funds its technology departments
and still requires them to perform the usual miracles expected
of every technology department.
Poor tools can generate high levels of employee dissatisfaction
and result in higher employee turnover than might be expected.
No one wants to be constantly fighting their tools instead of
addressing the problem at hand. A good woodworker doesn?t use
dull tools and a technology worker shouldn?t be expected to make
do with the technological equivalent.
In one personal example, I was supporting both Windows and Macintosh
computer users. Every budget cycle, myself and my fellow support
workers had to defend the right to have both a Windows and a Macintosh
computer on our desks. Managers looking for budget cuts always
targeted those with more than one computer, regardless of the
scope of their job. Every year we would have to demonstrate the
lost productivity that would result if we didn?t have the ability
to easily talk users through basic functions on both computers.
We won every year but the time and energy devoted to this battle
could have been better used elsewhere.
Look for ways that you can bring in new technology with as low
cost as possible. Will a manufacturer offer a demonstration unit
for a short time? Once a technology is demonstrated to be useful
it is easier to justify additional expense. It is all a game but
one you must play well in order to insure you and your future
staff have the tools they need.
Next week: Cocooning
Keeping in mind the issues of the past 2 weeks columns can help
you develop your career by maintaining a future focus. We all
operate better when we can see where we are going. It also helps
to identify issues so that we know how to react when they present
themselves for the first time.
This week, I will talk about a few things you can do for yourself
and the people you may manage in the future.
Nurturing and Cocooning
A common practice in companies that use artists and other creative
people is that of nurturing and cocooning those employees so that
they have the freedom to create without the pressures and annoyances
of everyday bureaucracy. I recommend that this practice be applied
to every employee of a company and not just those seen as ?creative.?
Truth be told, the bureaucratic abuse that most of us suffer as
a worker is far above any reasonable level. Arbitrary and punitive
rules are used more to keep workers in line the promote productivity.
We often spend more time justifying our jobs than actually performing
When you find yourself moving into higher levels of responsibility
one of your roles will be shielding your staff from excessive
bureaucracy, petty people and budget cuts. Remember what it feels
like today when you are on the receiving end of this behavior
and use that to balance your management style.
Cocooning your staff away from such behaviors can have a dramatic
impact on worker morale, turnover and productivity. You may have
to take some ?heat? yourself over your actions but productivity
will always outweigh bureaucracy.
While you might think the benefits of planning ahead goes without
saying, many companies do not see any further than the next few
hours into the future. It seems amazing that they get through
the day, let alone the next quarter. While it sometimes might
seem difficult to bear, always keep looking into the future.
Despite our best efforts to warn companies about the ?oncoming
trains? in their future, we can never stop noticing them and pointing
them out. Even if the companies do not pay attention, our skill
at seeing these problems increases our skills and our abilities
to adapt to new conditions.
It can be frustrating to warn about problems and be ignored but
we can keep some small satisfaction from the fact that we were
aware. We can also do our best to prepare and protect ourselves
from the consequences even if the company does not heed your warning.
Find ways to cocoon yourself and your future staff. Use your time
in the trenches to prepare and develop your skills and understanding
of the way that business works. Reward planning ahead in both
yourself and others. Even if others do not recognize the importance,
you will be placing yourself far ahead in the technology worker
There are many issues that you will be facing as you continue
your technology career and I hope that introducing you to a few
of these this month will assist you. We can sometimes lose sight
of the future when we are in the trenches of the corporate world,
but we should always be thinking about the future. The future
of our company. The future or our career. The future of our lives.
Baling Wire and Duct Tape
Walk into any company today and you will find a large share of
technology systems that look like they are only kept running through
the creative use of baling wire and duct tape. The Band-Aids applied
nearly obscure the underlying system. Pressure, poor management
and under funding leads to such systems and eventually it will
all come tumbling down. The Year 2000 problem is only one example
of what can happen when we defer addressing a true problem and
only treat the symptoms. What we need today is a re-dedication
to the concept of elegance in our technology operations.
Stressed by time pressures and other factors technology workers
are often forced to perform miracles out of thin air. Rather than
taking the time to do something right, we are happy to merely
have it done at all. What we are ignoring, at our peril, is the
future problems we are creating for ourselves and those that come
after us. Elegant systems are self-maintaining and correcting
because we have planned ahead, envisioned the future and shot
for the moon instead of settling for an earthly solution. We may
not reach our goal but we are better for attempting to reach it.
Take a few minutes with each task, no matter how small and no
matter how rushed you are. Ask yourself, ?How could this be better?
How could I make it more functional today and in the future? Am
I truly providing a solution or only placing a Band-Aid on a gaping
We owe it to ourselves to provide elegance in our lives, our careers
and our businesses.
Lead, follow or ?
Whatever you do in your technology careers, never become an obstacle
in the search for higher productivity. I have seen too many good
technology people succumb to the fallacy that only they know what
is best for the a company and its computer users.
We all have something to learn and we need to embrace new concepts
and new technology as they present themselves. We can sometimes
be afraid of the changes brought about by new technologies or
the additional work they will require, but we should never stand
in the way of something just because it is new or different.
Never stop looking to the future and never stop looking for the
elegance in your career or your life.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at email@example.com