Your Preferences May Be Your Limitations

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Warning: Today’s article lives mainly in the realm of the hypothetical, and is based upon my personal observations.

Technology changes at such a fast rate that IT professionals often find it difficult to keep their skills up-to-date. When a manufacturer releases a new generation of technology they often try to keep the older methods of interfacing with the previous generation of technology in place. Commands, GUIs, and third party software that users rely upon have to work.

It is inevitable though that eventually a new generation of technology is going to take such a dramatic leap forward that the old interfaces must be abandoned. Remember that the first computers used punch cards, and that televisions used to have knobs for you to change the channels with. Automobiles at one time needed to have a crank turned in order to turn the engine over. Phones used to have rotary dials.

In some of these cases the new interface was perceived as an improvement, but often people complained when these technologies changed. What consumers take for granted today were annoying inconveniences when first released. I am confident that the following scenarios occurred in the past:

  • When magnetic tape began to replace punch cards a computer operator said “I cannot see what is on the tape! I can look at a punch card and tell you if something is wrong with it!”
  • An executive shown the first television remote control said “No one is going to pay extra for something they do not need. Besides, people will just lose this stupid contraption.” (okay, I admit that half of this prediction would have been true).
  • When the first automobile with an electric starter came into the shop a mechanic said “I don’t like it. With the crank I can get a better feel for the engine. You cannot tell how the car is going to run with this thing.”
  • A salesperson was given a touchtone push button phone and said “Everything is out of order on this thing! I can dial faster with the old rotary dial. Let me show you!”

Compare my (admittedly fictitious) scenarios up above with what you may hear from colleagues today:

  • “They changed the command line interface and screwed everything up. I like the old commands better.”
  • “Yeah the new version is faster, but I cannot use my favorite software with it. So I am not changing.”
  • “Why are they forcing us to learn a whole new way of doing things? They are just plain greedy and want us to have to spend more money on training! The old way worked perfectly fine!”

There are two aspects to all of these scenarios that I have presented. The first aspect is that the older way of interfacing with the system worked. That is why those interfaces came to be in the first place. The second is that the complaining user is not talking about the technology, but instead is indirectly complaining about how their preferred interface was taken away.

From what I can see the truth is that most IT professionals fear their skills becoming obsolete and having to learn all new skills in order to remain competitive in the market. Instead of saying “I do not know how this new interface works, so I am a bit uncertain of how well I can operate it.” they point the finger at the changes and say “They broke it, because it is no longer like it used to be!”

You do not have that luxury. You should not have that mentality. As an IT professional your career is not about securing your preferences, but about empowering your users. If you cling to your preferences and disregard their successors you are damning your career to one of obscurity and at best mediocrity.

Everyone is entitled to their preferences, but do not let them turn into your personal crutches. It is better to stumble forward on your own two feet as you learn and make mistakes with the latest generations of technologies, than it is to be left behind with your personal preferences.

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