Stand up IT Skeptics

This website is thinking of changing its name, to The IT Skeptics, plural, because there are tribes of you out there. How do you know if you are an IT Skeptic?
If you are

  • ...tired of the hysterical hype cycles that accompany innovations in IT such as CASE, e-commerce, the internet, Web 2.0, ITIL, Agile, Cloud, social media...
  • ...embittered by the vendors - and their parasites the analysts - stoking that hype to enrich themselves
  • ...sick of the "change du jour" managers throwing away all our good work. Wild innovation can do more harm than good.
  • ...tired of vendors selling technical solutions to non-technical problems. This applies to most software but two of my favourites are of course "ITIL-in-a-box" and CMDB. In the same category are process solutions to non-process problems, e.g. ITIL itself.
  • ...fed up with your bosses falling for fictional "research" from vendors and analysts - what we call Crap Factoids
  • ...alarmed by the theoretical zealots - especially highly paid consultants - telling you to change your practices which have been carefully built on common sense and experience
  • ...dreading the next easy answer to complex problems
  • ...confused by the mismatch between the exciting new world promised to you in the media and the prosaic reality of the legacy IT environments you work in
  • ...frustrated by the failure of many IT power groups to adopt some of the genuine changes in IT such as the ability to create communities
  • ...irritated by the crass commercialisation of every positive trend that does emerge, and the rapid degradation of a good idea into a commoditised product

...if you feel this way then you are an IT Skeptic.

That is a negative list of what agitates IT Skeptics, but what do IT Skeptics stand for? I'm betting some or all of the following list of principles resonates with you:

  • The rules don't change in a revolutionary manner. They evolve carefully over time. Every time we throw the old rules out the window we end up getting hurt. Those who tell us to change everything are vendors, analysts, consultants and chattering media who are nowhere to be seen when the effluent eventually and inevitably hits the fan. We advance by improving, not by throwing everything away and starting again. (The one thing that creates human progress is the ability to pass on wisdom between generations, not throw it away. Think Flower Power - I do every time I hear about Cloud and Agile and DevOps and...)
  • Common sense is not very common. It is to be treasured and preserved.
  • The theorists over-complicate everything. They do this to try to include everything, the "grab bag" approach, and to try to make ideas perfect. The real world doesn't work this way. We operate with imperfect information all the time. We all regularly manage that which we can't measure. We settle for good enough, copper not gold. It's time we got back to basics, to simple principles, to whatever works. Quality is not about complexity or gilding the lily: it is about authenticity, solidity, usefulness.
  • "Good practice" or "best practice" arises from practices not from ideas. New ideas are all very interesting but require the true test of time and experience before they deserve widespread adoption. This is called "wisdom" and in the 21st Century it is even rarer than common sense.
  • People first. All these attempts to improve through changing things or processes miss the point. IT is about humans manipulating information by using technology. We improve by changing the humans.
  • There are good people in the trenches doing good work and trying to do better. They deserve attention not contempt.
  • On the other hand, human nature is not idyllic. We have rules for reasons. Trust but verify.
  • There are no silver-bullet solutions to improving IT. Improvement comes from pragmatism, careful change, respect for people, and hard work. The way people feel, think and act doesn't change overnight, or even "overyear".

Personally, the directions I strive for in IT are

  • Change at a human pace
  • Respect for the wisdom and knowledge the race has accumulated over millennia
  • Integrity in advice and solutions: changes that are genuinely in the best interests of those they are being sold to and imposed upon.
  • Curiousity tempered by caution. Critical analysis of anything new.
  • Quality without dogma or perfectionism.

What do you think of these lists? Can we evolve them into an IT Skeptics' Manifesto? Your input please.


Thanks for this- it is a

Thanks for this- it is a missing part of the field. I may not agree w/ you point-by-point, but I like the way you think.

Skep - RE: Change at a human

Skep - RE:
Change at a human pace
TR: completely agree - I found that always seeking out the WIIFM increases the chances of good change.

Respect for the wisdom and knowledge the race has accumulated over millennia
TR: I like the below incremental steps.

Integrity in advice and solutions: changes that are genuinely in the best interests of those they are being sold to and imposed upon.
TR: Agree absolutely. One can consult with integrity if they are willing to put the customer's interests before their own (few do).

Curiousity tempered by caution. Critical analysis of anything new.
TR: Simple answer is having a stake in the end outcome. Be there for BizCase review down the track (even get paid that way).

Quality without dogma or perfectionism.
TR: 2 things: SOME sort of measure is important. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (customer/consumer) - respect that.

Great idea

Like the idea. Here are a few comments:

* Rules can sometimes change fast. Latest Fortune magazine has some examples how a business model vanished quickly because of new technology. But it is also true that many rules don't change even if the environment or technology changes.
* Maybe you should remove internet from the hype list. I don't think it was over-hyped
* Theoretical approach can be complicated but not always. I studied mathematics at University and still remember with pleasure the one time when the teacher commented that my solution to an exercise was more elegant than his. Theory can be elegant and simple and very useful if verified with empirical evidence. I agree that some theoretical work is just scientific bull.

PS Working in my summer office, balmy 26C here.

define fast

A business model may sometimes vanish quickly but a business seldom does. And the principles of business don't. You still have to create value, generate cash, make a profit, manage risk. Anything else is speculation (usually with someone else's money)... or fraud.

Define "fast". The internet has been with us for 20 years, mobile phones for 10. Amazon is rolling the publishing industry, but it is taking it decades to do it. The internet knocked the travel agents' industry sideways, but the best survive. Our copper-based telco is still a fat ugly giant. CD shops are finally disappearing in some countries. America still wants a paper cheque... er "check". Disney and Murdoch still rule.


Would the real IT skeptic please stand up? The more experience I have, the more I see the last 5 bullets holding true. I'd like that etched into my MacBook.

Classical conservativism

Rob, no offense but you sound like you're channelling Edmund Burke.

I've always appreciated this bit:

"By this wise prejudice we are taught to look with horror on those children of their country, who are prompt rashly to hack that aged parent in pieces, and put him into the kettle of magicians..."

So not necessarily a bad thing, but still it's a bit ironic to hear classical conservatism applied to information technology.

Charles T. Betz

about time

"classical conservatism applied to information technology". It's not ironic, it's about bloody time.

We in IT blow mega-millions on failed projects while engineers build Dubai without a failure. They might look radical and exciting,but those extreme buildings are not built on some analyst's bright idea. They're built on conservative application of proven science.

I accused our industry of being "an undisciplined rabble of kids who run out the gate to dance shrieking around anything shiny or noisy that comes along the road." No-one has disputed the description.


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