Observations about common IT technologies in 1988-89

Sometime around 1988-1989 I did some part-time data entry work for an IT Recruitment Agency that my Dad worked for. Tucked away in some papers I found these two sheets listing a range of different programming languages and other in-demand software packages/systems at the time. From memory, I think this list was what I used to code each of the job applicants tech skills as they were entered into their recruitment CV/resume database.

There’s many things interesting about this list from 30 years ago. The first that caught my attention is how many of the tech skills on this list are no longer in use today, and some I’ve never even heard of since.

The second point that’s interesting is how many technologies and languages we commonly use today are not even on this list, meaning they were developed and introduced at some point after 1989. Every web technology in common use today was introduced after this point – HTML, CSS, JavaScript and any of the various popular JavaScript libraries, all introduced at some point after 1989.

Even other popular languages and frameworks/platforms, Visual Basic, Java, .NET, Ruby, PHP … all introduced after 1989.

This reinforces the fact that commonly used IT technologies come and go pretty quick, and what’s common today can easily be replaced with something else tomorrow. If you’re planning to stay in IT for the long run (longer than a few years), be prepared to keep your skills up to date, stay flexible and adapt to change.

Is Zuckerberg’s hoodie really ‘a mark of immaturity’?

An industry analyst who recently met with Zuckerberg about investment plans in Facebook stated that he thought Zuckerberg’s trademark hoodie is ‘a mark of immaturity’, implying that he should have been more suitably dressed for the business meeting.

Over on Google+, Robert Scoble posted about the analyst’s comment, which unleashed the most active community discussion that I’ve ever seen on G+ as a result of a single post. Opinions ranged wildly, but the activity in the discussion proves the absurdity and out of date thinking behind the expectation that professional business atire should be nothing other than suit, shirt and tie.

Times change, fashions change. The suit in today’s world is an absurd form of clothing. It has no practical benefits and is purely for show. This is my key issue – I don’t see how a suit is relevant in today’s world (in the software development world that I live in, at least) – wearing a suit does not make anyone a better software developer. It does not gift the developer with magical coding skills. It’s purely for show.

The popular saying ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ hits the nail on the head with this issue. Wearing a suit is nothing more than a cover on a book. As the other expression goes, ‘first impressions count’, but the fact is, once you’ve got beyond that faux outer layer to discover the contents of the person that has wrapped themselves in fancy, overpriced fabrics, it’s hard to hide the facts without the flashy threads. In software development, you can either code or you can’t. You either gel with the team, or you don’t. You perform or you don’t. Each of these have varying levels of degree, but the key point is this: a suit is nothing more than fancy plumage. Remove the outer shell and show me what you’ve got.

There’s some awesome comments to Scoble’s post that capture my thoughts entirely, that I’d like to quote here that make the point perfectly:

"wearing a tie doesn't make you money, not unless you sell ties"
"If you need to wear a costume to play out your roles, you should 
have become an actor or actress long ago"

Understanding the ignorance behind avoiding new software development technologies

New technologies are avoided by companies for many reasons, the primary reason maybe to avoid the risk of the unknown. If your success of your company/business/project depends on the success of your software development project, then of course you want to minimize risks associated with the latest and greatest new technologies especially if they’re so new that there’s no success stories from others already using them. Sometimes this risk is worth taking if the potential reward is so great that it negates the downsides of the risk. For example if the competitive advantage that could potentially be gained outweighs the significance of the risk, then maybe the risk is worth taking.

When new techologies are avoided due to lack of understanding, lack of information, incorrect assumptions, and beliefs based on false information, then you’ve got a more serious problem on your hands. The problem with any decision based on false information worsens when the decision makers believe the information they are basing their decisions on to be correct. The higher up the management chain these decisions are made the worse this situation becomes for two reasons:

  1. no-one questions the decisions made because of the decision maker’s level of authority
  2. the decision maker loses credibility with their team because they are seen to be making wrong/poor decisions based on bad information

‘Community’ or ‘tribal’ knowledge is a dangerous thing when decisions are made and opinions formed based on bad information. Opinions and beliefs quickly spread within a group/team/project of any size, and once those opinions and beliefs take hold as ‘fact’ then the rot has already set in from within – it can be hard to undo this damage and replace this bad information with true and correct facts.

The trouble with believing facts to be true is that if you are wrong, you probably don’t realize you are wrong. The more time that goes by operating with false information, the worse the situation can become, as you poison the knowledge of those around you too. The poor/incorrect information spreads, and beliefs become truths.

In an industry where having correct and up to date information is key to what we do everyday and to be successful, we owe it to ourselves to help anyone who is operating with false information. The longer this situation continues, the worse it becomes, so the best thing to do is to stop the situation in it’s tracks as soon as you see this starting. When success depends on having true and correct information, its important to stamp out sources of bad information as soon as you can.