Technology : You have to keep working just to stand still!

This is a topic of conversation that has come up a lot recently, both at work and whilst updating the computers for family members, so I thought I would write something down.

I don’t think people realise how much work it takes to stand still in the technology world.

When we think about the pieces that make up your typical on-prem web application running on virtual machines, what does standing still mean? To me it means the following.

  • Database : A regular patching cycle for the database and the operating system it sits on. Also, upgrades/rebuilds as required.
  • Application Server : See database.
  • Web Layer : See database.
  • Load Balancer : Regular patching of the appliance, and replacements/upgrades as required.

Now multiply all that up for all the projects you are working on. That represents a substantial amount of work, whether you call is Business As Usual (BAU) or Internal Projects. What’s worse, there is no “visible benefit” from this work. Most users won’t have a clue it is happening, as they won’t get a new screen or a new widget to play with. It’s pretty much invisible, but it has to happen, just to remain static.

At this point I can hear people saying, “But standing still is literally doing nothing, so what are you talking about?” Well, if today I have a fully patched system using supported versions of all software, to stand still I have to remain on a fully patched system using supported versions of all software. If that means upgrades or rebuilds of kit, so be it.

Remember, if I do nothing at all, I’m no longer standing still, I’m moving backwards!

Think about that for a second. To stand still I’ve got to learn all the new stuff so I can upgrade to 19c and get long term support for my databases, even if I didn’t want to. Same goes for other products. Even if I use none of the new features. There is a big investment needed by a company, and for you personally, just to stand still. Now breaking new ground, well that’s a whole different ball game… 🙂

So what are the solutions:

  • It helps if you recognise the problem in the first place. Far too many people think doing nothing is standing still, when it’s not.
  • Automation will help you stay on top of things. Reliable and repeatable processes make keeping things up to date a lot simpler. Automated testing is the icing on the cake here.
  • Cloud? Platform as a Service (PaaS), when it is done right, can help you keep on top of things. Having a service where you don’t have to worry about OS, DB and app server patches, because it’s all handled by the platform is a big bonus.



Some related posts:

Technology Snobbery

We are constantly told there is a shortage of people coming into the tech industry, and those that do don’t show the diversity we would like to see. At the same time I see a lot of snobbery in the technology industry, and I wonder how much of that has an impact on the number of people coming into the industry.

The tech industry is all about fads. Everyone wants to work with the coolest tech, the most job-worthy tech, or the tech that will survive the longest. There is some snobbery about this, but that’s not really what I’m thinking of. I’m thinking more about the snobbery associated with job roles. I’m going to list a few job roles.

  • Web Designer
  • Developer
  • Helpdesk
  • Database Administrator
  • Product Manager
  • System Administrator
  • Project Manager
  • Business Analyst
  • PC Support
  • Sales

I could go on, but let’s leave it there. As you were reading down that list were you classifying the type of job role relative to how technical you think it is? Were there any that made you think, that’s “not really IT”? If you weren’t I would be really surprised.

I’ve had conversations about this a few times over the years. In many cases the attitude I’m met with is, you’re not really in IT unless you write code, or something to that effect. I’ve certainly been guilty of this at times. I thought I’d got past it, then in a recent conversation two people mentioned they had never had the desire to be developers, but had built careers in the tech industry and I found myself rather surprised. Part of me still holds on to that idea that everyone in technology has at some point been interested in development, yet this is clearly not the case.

The fact the tech industry is made up of so many diverse roles means there is something for everyone, but somehow not everyone sees a home for themselves in the tech industry. I wonder if this tech snobbery is part of the problem. If we promoted the wider aspects of the tech industry, perhaps it would be attractive to more people.

Just a thought…



Technology evangelist programs won’t suit everybody…

I was reading a thread on Twitter yesterday and at it’s heart was a criticism of technology evangelist programs.

I’ve been part of one of these, the Oracle ACE program, for over twelve years, so I always pay attention to these discussions.  It’s a topic I’ve covered a number of times over the years. See:

Any evangelism program is part of the marketing budget, and ultimately there has to be a return on investment* for the company funding it. If that is a surprise to you, you must be really naive. What does that mean for people wanting to be part of such a program? You will only get selected for the program, and remain on it, if your content and opinions mostly fall in line with the message being pushed by the company sponsoring the program. Go to work for a competitor, or start saying too many negative things about the sponsoring company and you will probably be asked to leave.

In the previous paragraph I emphasised the words “mostly” and “too many” for an important reason. Your value to an evangelist program is that you are not a member of staff, yet you still enjoy using their products. You will not like every product they make, or agree with every decision they make, and that is fine. If people think you are selling out to stay in favour with the sponsoring company, your value to the evangelism program will disappear. Over the years I’ve been “off message” numerous times and never had any comeback from the ACE Program. Why? Because generally what I’ve been doing over the last 18+ years on my website, and through other Oracle community stuff, has been positive. If that changes and I suddenly become an Oracle hater, then I don’t see me being part of an Oracle technology evangelism program for very long. 🙂

If your interests are too broad, you may not be a suitable candidate for any particular technology evangelism program, or you may feel constrained by them. That’s fine. It doesn’t mean you are bad, or the evangelism programs are bad. There just isn’t a good connection between the two of you.

Over the years I’ve been doing this I’ve often seen people on the outside projecting what they want to believe onto these programs. They aren’t a certification of greatness. They are just a pat on the back for being involved in the community. Sometimes you get some expenses paid. Sometimes you don’t. I’m writing this after doing my laundry in a hotel sink, because it would cost me $150 to do it using the hotel laundry service. Last night’s hotel bill came out of my pocket. Nobody is refunding me for the extra holidays I’ve purchased from work. You get the picture. Do it because you love it, or don’t bother… 🙂



* In a comment thread on LinkedIn it seems my mention of “return on investment” may be seen by some as a straight financial ROI, like a direct relationship to more sales etc. This is not what I mean. I’m talking about winning hearts and minds, which will probably lead to more sales in the long run, but it’s probably not directly measurable. You can’t say, for each talk I do I produce X number of sales for the company. 🙂

How much does IT cost?

One of my friends used to own a sandwich bar. He knew the exact profit margin on each product. He knew the impact of a price change from one supplier on each of the products he sold, as well as the overall affect on his profits.

So compare that situation with your average IT department, where to be frank, nobody has a bloody clue about costs. Yes, we all know the headline grabbers like licensing cost for Oracle and you can probably find the bit of paper that tells you the yearly hardware maintenance fee, but I’ve not encountered many companies that have a handle on the real cost of projects. If a company can’t say, “Project X cost £Y to complete and costs £Z a year to maintain and this is the breakdown of costs”, with a reasonable level of accuracy then they’ve failed.

You need this sort of data in order to make a valid judgement about new projects. When someone starts extolling the virtues of the latest and greatest database/language/framework, how can you make a judgement on the relative savings you can make if you don’t know your true costs? Free software is not free if you have to pay people to integrate it into your existing systems and hire/train staff with the relevant skills. Conversely, paying ridiculous licensing costs may not be sensible compared to hiring/training skills to allow you to use cheaper alternatives.

I sometimes feel the IT industry is like some cowboy building firm. When someone asks for a price you scratch your chin, suck in some air then pull a random figure out of the ether. Don’t even get me started on the sales people, with their astronomical list prices that nobody ever pays, just so they can make you feel like you’ve got a “good deal”. It’s an industry in dire need of a change.