The truth about IT

We all love IT. Even though some of us might not like our jobs, it is next to impossible to be in the IT world without having some kind of passion about the whole idea of working with computers and information.

It's the smell of computers. Tell me that there isn't something unique and breathtaking about a serious computer room. That drone of air conditioning, the tension in the air from all that power, the sheer magic of hundreds of cables and thousands of blinking lights.

More than that, it is the sheer intellectual rush of building systems that can make people productive and companies competitive. It is a challenge that rivals the greatest architectural achievements of, say, the Renaissance. Flying buttresses made of nothing but stone that can stand for centuries, pah! Show me an object-oriented database with a natural language interface that services 10,000 users in real time and I'll be impressed.

But there's also a dark side. That's the crazy hours, the stress of trying to solve supremely complex problems in too little time with too few resources, the frustration of trying to explain how computers work to people who just want to get their job done and don't care how their computers work and blame you for them having to know something about computers so that they can do their job.

So, here's the truth about IT:

1. There is nothing but IT. The world has only just begun to get it and as new employees enter your corporations things will get easier because these people grew up with a clue about IT. But by the time everyone is with the program you will be retired, insane or dead. Or all three.

2. We don't really know how to do IT yet. Despite all the technology we've accumulated and all the techniques and practices we have developed, no one really knows how it should all work. We'll keep trying, and we'll keep getting better, but as fast, as evolutionary and as revolutionary as our progress will seem, it will always be behind what we will need. As much technology as we develop, there will always be more information than we can handle.

3. We have no control over what IT can achieve. We can achieve in IT only what the major players in our industry will let us achieve. It is all about money. If Microsoft, Oracle and Siebel really cared about engineering, we'd be a lot further down the road to building really successful, reliable, durable, secure systems than we are. Why else would there be such a high failure rate in the implementation of ERP, CRM, customer management system and other large-scale systems?

4. The Free Market owns IT. Yep, it's a free market, and the lure of profit and the need to keep the shareholders happy have and will continue to make the greed of the vendors and the gullibility of the buyers crucial driving forces. For vendors, greed makes it easy to push out the door systems that are "good enough." Not adequate, mind you, just "good enough" to get it to the customer and collect a fee. And of course the buyers are sitting ducks; they are all too often desperate to believe the fairy tales.

5. Security is a pipe dream. I suppose it is possible that we could design truly secure systems, but in reality we don't seem to get around to it and don't want to pay for it. We're too busy trying to get the next big thing out the door. The bottom line is that we don't really care.

6. We always try to move faster in IT than common sense tells us we can. It is no secret that lots of bad decisions are made in the name of getting an edge, of owning the first-mover advantage, but that's all an illusion. If you don't really control your technology and it isn't really secure and it costs an arm and a leg to keep it running, that first-mover advantage is really just a millstone around the corporate neck.

So there you are. The truth about IT. Grim and gritty. Full of insurmountable barriers, frustration, sweat and toil relieved only by the occasional but incontrovertible realization that you have built something that works and works as you wanted it to.

Who would work in any other business?

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