Sunday, November 21, 2010

IT Meritocracy

Had to look up the word meritocracy, just so I didn't look stupid:

* a form of social system in which power goes to those with superior intellects
* the belief that rulers should be chosen for their superior abilities and not because of their wealth or birth

* a system that rewards an individual based on their own talent and ability.

* A system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.

IT is very meritocratic. I love that. It's partially what drew me to IT. It has allowed me, without formal education, to gain acceptance and and make a good living.

Let's face it though, IT, generally speaking, is the Wild West. It is no where near as established as Accounting, or Architecture, or Engineering...there is always more than one way to do a particular activity. Not so much in those other professions.

They have history behind the way things are done. It was proven long ago, in many instances, that doing something a particular way is the best way to do it. Those professions today stand on the shoulders of giants.

We really don't have that. Our industry is just too young.

I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy the DBA world, things are provable. DBAs can prove why something is better this was versus the other way. Developers have a harder time. Like I said, there is more than one way to do things.

Which one? PL/SQL and put it in the database? (a resounding yes from me). What about Java and moving the business rules to the middle tier? Or Ruby? Or any other language for that matter?

Those decisions are mostly based on a developers comfort zone, or what's hot at the moment. It's not provable though, that one is better than the other. We've had the discussion here on multiple occasions (here, here, here, here...and a bunch of other ones)

How does this relate to meritocracy?
Good question. I would say that most decisions to go a certain direction are based on experience. Experience = merit, in the world of common sense anyway. IT is different though, experience does not equal merit. Just because you have worked in IT for 30 years, that does not make you an expert in a given technology. Sure, for the very rare person, that 30 years is quite valuable...they have seen it all and done it all...and they have learned along the way. I can usually spot those types easily, as there is a sort of calm to them, humility. I tend to gravitate towards those people (which is why I love OOW and other conferences so much, there are a lot of super smart people in close proximity).

I'm not perfect of course. I can remember an incident a couple of years ago where I called a colleague and friend, complicated. In fact, he wasn't, I just didn't know what he was doing. I learned quite a lot from that gentlemen.

How do you tell who is who?
Is it the person like me who isn't afraid to say "I don't know." Or is the person who says, unflinchingly, that we should use technology A over technology B? I usually have a good idea of who's talking out their ass (including myself, on those occasions where I let my emotions get the better of me)...but how do those not "in the know" know? Managers? Other colleagues who might not be versed in a particular technology? How can they tell?

I tend to end up on the wrong side of that. My manager, or someone else, believes I'm just a mal-content. I am working on that.

The meritocratic IT environment is equally fun and frustrating. I just need to figure out a way to minimize the frustrating part of it.


Bob Rhubart said...

As a profession, IT has had a more significant impact on the daily lives of humans over the last 20 years than any of the other areas you mention. One could argue that it is the wild west nature of IT that made that possible. Can IT maintain its incredible level of innovation if it "matures" into a more formalized profession or area of study?

oraclenerd said...

I wholeheartedly agree.

I have argued with friends that we should be paid significantly more money/bonuses because of the impact we can have within our own company. I mean, a simple concept or idea within IT can save a company millions of dollars over a given period of time. I love it.

Whether it becomes formalized...that's just a long way off. A very long way.

I do understand your point though...take away the entrepreneurial aspect of it and you might take away the innovation. perhaps fodder for a separate post.