September 15, 2007

Beneath your dignity or beyond your ability?

Unlike other professionals, the value of a person in the IT business does not necessarily go up with time. In the case of medicine, law or engineering, a customer is willing to pay a premium for someone who has been in the profession for a long time but a person who has been writing C code for 20 years or configuring SAP for 15 years is, in general, not more valuable than a junior colleague – at least not in the technical sense.

IT professionals handle this niggling discomfort by transiting into management roles – which in effect mean shuffling CVs and juggling spreadsheets, not technology – and then claiming that it is beneath their dignity to do otherwise. One wonders if it is beneath their dignity or beyond their ability 

My transition from Tata-IBM to Pricewaterhouse was a case of trying to defy this diktat of circumstances. At Tata Steel I had played a key role in introducing RDBMS technology into what was then the country’s first and largest enterprise wide integrated application and had come to be regarded as an expert in this field. Consequently, in my next role as product manager of DB2 in Tata-IBM, I was responsible for selling this technology nationwide. However in the seven years that I had been associated with this technology, I had come to realize that I was no more the only DB2 guru in the country anymore. RDBMS as a technology had become commoditized and there was nothing great that separated me from those to whom I was trying to sell the stuff.

At this point of time, on a visit to the US, I had the opportunity to have a look at the “world wide web” through a Mosaic browser – and I was hooked, because in it I saw the future.

Back in India, I realized to my dismay that both my colleagues and my company had still neither any clue, nor any interest in this new toy – and I don’t blame them, this was 1995! This is when I decided to leave the safe harbour, the zone of comfort, of RDBMS and take a leap of faith into Pricewaterhouse on the shaky promise of being allowed to work on internet technology.

I had traded my position of DB2-dada for that of networking novice! Very few people in India had even heard of DNS, HTTP or mail servers and here I was trying to configure them with no help from anyone. But after all this is not rocket science and so within a few months of effort, computers connected with each other, mail was delivered and web pages become visible – with each such ‘event’ being a cause of celebration – and the internet revolution had arrived, even in India. Finally I had the luxury of moving out of the server room and into boardrooms to make corporate presentations on pompous topics like “Perils and Potentials of eBusiness”.

Some people are at home in the zone of comfort, happy with CVs and spreadsheets – that is a lifestyle choice, which one should not quarrel with! But being on the edge, the bleeding edge, of technology is a different high altogether and more often than not, the rewards associated with it far outweigh the risks that it brings along.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All that boast about being in the leading edge of technology is fine...but you have done atmost adoption and implementation of technology in your company's context - how much of innovation , forget invention, have you done to justify your technological prowess ? That way some of the spreadsheet gurus may be doing better work - in terms of building new financial models using spreadsheet as a tool