In your circle of co-workers, who do you pay attention to?
For technology trends, I tend to pay attention to the folks who I get along with the least… The architects. You know these guys, they are the curmudgeons who are always telling you that you can’t do it because of this inane reason or that performance concern. It often feels their one job is to take the wind out of our sails when you have that world-changing idea. Problem is, they’re usually right. Other problem is, sometimes you should ignore them, but it’s difficult to decide when. That’s another column.
So, why pay attention to technical trends in these architects? Quite simply put, they usually resist change because they’ve designed a system which works. When change does occur, it’s rationale change, it’s change for a reason, and it’s usually much bigger than you can actually discern because they are smarter than you.
There have been two interesting shifts in my immediate architect community in the past six months. First, the use of the Mozilla browser as a primary browser. Second, the appearance of Apple hardware for use as a development platform.
Let me disclose what I do. I manage a group of engineers who primarily work in Java on a hosted web application.
This isn’t some web design shop. This is a software development shop which produces heavy weight applications used by really big companies who yell really loud when things break.
I approached the senior architect as he was merrily typing away on his iBook. I sat next to him and nodded towards the translucent white box. He grinned; knowing exactly what I was asking, have reciting an answer I’m certain he constructed months ago.
“FreeBSD and the best windowing manager around.”
I nodded, getting half of what he was saying. He continued, “FreeBSD, that’s what the Darwin kernel is based on, is Unix and it’s generally viewed as one of the more stable Unix implementations. Add the Macintosh window manager on top of that and you’ve got the power of Unix and the pleasure of the Macintosh.”
I nodded some more.
Think of the pace of change in high tech as a train. This train lives in a world that is constantly changing and reinventing itself and you get to choose where you sit. Seats in the front are frightening, you are rapid fire exposed to new crap constantly. Your definition of the world is constantly in flux and if you blink, you might find yourself in the middle seats.
The middle seats can see the front seats and are aware that something is going, but middle seaters are content to take the lead from the front seats and trust they know what they are doing. I tend to hang somewhere right between the front and middle seats.
The back seats are on the train, but they shouldn’t be. They’re aware of change, but they’ve settled into a comfortable little COBOL world and are happily ignorant of change because what they have works for them. It takes train wrecks to change their world and, even then, they’ll find some way to reconstruct their back seats (Think Visual COBOL).
The sudden appearance of Apple hardware in the building gave me the impression that my seat had moved backwards a couple of spots while I hadn’t been paying attention. This fear was compounded by the fact that when I started asking around outside of the company, I found a good many architect-types who had made the switch to OS X. This concerned me and this is how I’m going to fix it.
First, we’ll consider the Apple business model. We’ll go read their investment information, read their news clippings, and see what we can discern about what their strategy is.
Third, I don’t know what third is, but everything happens is threes, so I’m certain we’ll figure Third out during First and Second.
Off we go.
Update (6/29/02): I did mention there were two interesting technology trends, OS X and Mozilla. I was considering lumping Mozilla into my shift to OS X, but that may be too much of a switch. I’m currently a Windows dork, so it would be difficult to compare and contrast browsers on OS X. I would end up with questions like, “Well, is it better because of OS X or because of the browser?” More later.