“I Am Not A Number, I Am A Free Man!”

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No one likes to be numbered, categorised, graded, pigeonholed, ranked, classified or otherwise grouped into a systematic or a similalry defined logical set. We’re all individuals, right? Especially ‘us’ IT, techie-type individuals. We’re as unique as virtual grains of sand on a synthetic beach, washed up by the tides of cyber-space. We like to flaunt our egoistic personalities by adopting avatars, twitter handles and pen names etc., and we do it all in the name of individualistic pursuits or anonymity on the web. We like to distinguish and uniquely identify ourselves in the blogosphere, on forums, in games arenas and chat rooms or wherever it is we may electronically hang out and virtually socialise.

Well, I have news for you. According to this article we’re ALL going to be reduced to one of only three functional possibilities;

1. Consultants
2. Project managers
3. Developers

Now that the post is nearly one year old, is it still actually the case, or was it ever the case? Do we look around our offices and see only Consultants, Project Managers and Developers? And if we do, what then? Does that mean we’re more efficient or less creative? Now, call me boring but I’m all up for seeing and utilising the differences in people, and whilst we may broadly fit into categories I really don’t see the benefit of this mundane, over simplistic approach. After all do we not already relish in shoe-horning ourselves into rather pointless categories of height, size, race, religion etc.? And where exactly has that go us?

But this is not a philosophical debate, it’s practical one and I personally think that, in the IT industry there are more roles than just Consultants, Projects Managers and Developers. I mean if we’re going to be pedantic about it, what about the role of scrum master? Granted it’s a managerial-type role, but it’s mainly a servant leader role and usually not development orientated nor indeed does it necessarily involve managing projects as a whole. The fact that people have wide and varied skills is a good thing; it allows for, and is conducive towards creative thought processes, compromising attitudes and entrepreneurial ideas. If we were all the same or even broadly the same, what a dismally boring place we would have on our hands and how pathetically bland our work environments would be.

I could write more on this here, but it might appear as a rant and I am reminded this is a blog, so let’s consider and respond to the points raised on the website mentioned above.

Consultants first then…

1. Consultants

“Lets face it, all but the largest enterprises would prefer to not to have any IT professionals on staff, or at least as few as possible. It’s nothing personal against geeks, it’s just that IT pros are expensive and when IT departments get too big and centralized they tend to become experts at saying, NO. They block more progress than they enable.”

Now, I’m not sure what world this particular writer lives in, but generally in my world if you have spent a number of years learning, practicing and becoming well recognised as an industry professional in your arena, then I believe this entitles you to a decent salary. Furthermore, as a consultant myself I am used to making the effort to say “YES” to my clients. Obviously there are times when one simply cannot achieve what is being asked, usually within tight deadlines and/or cost estimates, and at those times it is best to say “NO”, but to suggest that IT departments generally say “NO” because they have ascertained and degree of power within an company is not a point-of-view that I would willingly go along with.

Next up and commenting on Project Managers, our writer suggests that…

2. Project managers

“Most of the IT workers that survive and remain as employees in traditional companies will be project managers. They will not be part of a centralized IT department, but will be spread out in the various business units and departments. They will be business analysts who will help the company leaders and managers make good technology decisions. They will gather business requirements and communicate with stakeholders about the technology solutions they need, and will also be proactive in looking for new technologies that can transform the business. These project managers will also serve as the company’s point of contact with technology vendors and consultants. If you look closely, you can already see a lot of current IT managers morphing in this direction.”

I may not disagree entirely here, but I think that it is a gross generalisation to say that employees who remain will become project mangers. Perhaps this may be true in very large scale organisations, but in small to medium-size companies there are simply not enough positions to justify everyone moving into a project management type role. Additionally, the idea of a project manager gathering business requirements etc. doesn’t quite ring true. Most projects that I have worked on have had a dedicated Business Intelligence Analyst to do that and the idea of a Project Manager communicating technical solutions to stakeholders is also rather flaky. Usually an architect or team of architects will design and present a technical solution to a client since many IT project managers do not have either an IT or technical background and are wholly incapable of operating in this area. The role of the Project Manager in a nutshell is the overall responsibility for the successful planning, execution, monitoring, control and closure of a project. They may perform other duties, but it is unlikely that this will be requirements capture, system design or any of the usual technical functions. There are of course exceptions and I have managed projects with a number of hats on, scrum master, developer, team lead, project manger etc., but on the whole this has not been my experience in the IT world.

Finally our writer considers the Developers, a bunch dear to my heart.

3. Developers

“By far, the area where the largest number of IT jobs is going to move is into developer, programmer, and coder jobs. While IT used to be about managing and deploying hardware and software, it’s going to increasingly be about web-based applications that will be expected to work smoothly, be self-evident, and require very little training or intervention from tech support. The other piece of the pie will be mobile applications both native apps and mobile web apps. As I wrote in my article, We’re entering the decade of the developer, the current changes in IT are shifting more of the power in the tech industry away from those who deploy and support apps to those who build them. This trend is already underway and it’s only going to accelerate over the next decade.”

OK, so there are some good points here I’ll admit, especially with the expansion of the mobile app world, but I think the writer falls short of fully understanding what a revolution this has actually been. In the past the developer role was a skilled role and usually took several years to master in any given language. Since IOS, Android and Windows CE were introduced, coupled with free IDEs, mobile emulators, on-line source code repositories etc. the ability for the average Joe to create a decent application has never been easier.

Coding is no longer the exclusive right of those who can afford the software tools and with many big software vendors offering ‘lite’ or free versions of their flagship software, it really has taken the development world by storm. The writer also fails to consider the other massive revolution which had definitely taken hold last year and which continues to boom; that of course is the ‘cloud’. Just put ‘estimated cloud growth’ into Google to see what the results are. It certainly doesn’t take a monkey with two heads to figure this one out. It’s massive.

So, lessons learned?

1. Forget about generalising people, not even in terms of functionality.
2. Focus on why people are different and how that can help your business.
3. Respect talent and give credit where it is due.
4. Give project managers a break they really can be useful (OK, a bit tongue-in-cheek).
5. Stick it out with longer blogs, they can be worth it.
6. Live long and prosper.