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Do You Understand Your Technology?

posted Oct 1, 2009, 7:30 AM by Matt Lankford   [ updated Mar 23, 2010, 10:14 AM ]

At the start, people just used a PC with a word processor and a spreadsheet. Visicalc, Word Perfect and Lotus Symfony were the big dogs on the block. Usually someone in the business was in complete control and knew everything about the system.

Then people started to put network cards into their computers and putting dedicated computers called servers in that would server files from a central location. This started the client / server revolution.

There were hundreds of companies that brought products to market. Each one promised that their product was the "best" that you could buy. There was the "Token Ring vs Ethernet war", the "Banyon Vines vs Novell fight" then the "Novell to NT migrations" and on and on.

Knowing what the best system for a business required experience with each system but since each system cost thousands of dollars, most people just had to pick one based on what the salesperson of each company said.

As it grew more and more complicated, people dedicated to running and supporting all of these systems became necessary. Little training was available and it was very expensive. Because of the expense, very few people were available who knew how everything worked.

Now almost 30 years later, technology has become so complicated that very few people understand all the pieces and how they fit together.

Each piece of the puzzle has a specialist. The servers have the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers ( MCSE ), Novell has the Certified Novell Engineers ( CNE ) and Cisco has the Cisco Certified Network Engineers ( CCNE ) along with hundreds or thousands of other "Certified" thingies.

Some of these people are very good at what they do... others simply study "cliff notes" type books that teach them how to pass the certification exams. These people are called things like "paper MCSEs" and the like. They have no practical experience in the field and cause more problems than the fix.

Not only do these people not know what they are supposed to, they do not know how their chosen field relates to the rest of the technology, further adding to the problems. They often come up with solutions that are overly complex, are unmanageable, are expensive or just plain don't work.

As someone who was there at the beginning of the tech revolution, I have seen many great and many bad things happen in the industry. Sometimes, experience is the only thing that can tell the difference.

I remember when Apple, Microsoft, Novell, Linux were new and no one knew who they were. I remember meeting Linus ( the guy who created linux ) and Larry Wall ( the guy who created PERL ).

Today, people seem to think of technology as if it were untouchable and put it on a pedestal that keeps it out of the hands of the common person. These people are usually attempting to justify their jobs. If their boss asks them a question they start with the "Technobable" until he just gives up.

I am reminded of a phrase that Albert Einstein once used... "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough".

There are other people who actually know what they are doing and understand that the technology should be as simple as possible and help people do things.

If you are a technology person... my advice is to read as much as possible.

If you are a business person attempting to use technology to improve your business, my advice is to find someone who knows how all the pieces fit together, has a strong will that will now allow the specialist to get away with the technobable and can fend of the sales people who promise the moon and deliver just cheese.