Everybody Is A Technologist

Anyone who’s read me before knows I have a bit of an obsession with the DORA “State of DevOps in 2019” report. The main reason I do is that it is the first one to firmly mention Psychological Safety as the cornerstone of any and all efforts to run a knowledge organization in this day and age. Which is obviously “huuuuuge”. Secondly, and equally important in the grand scheme of things is that it’s a report full of what was traditionally only Software Development and Operations related terms regarding “IT things” such as cloud adoption, DevOps and Agile and it reads like it’s about none of those. It’s the first time a report that’s meant to be techy and geeky is instead, telling it like it is in business terms about strategy, value, and culture. That means that it is bridging a gap we no longer can afford in our fast-changing world and in the writing of history if we were to look back in 50 years, it may well be a turning point in creating the new kind of truly cross-functional ideological bridge we need to win in this VUCA world. When I mention it on stage I get a lot of “But I’m not a technologist” reactions and if I hear that one more time chances are you’ll see me come out of some conference room screaming.

Yes, you are. If you aren’t - you should be.

In fact, let me tell you a non-secret: you’re no less of a technologist than the geeks who now need to stop dreaming they can reduce themselves to a code-writing machine. They can’t. They have to care about traditionally “business” things such as customers' expectations, feedback loops, experience, and value creation. If they are even remotely interested in being truly #Agile they can’t escape that, and in a sense, it is what makes some of the traditionally IT people resist it. (And that serves as a resistance reason for the other camp as well.) The underlying understanding that from hereon they can no longer operate in isolation, in a bubble of code creation bliss but instead they have to stop and come for air in a business way every sprint. Looking back 30-40 years, before the Agile manifesto and at the beginnings of the IT age, the “them versus us” divide between IT and Business was clear, prevalent and entirely justifiable. One could go through an entire career and be firmly one or the other - both in terms of what they knew and in terms of what they cared about. In fact, whether or not one was technology-savvy was part of most people’s professional identity. It absolved both parties from doing and learning many a thing and it was a blessed excuse to “stay on their own lane of expertise”. I put it to all of us that in today’s business environment that is a luxury neither party still has and those days are gone. It was a luxury undoubtedly as being able to focus on only one side was an artificial construct we had accepted as the norm and people chose educational and then career paths with a permission slip to ignore the other side completely. Being a technophobe was for a while a badge of honor for business people who needed all kinds of help to do anything remotely technology related from devising an IT strategy to turning on the screen in the boardroom or dialing into the Cisco round machine in the middle. And let’s face it, we expect technology to often fail us, so it provided a bevy of convenient excuses over the years from minor PowerPoint disaster to political catastrophes. What has utterly changed that for the “business” camp, is the democratization of technology and its current complete prevalence in our day-to-day life. It’s all but impossible to feign distress when needing to install an update on your work machine when the IT crew saw you Instagramming your Minecraft tournament live all weekend. It’s hard to pretend you thought the cloud is an exclusively meteorological concept when you were talking about moving your photos to a better storage provider as the Apple cloud got broken into at the water cooler. And you can’t claim you wouldn’t know how to say “Alexa - open the Digital Transformation skill”.

No more Business-only bubble.

On the other camp what changed is not as clear cut as daily access to technology. If you’re an IT person be it a programmer, a project manager or a strategist, over the last 20 years you’ve learned so much more than your counterparts in business you’re now the only one that can reliably distill needed knowledge. If you combine that with the fact that speed is mandatory in our world of super-fast customer expectation and the fact that the only answer to getting enough knowledge translated into enough value fast enough is to work in an Agile fashion then the only possible answer is that you will need to cross the bridge and realize this “what the customer wants” thing is now your business. It will no longer stand that you are being given a set of requirements but you’ll have to figure them out yourself. And you’ll be expected to work out if they were right in hugely rapid feedback loops plastered with testing. You’ll have to do the CX, the strategy and let’s face it, a lot of the design. You’ll also have to figure it out how you can get the rest of your team along for the journey so they can purposely grab the right tickets. You’re the designated business 2.0 person and no longer but a technologist.

Out of tech heaven.

So if neither Dorothy is in Kansas any longer then what are we left with? Do we need both? Who’s to take over? The obvious answer is the professional of the VUCA world who will succeed - the few of us who want to remain relevant in this new world of change where AI can replace all but the complicated, intensely human bits will be neither a business person nor a technologist but both. And intensely both, where the only worthwhile focus is not on anyone's“wheelhouse” but the manner in which we accomplish greatness - the very human manner in which this new -hopefully Psychologically Safe cross-functional business-IT team of the future can win.