Tech is for Sissies

Check out this job spec.

Notice anything interesting? It’s for a seriously heavyweight distributed systems engineer sure but look deeper. Do you see mention of a single piece of technology? J2EE? JavaScript? Ruby? No, right? How weird is that? How many job specs do you see like that? Surely what matters is whether you know JBoss or Websphere, Java or Erlang or Ruby?

What’s the deal? It’s recognition of the fact that building systems is about how you think and reason which requires sound understanding of theory and how to apply it. It doesn’t matter how much code you can write or in what language because delivering a project is about a whole lot more than code.

So often I see companies create job specs for engineers where the key requirement is to hire someone who can hit the deck coding like mad using whatever tools have been selected. To that end they load the specs up with endless tech hubris and at interview ask the details of this or that bit of syntax or API call. But what about the next project within the company where the tech is different? All those engineers that just got hired are now useless, they don’t have the skills and we lose time whilst they learn. Or we could fire them and hire another lot?

Of course what happens more often than not is that companies ensure they don’t use new tech. Instead they force new projects into using all the same stuff they used before. This is a design disaster as now technology is dictating not design or suitability to requirements. A company that follows the hit the deck coding mantra just has deathmarch and no career progression stamped all over it.

Keeping an eye on trends and keeping abreast of new technology is a good thing to do but the larger context of what to use when, when to build rather than buy, when to dump something because it’s warping the design, when to dump one design approach for another (e.g. going from centralized to distributed) and so on is what really matters. This requires thinking, not an encyclopedic knowledge of a huge number of technologies.

Tech is for sissies – Concepts, principles, patterns, measurement, theory and so on are what matters.

[Confession: The title for this entry was inspired by a recent piece from Pat Helland, one of my favourite thinkers]

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  1. At last the truth is out. It’s the ability and experience that counts, but not the specific skills. If you understand how to build systems, then it doesn’t matter about the tech., you can learn a new language, but if you don’t understand how to build systems then knowing the language isn’t going to help. IMO there’s not really much difference between any of the major languages, it’s all syntactical.


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