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IT Values Technologies Over Thought

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Steve Jones, from CapGemini, has written a lot over the years on various aspects of SOA, REST and IT. Recently in an article titled 'Thinking is dead', he's written about how he believes that IT values technologies over thought. But what exactly does he mean by this? Well Steve starts off by citing Anne Thomas-Manes article from 2009 where she declared SOA as dead, he goes on to state:

The value of 'thought' and thinking in IT has diminished, in a way that mirrors society at large, to the stage where design, planning, architecture and anything else other than just banging away at a keyboard appear to have been relegated behind opinions and statements as fact.

To illustrate this, Steve looks at REST over the past few years. As we've reported several times in the past, Steve has been critical of the hype surrounding it. Whether it's asking whether or not REST is really successful in the enterprise, of if there are fundemantal issues with the way in which it has been sold to the IT community, Steve's opinions on it can best be summarised by himself:

So the last 5 years have been poor ones for enterprise IT. WS-* is the only viable system to system integration mechanism for large scale programmes, but its stagnating. REST has some cool stuff at the front end and for people who can invest in only the very highest calibre individuals but is delivering bugger all for the average enterprise environment.

He believes that what this shows is that whether or not it makes good architectural or implementation sense, the latest cool thing on the hype curve is likely to get more attention than those more mundate or tried-and-tested approaches that would likely have shown far more immediate impact to the business. And it's not just REST where this has/is occurring. Steve believes that there are similar issues around Big Data and Hadoop adoption.

The massive amount of information growth is complemented by an equally large amount of bullshit and a huge absence of critical thinking.  What is the major barrier to things like Hadoop?  "Its lack of real time ability" I hear people cry.  Really?  You don't think its that we have millions of people out there who think in a SQL Relational way and who are really going to struggle thinking in a non relational non-SQL type of way?  You don't think that the major issue is actually in the acquisition and filtering of that information and the construction of the very complex analytics that are required to ensure that people don't go pattern matching in the chaos and find what they are looking for.

From his experiences, Steve is seeing planning, architecture and design within IT ignored or given a bad reputation - something to ignore, despite the weight of evidence behind the success of things like TDD and contract design. As the article states, the adoption of new and unproven technologies based solely on their hyped expectations in preference to those approaches that have proven themselves time and again but don't have the associated "twitterati in thrall", is rife in the industry.

'Experts' in this arena has come to mean 'people who shout loudly' in a similar manner to US politics.  Facts, reason and worst of all experience are considered to be practically a disadvantage when being an expert in this environment.

This is something we have seen before with, say, REST, where arguments for it have sometimes been based solely on "shouting", as Steve puts it, and less on rational and logical discussion. And it seems that Steve has found himself on the receiving end of just such an argument:

I was recently in formed (sic) that my opinion on a technology was 'tainted' as I'd used multiple other technologies that competed with it and therefore was 'biased against it'.  I'd also used the technology in question and found that it was quite frankly rubbish.  Sure the base coding stuff was ok but when I looked at the tooling, ecosystem and training available from those competitors I just couldn't recommend something that would actually work for the client.  Experience and knowledge are not bias, thinking and being critical of new approaches is not a bad thing, thinking is not dirty.

As a result of all of this, he believes that design and architecture are disappearing skills, with critical (scientific) assessments replaced by "shouty fanaticism".

The focus of shiny technology over business outcomes and the focus of short term coding over long term design will ensure that IT departments get broken up and business folks treat IT as a commodity in an ever growing way. Thinking, design, planning, architecture and being skeptical on new technologies is the only hope for IT to remain relevant.

One of the commenters on Steve's article believes that we are seeing a relatively new wave where every new technology is deemed to be the silver bullet to solve all IT problems, and that the reason for this is that IT today is driven too much by people in "suits". However, Steve believes it is worse than that and the core members of IT, such as developers, architects etc. are not really thinking:

I wish it was just the suits, the real issue is that too much of IT is being delivered by people who think that formalism and rigour is a bad thing and that the important thing is that they need to be 'shiny'.

If the people delivering the implementations that are supposed to be solutions to business problems aren't looking beyond the hype and considering alternatives, especially when those alternatives may have been tried and tested for many years, then we are in for some very interesting times ahead. But maybe Steve is wrong? Perhaps this is an issue limited to his engagements and not that widespread?

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