Keeping Up With Technology – Or Not

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I’m fortunate in working for an analyst firm (451 Research), so I’m surrounded by technology experts doing deep dives into all sorts of cutting-edge disruptive topics. Which means I’m (a) frequently reminded how quickly technology changes and (b) reassured that for me, technology answers are only a colleague away.

But sometimes I’m saddened these days when I talk to IT professionals. For so many of them, keeping up with technology is what they do, what they’ve always done. It’s part of being a technologist and there’s justifiable pride in feeling like an expert. Reading trade magazines, attending trade shows and conferences, joining user groups, visiting online user forums, entertaining vendor calls and presentations, reviewing analyst material, listening to podcasts, checking in with colleagues past and present – people report all kinds of strategies for keeping up.

But those information-gathering strategies take time, and time is a scarce resource in IT these days, with so many technical folks scrambling just to keep the lights on. Today’s corporate mandate seems to be ‘do more with less’ – for IT that’s more hardware and more applications to maintain, more execution venues to consider, more vendors to manage, more end users to serve, but with fewer people and smaller budget. There’s no time to gather information just for the sake of knowing. And I hear regret in the voices of the IT professionals I talk to, when they admit they just can’t keep up the way they used to. Even on-your-own weekend homework doesn’t seem to be enough.

In our fast-changing tech climate, staying current – in storage, compute, network, security, cloud, whatever – is tough and maybe not realistic? Especially when your job title is, say, “IT Architect” or “Information Security Engineer”, not “Technology Industry Analyst”.  Even narrowing the focus to a sub-sector may not be enough. So many startups, so many new products, so much innovation, and all on a global scale. How do we assuage the guilt that comes when IT pros feel like the tech world is moving too fast and passing them by?

First, let’s accept the fact that nobody can keep up with it all. And that’s okay. Nobody has to. Information is only a few clicks away, whether it’s reviews of a new restaurant or reviews of SAN storage vendors. Plus we’ve all got our on line network to tap for quickly available opinions and shared expertise.

So the compromise. Perhaps pick a few areas to track, maybe a primary vendor, maybe an emerging technology area of personal interest. Rely on shortcuts to make keeping up easier; for example, if you have access, industry analyst summaries and overview-type webinars are information sources that can deliver maximum information in return for the investment of your time. And take every opportunity to keep up with technology peers, finding your niche in communities of interest so that answers, references and recommendations are never very far away.

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And maybe keeping current, in essence acquiring information ‘just in case’ is actually a waste of time and energy, especially since things will be changing fast anyway. Why expend resources learning about something you’re not actually using, when products and technologies obsolesce so quickly? Because the minute your company needs to explore options for a product or a solution – new or replacement – that’s when you leap into action and gather information like crazy and absorb it like a sponge, so you can analyze the current landscape and come up with a recommendation. That recommendation – that’s the real IT value-add, right?


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