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The Death of the Technologist

September 28, 2013

In the world of technology, we focus so heavily on the evolution of the technology itself. New features, new releases, new terminology, methodology, ontology, buzzwords, languages, products, vendors and devices. We hardly ever focus on the changing nature of the people that use it. Who is the modern technologist? If we take the example of the computer, in the first half of the 20th century, the technologist was a mathematician, an academic… a necessarily brilliant mind.

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It was necessary not just to build the machine, but every component within, from base principles. He or she (and this was really a fair split) had to understand every aspect of the machine – the benefit that the machine brought was simply that once it was going, it could work faster than a team of humans; maybe only just! A visit to Bletchley Park will show you the fulcrum computer (specifically the ‘Turing Bombe’) and by that I mean the precursor to the modern era of IT.

turing-bombe-webThis is the computer; a visceral, living and breathing thing – clattering, whirring, incredibly hot; large like a weaving loom; physical and industrial. You can see and hear every moving part. The point is that there were components. The theory, rules, logic, computation and importantly the usage of the technology are all starting a journey – becoming extracted from the physical engineering; a journey which has never stopped, and will not stop – it continues to this day. The reduction in size of the computer in the late 1960s and early 70s offered a blip in this evolution – putting the technology into the hands of the individual – generally still academic, maths genius, but also interested in electronics and how the new availability of computing power can help them, but also how they can fiddle with the innards!

With the computer arriving on every desk, in every home during the 1980s and 90s and being used as more than a hobby. Often the case stayed firmly closed. The movement to put technology in the hands of non-specialists was gaining momentum. The computer was seen for what it can do, not for what it was in terms of circuit boazx-spectrum_keyboardrds, components. As a child in the 1980s, I remember vividly like so many others the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. I can’t be the only kid who was bought one of these to “help with homework”, but rather it ended up being used solely for the delayed gratification nature of cassette-loaded games and the very delayed gratification of copying BASIC programs out of magazines. Even the non-techy kids enjoyed their new-found ability to create something, to make a small blob move in a rudimentary way across a grainy TV screen. Most of these kids didn’t go into software-related careers, their enjoyment was in creating something not in ‘the code’ in itself. The interface to the technology was still very ‘techie’, but the beginnings of more real and useful ways to use it were showing themselves.

Computing becomes commonplace over the ensuing years. Jobs start requiring and expecting office application skills, more advanced computers exist at home for personal accounting, cataloguing your music collection, printing things out and writing letters. Also around this time mobile telephones are borwin31n. Computing technology becomes more common because of what it can do, how it can help people in their day to day lives. Getting involved in the dirtier aspects such as re-installing operating systems, formatting hard drives, the trials and tribulations of the ubiquitous floppy disk, installing applications, “windows cannot find your printer”… these were all necessary evils to the computer user rather than the main event. If you want the benefits you have to take some of the pain – and users did in their droves, because that was what was required. Then something interesting happened – the internet suddenly appeared. Well, by the timedkmb86g_487pr55s2hc_b most people had heard of it, it had been there for quite a long time, but as very much a techie concept, a niche pursuit… the extension of the bulletin board, newsgroup, prestel and so on. The birth of the internet, HTML, browsers… it’s all been covered at length so I won’t go into that here. Suffice to say, given a platform to create anything, essentially for free, to show it to anyone who might want to see it… for people to find it when they didn’t know it was there… it was never about the internet, it was about what you see in your browser. The possibilities are endless, limitless, and it evolves every day. Have a play with the ‘wayback machine’ if you don’t believe how much the art of web content has come along in 20 years… even 5 years.

If all you need is a browser – a simple, transparent window to a world- then can’t you do away with everything else you don’t need? If everything you need is delivered to you without the perceived ‘evil’ of snake-charming an awkward  computer prone to prolonged sulks anearly-Amazond unexplained problems? For most of the world, of course. Even as I type to you as a dinosaur technologist; I type this on a Macbook Air – because it’s easy, quick and it works. I spent 5 years with Ubuntu linux as my only operating system, and whilst it has its place and I will remember it dearly… I pick my battles, and this is not one. So the technology that just works, that sits in your hand wherever youare, wirelessly connected to that unrelentingly creative global and plain huge Andy Warhol studio that is the internet, hiding away its components so neatly, an interface to ergonomic and intuitive that evespeech110ry parent has a story about their 2 year old being able to use it… why would you go back? You could call this the consumerisation of IT, but it’s just this – do you want to do it the easy way or the hard way?

The most recent change has been the consumerisation of technology creativity. We are starting to see a lesser need to know how to code in order to create, assemble, improve and deliver technology. This relies on every increasing complexity underneath, but for the bulk of people making use of these technologies, the way that they go about doing so speaks to them… it’s closer to the end result, feedback is direct and human, the device and the means to create just fits to you.

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Much of my interest in technology is the interface between the human and the machine. Researchers refer to this as Human Factors, or Ergonomics and it is most definitely an art, but grounded in science. We’ve just got better at fitting machines to people, but this also changes the way we behave.

So, we come to the end. There is an eroding need to be a technologist to be involved with technology. This creates a bit of a paradox, as on the one hand IT becomes ‘cool’ and no longer the perceived province of the Geek; but on the other hand you don’t need IT skills to do basic things anymore, and even reas

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onably advanced and creative things. Obviously technology won’t turn you into the next Mozart, van Goghor Bill Gates without a degree of talent, but no longer are you required to have a talent for computing first. The technologist isn’t really dead (of course!), and instead their job has become quite a lot more varied and tough.

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Some incredibly hard work goes into making the average person feel expert, reducing the barriers to entry. The role of the technologist has changed hugely however, and moves away from the purely academic to the incredibly applied and results oriented. The new task is becoming the interface between the high-tech and the ‘everything else’; and the tech needs to fit right in at that party. I heard a presentation yesterday about the ‘no clue’ customer, referring to the emerging trend for stakeholders outside of the IT department engaging with technology providers to create new services, but with little knowledge or skills in IT themselves. So, business imitates life; and long live the technologist!

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2 Comments
  1. Imtech ICT UK permalink

    Reblogged this on Imtech ICT UK Blog.

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