Friday, November 18, 2011

Part 6 - Live long and prosper.

(This is part 6 in a series of 16 posts about IT leadership in higher education titled Everything I Need to Know about IT Management I Learned from Star Trek. See Part 0 - Introduction for the full list.)

To me, application of the Star Trek rule of "Live Long and Prosper" (Spock's typical greeting) to IT means look for long term quality solutions, not quick & dirty ones.

For example, sometimes it is amazing how long a piece of software code can remain in production. I wrote the code for a really large logistics system in the 1980’s for a natural resources company. That company was purchased by two competitors who both took copies of the code. For better or worse, I found out just a couple of years ago that both companies were still running heavily modified versions of my code in production. My basic code has lived long and prospered. It wasn’t brilliant or creative programming and it wasn’t going to win any awards for innovation. It was just painstakingly tested, with excruciatingly simplified logic. And it still works. I’m kind of proud of that.

I think the lesson here for IT is that we need to focus more on the long term and on the quality of what we do, not on getting the quick hit and moving on. It is not about the latest technology. It is about doing it right. Let’s face it, we do tend to be trend-hoppers in IT. Constantly moving to the latest next best thing. That doesn’t do our clients any favours.

I’m a big fan of mitigating unnecessary risks. I used to work for a CIO who said “pioneers have arrows in their backs.” What he meant by that was let someone else the chances. We’ll learn from them and build things using reliable methods and processes done with high quality. That’s the best way for your systems to live long and prosper.

It is also the best way to keep your job. I’ve seen too many IT leaders get caught up in a vendor’s exciting sales pitch about the latest and newest technology. They try implementing something new so they can be the first. They end up being the first to get fired because the kinks have not been worked out of the technology yet. Focus on the long-term quality and you will live long and prosper.


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