IT Careers 2014

Thornton A. May: IT for the whole brain and the whole organization

What will really turn IT careers upside down in 2014 is integrating value-creating IT behaviors into every nook and cranny of the enterprise. It sounds simple until one remembers that the history of our industry and profession is one of separation.

One such separation that will disappear is the distinction between the technology itself and the behavior that surrounds its deployment and use. In fact, future IT careers will be more behavioral than they are technological.

C.P. Snow, British scientist and public intellectual, told us that Western society was irreconcilably split between scientists and poets. Science writers told generations of decision-makers that the human brain is divided into halves, and we were either "left-brained" (logical) or "right-brained" (creative). The curriculum at most universities continues to be dysfunctionally microparsed into ever-narrowing subdisciplines and sub-subdisciplines. The structure at many organizations separates those who work in IT from other employees in the enterprise. As an empirical futurist who architects creative spaces, I can tell you that all this separation destroys value.

One can't help but be amazed at how digitized every aspect of our lives has become. Every part of human existence has been impacted by IT. Bill Seibel, uber-entrepreneur, CEO and founder of Mobiquity, delights audiences with his humorous description of how the various bits of mobile functionality (i.e., accelerometer, clock and microphone) have been packaged to create a new application category -- sexual performance monitoring apps. Technology is everywhere and everywhen.

In the workplace, there is no job or task that doesn't involve IT. Many executives seem to forget this. At a recent executive program at Florida State College at Jacksonville, one of the early CIOs at Cleveland-based Progressive Insurance described the exercise he and his team went through to analyze the impact of de-automating the business (i.e., doing business without IT). To process the volume of work without IT would entail renting out the old Richfield Coliseum, filling it with 25,000 people armed with typewriters and running three shifts. The value created by IT was creatively and unambiguously demonstrated.

I think we can all agree that in the modern workplace, everyone works with IT. What needs to be done is to acknowledge that from this day forward, everyone works in IT. Don Marinelli, beloved drama professor and co-founder with Randy Pausch ("The Last Lecture") of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, puts to rest the belief that people are either technical or artistic. The brilliant young people at the ETC are both. We have to stress and stress again that facility with technology (value-creating behavior) is a necessary skill for everyone. Job one for those who work in IT will be to create that capability in those who don't work in IT.

Historically, popular media has portrayed the separateness of IT. Who can forget the eminently loathable programmer in the first Jurassic Park? While contemporary renditions of IT folk are more sympathetic (e.g., the computer tech in Almost Human, the Fox police show set in 2048), stereotypes still prevail. Even in an imaginary future where anything can happen, IT is still relegated to the role of turning machines on and missing the real action. If you focus on integrating value-creating IT behaviors into every nook and cranny of the enterprise, the future will be bright.

Next: Opinion: Congratulations, you're your own skills manager

Thornton A. May is author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College in Jacksonville. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter (@deanitla).

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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