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Keeping up with Technology


Keeping up with Technology

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Phil Factor
Phil Factor
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Comments posted to this topic are about the item Keeping up with Technology


Best wishes,

Phil Factor
Simple Talk
Timothy-313907
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I'd argue one reason technical people lose touch with technology when they become managers is because technology changes so fast. Thomas Edison and the other people you mentioned from the past never had to grapple with progress being made so rapidly that they'd be out of date in 2 years. Keeping up with the latest tech is a full enough job as it is, I don't know how a technical manager can do the dual job of managing and staying technically relevant.
Scott D. Jacobson
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Timothy, I'd argue that you're making excuses. You're right that "things were different 100 years ago" as the OP suggests. However, this is the world in which we live.

Tech changes fast, yes. A good manager (or technician) can adapt to that simply by having better productivity. There are several styles of doing so.

What scares me more are people who don't know which hat to wear. When the tech hat is put on to do a simple task and the mgmt. hat is worn to do the same. Mgmt. is all about delegation and when managers feel the need to do tasks that their staff should be doing there is a disconnect.

Laisser Tomber
Phil Factor
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I'm not sure that the rate of technological change is enormously different now. I've been doing IT now for around thirty years: Recently I've been reading several biographies of great engineers, and I've been surprised how close their experience of technological change was. Aviation is a good example of this. In WW1, for example, a cutting-edge fighter would be a flying coffin within two years, such was the rate of progress in aviation. I'd recommend reading about R.J. Mitchell, Arthur Emmons Raymond, and Barnes Wallis in aviation as being particularly good examples of technologists who led large teams, but had great influence in the technology of the products they designed, which were always cutting-edge.


Best wishes,

Phil Factor
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Jeff Moden
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Scott Jacobson-452610 (1/24/2010)
Timothy, I'd argue that you're making excuses. You're right that "things were different 100 years ago" as the OP suggests. However, this is the world in which we live.

Tech changes fast, yes. A good manager (or technician) can adapt to that simply by having better productivity. There are several styles of doing so.

What scares me more are people who don't know which hat to wear. When the tech hat is put on to do a simple task and the mgmt. hat is worn to do the same. Mgmt. is all about delegation and when managers feel the need to do tasks that their staff should be doing there is a disconnect.

Laisser Tomber


Are you a manager, Scott?

--Jeff Moden

RBAR is pronounced ree-bar and is a Modenism for Row-By-Agonizing-Row.
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Stop thinking about what you want to do to a row... think, instead, of what you want to do to a column.
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Scott D. Jacobson
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Just an under-managed techie i'm afraid ;-)
jay-h
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I'm not sure that you could say all these people were continuously at the cutting edge of technology. Edison was very creative and self educated, but actually his lack of formal knowledge sometimes worked against him as he used hard work, trial and error. Curtiss did spectacular things with engines and aircraft, but in later years worked on non-aircraft projects even while Curtiss aircraft was flourishing.

The extreme of either position is not good. A IT pro and IT manager are NOT the same job and don't require the same skillset. A manager should have a good working knowledge of technology, but if he or she is a good manager, they will select good experts to provide input and advice.

A good hospital manager does not need to be a top surgeon, indeed does not have to be a doctor at all (though does need to be well versed in medical practice).

I'd much rather work for a good manager who was not an IT pro, than an IT pro turned poor manager.

...

-- FORTRAN manual for Xerox Computers --
Bill Nicolich
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Phil suggests, if I read him right, that online communities like SQLServerCentral are vital in part to help tech workers cope with waves of change.

That's a great point. That magic can happen in a community like this - but the magic is contingent on some things - otherwise the supply of pixie dust runs low (sorry: my three-year-old has been watching faerie shows a lot lately).

So the magic of helping a tech worker cope with changes to a technology, like transitioning from DTS to SSIS, for instance - that's what I want to comment about.

I turn to Neil Postman (who has put lots of thought on this topic and published Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology and Building a Bridge to the 18th Century) who draws a distinction between information, knowledge and wisdom.

In short, I think the magic is in helping community members move as quickly as possible from finding relevant information, to getting knowledge - which is getting opinions (sufficient to evaluate information and determine its relevance and validity among other things), to finally getting wisdom - which is in part learning why things are the way they are, and learning what's needed to make strategic decisions.

If you allow me that, then one point to get from it is that by posting a list of constants, like the SSIS transaction isolation level constants - you hand over information. But that doesn't get someone who is transitioning very far.

What's also needed is knowledge about why one would choose one constant or the other - or which are most common and why.

If knowledge and wisdom aren't transferred effectively in a community, then the community becomes merely one additional point in the vast sea of information glut that assails the worker on their path to enlightenment.

Community providers and leaders like those of SQLServerCentral, I suggest, need to find a way to promote the transfer of wisdom and knowledge - and find a way to tweak the platform to do so. Otherwise, the supply of pixie dust will run low.

Now in saying what I just said, I've put up an example of knowledge - evaluative information, but I haven't said too much wisdom about how the community might actually distill more wisdom to the transitioning worker. That's a blog post. I'll give it a whack soon.

Bill Nicolich: www.SQLFave.com.
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bill.paterson
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Although I have to agree with the general thrust of this editorial, one has to be careful not to generalize. Over the years I've occassionally had very good managers who were not particularly well informed technically. However, they were able to put together technologically strong teams, and most importantly each of these managers were also good listeners. Generally, I found that in these environments the teams solved the problems and the manager's strength was in preparing strong business cases, and securing funding to make sure the resources were available when needed etc.

Unfortunately, in my experience these managers are few and far between. Too often, it is the incompetent who are promoted. It almost seems that there is an assumption that someone with weak technical skills must be a good manager. These people often promote themselves as being "big picture" people, much to the chagrin of those who do actually know their arse from a hole in the ground.
Phil Factor
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Yes, I generalize a bit to make a point. The other problem with a technically-savvy management is that they can get it wrong, but when the company organization discourages dissent, then their dominant position in the hierarchy ensures that nobody is courageous enough to tell them they're wrong.

The classic example of this in history was the British engineer F.W. Webb, Francis Webb made his reputation when he was responsible for the installation of Bessemer converters and the start of steel production at Crewe locomotive works in 1861-1866. He was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1871 and stayed until 1903. He was generally successful as a designer, but his understanding of compound systems was flawed, but were nonetheless applied to a number of locomotive designs. He was rather tyrannical in his running of the department and so few dared to point out his misunderstanding. the subsequent locomotives gave considerable trouble to their crews in service, and were less economical to run than simple single-expansion engines. One particularly disastrous design was prone to slip when starting up, such that the pairs of uncoupled driving wheels spun in different directions!

I though you might wish to know that!


Best wishes,

Phil Factor
Simple Talk
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