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Reading Is Key to IT Innovation

By Adam Kolawa, Parasoft
April 4, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Something strange is going on in America's research communities. A dangerous trend threatens our nation's ability to remain globally competitive in science and technology. Scientists and researchers in a wide variety of disciplines are conducting experiments and carrying out studies without grounding themselves in the latest work of their colleagues. Consequently, they are conducting their research in a vacuum. The results of this trend are not surprising. Their work is less thorough, and they repeat work that could be avoided if they kept abreast of the latest findings in their field.
This lack of awareness has always been a part of the software industry. I've often complained, both in print and in person, that software engineering professionals damage their chosen profession by not finding out about the latest innovations and techniques in software manufacturing. It is important to stay grounded in the literature of the industry. Otherwise you end up reinventing processes and techniques that are already available to you. If you are not aware of your intellectual surroundings, then you are doomed to duplicate work, repeat research, and waste time and resources.
For a long time I thought that this was simply the price of doing business in software. Software engineers are busy, working against tight deadlines and shrinking budgets. Innovation in software has not stopped as a result, but in my personal opinion it has been severely constrained. But now we see this same professional "blindness" encroaching on material science disciplines such as engineering, physics and mathematics. This is startling and troubling. If we begin to lose the initiative in innovation and research in the material sciences, then we risk losing our position as global intellectual leader in a number of important areas, including medical research, aerospace, astrophysics, geophysics and engineering.

Digital Roots
When I first realized that this trend was manifesting itself in other industries and disciplines besides software, I was startled. But I was also intrigued. Is there any correlation to the behavior we've always seen in software regarding professional publications and the similar pattern of behavior we are beginning to see in the scientific disciplines? I believe that such a correlation does exist. As a discipline, software engineering has always been in the avant-garde regarding its use of electronic print. It was one of the first disciplines that moved a significant amount of knowledge resources from print to electronic media. Over the years, other disciplines have also made this move to electronic publishing, as evidenced by the fact that many more professional journals are available online each year. A



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