When I meet IT managers that don’t keep up with technology, I am concerned for them. After all, a professor doesn’t forget his subject, even if he is running a University department; a creative artist doesn’t diminish the quality of his work even if he has to spend time supervising others; an architect who runs a vast practice doesn’t forget how to put a roof on a building. Why should any technologist put away his specialty when called upon to be a manager?
A hundred years or so ago, the leading entrepreneurs in science and engineering knew as much as their staff about technology and manufacturing. You need only read the biographies of Bell, Churchward, Edison, Brunel, Gresley, Sopwith or Mitchell to get the flavour. They never folded their arms and preached the smug dictum that a manager merely needed to know the arts of management. They took great pains to keep up-to-date, and were the driving forces in their learned societies. They also led technological initiatives from the front.
We have become so immersed in the idea that administrators or accountants can run technical enterprises, unaided, that we are in danger of forgetting the vital creative contribution of the technologist. One cannot argue, however, that a technologist will necessarily make a good manager. On the contrary, it can be a long and painful transition; we have recognized for over thirty years that we have to develop credible career paths for technical specialists. However, as we dust ourselves down from a difficult decade for Information Technology, we’re seeing the prestige and status of the technologists in industry diminish.
So, how can we all keep abreast of the technology once we take on the burden of supervising others and running teams? If sites like SQLServerCentral weren’t around, and if there weren’t local groups, then this might be a more difficult question to answer. Technologists have always gathered in communities to share and discuss, since this is the key, and the stimulus, to keeping up-to-date. The only difference is that information technology has made it easier to do so.