Are you in it for the business, or for the technology?

James McGovern had an interesting post recently entitled “Are Business Applications Boring?” It reminded me of some of my own experiences, both as a supervisor and as an individual. A few years ago, a group that I oversaw was very focused on Java middleware technologies. .NET was gaining in prominence at that time, and it was clear to me that the team would need to gain Microsoft experience, and it was entirely likely that the majority of our work in our future would be on the .NET platform. I told the team that they needed to determine what was more important to them: writing successful Java solutions or writing successful business solutions. In addition, I asked myself that same question. To me, I was more interested in seeing the organization and the business be successful than I was about writing Java code or C# code. For others, they chose to part ways with the company as the amount of Java work reduced. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, although, I do think there’s more long term risk for a developer in going that path. Why? It’s far easier to find someone who can write code than to find someone who understands the business and the culture.

Interestingly, I left the enterprise world about 9 months ago and joined the consulting ranks. That being said, if you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that I don’t view SOA as a technology initiative. Proper application of technology in support of business needs is far more of a business issue than it is a technology issue, and that’s what interests me. My view on SOA consulting is that it needs to be focused on business consulting more so than technology consulting. This subject came up in a recent conversation with Dana Gardner and his analyst gang that will be published soon.

The short of this is that it is difficult for enterprise IT practitioners to hold on to top technical talent unless those individuals are interested in the business. If I were to go back to school today, I would pursue an MBA, not additional technology education. If individuals are solely focused on the technology, they are unlikely to get long term satisfaction from a 30-plus year career at one organization. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen very many developers who are passionate about understanding the business. I can’t remember the last time that I interviewed someone and had them ask me some serious questions about the business to see whether it would be a good fit, when you’d think that would be one of the most important factors.

In my mind, the writing is on the wall. If you’re in the early stages of your career and want to put yourself on a path for long term growth, you’ll need to build up deeper and deeper knowledge of the domains where you apply technology. If you just want to maintain a status quo, you can become a developer, however, I suspect that your salary will remain part of the status quo, as well.

2 Responses to “Are you in it for the business, or for the technology?”

  • Todd, you hit the tough topics! I think when it’s just about compensation most technologist will take a little less cash :o)

    However, I think you are on the right track…my thought is our early stage technologist need to understand they must be great engineers, leaders, managers, and also become business savvy in their chosen industry, as well as a learn a little finance and law to keep it clean. Our universities try to bring about this well rounded education, however, once out in corporate jungle, it’s almost like a cast system. I use to think someone needed to decide on technology, manager, project manager, etc.…pick one and focus on it, otherwise you will do all poorly. However, now with the complexity of corporations, their size, and the merging of technology and business, it’s a luxury we can’t afford. Pick a focus area, but be savvy in all.

    Although, again it’s not about how much compensation to pull down (although comp is always nice), but this will bring the freedom to define their own destiny for their career. That destiny may be cash, however, with the 360 degree knowledge scope; a career can be anything they want it to be. Some may still hang on to being pure technologist, but the market for that seems to be drying up.


  • Thanks for your comments Tom. A career will take many twists and turns over the 30 or 40 years that most of us will spend in the workforce. I like your advice of picking a focus area but trying to be savvy across a breadth of areas. What’s great about that is that there is always new things to learn. The moment we stop trying to learn new things is when life gets boring.

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