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#20 Why Are You A Technologist?

by Steven Cerri on December 4, 2006

Why be a Technologist? 

”What made you choose to be a technical professional?”

Good evening!

Do you believe in accidents? Do you believe in choice? When you go to an ice cream store, (assuming you like a particular ice cream) do you always select the same flavor? Do you really select that “favorite ice cream (or food) or does it select you? Does your physiology begin the cascade of chemicals as soon as you see that favorite flavor and does your body begin preparing you to select it? Is this really choice or just the allusion of choice?

Did you select your career or did your career select you? For some of you reading this right now you are probably wondering what part of what planet I must be from. How can a career select us?

Look at it this way. Let’s break this career topic into two major groups; the world of apparent and seemingly provable order and the world of apparent disorder. And in the world of apparent order lets put all engineering, scientific, and technical disciplines. In the world of apparent disorder lets put all marketing, inter-personal human interaction and communication, social, and psychological disciplines.

I don’t have to work very hard to convince most of you that the disciplines of marketing, inter-personal human interaction and communication, social, and physiological are areas that we don’t understand well enough to even come close to having a cause-and-effect relationship between the various known parameters. In fact, to most of us, these “human” disciplines are completely “unknowable”. They depend on “people”. They seem to be independent of rational thought or analysis. They seem to be more dependent on blood sugar levels and moon cycles than on identifiable and predictable laws of the universe. Interacting with other people can be as unpredictable as tossing a coin.

On the other hand, F=ma, E=IR, Bernoulli’s equation, computer coding, and the first, second, and third laws of thermodynamics, are trustworthy laws and processes that allow us to build bridges, put humans on the moon, develop electric motors and do the million and one things that allow us to create an ever advancing world. That’s the key isn’t it? These predictable laws allow us to create. Predictable laws of the universe allow us to create something new in that universe.

Now, I can guarantee you that those people who have selected inter-personal human interaction and communication, marketing, and psychology believe they are creating their worlds as well. Only they don’t have to create that world from a predictable set of laws and cause-and-effect relationships. They are willing to live with the seeming uncertainty that comes from working without “concrete” laws.

Therefore, to choose a career in technology instead of a career in marketing or human development is not so much to choose a career, it is rather to choose a way of moving through the world. It is a choice about how much “certainty” you want in the world and how you want to deal with the uncertainty in it. In one career we attempt to diminish the uncertainty in order to create something. In the other, we are willing to live with the uncertainty in order to create something, as well. Both careers create, one with laws that attempt to reduce variability, the other within the dynamics of the variability.

To become an engineer or a scientist is to make a statement to the world something like: “I don’t particularly like uncertainty, and I’m going to do two things; first, I’m going to create what I can using those things I know to be certain in the world; and second, I’m going to do what I can to illuminate what looks like uncertainty and attempt to show that there is actually something certain about what appears to be uncertain. (This, of course, is what Chaos Theory is all about, isn’t it?)

Therefore, for those of us who have chosen the career of technology, (I’m included) we have done so because we want to understand and create order out of the seeming disorder all around us. And the biggest arena of disorder that we see is associated with people (just look at the current international world stage!).

Therefore, as a technologist, when you are tapped to move into technology management, and when you begin down the technology management path, you are making not only a career change, but also a fundamental shift in the way you are choosing to move through the world.

The reason most technical professionals fail to become good technical managers, or the reason they fail to even make the transition, is that they are being asked to completely shift their concept of world. They are being asked to shift form an appreciation of certainty and an understanding of a seemingly predictable world to an acceptance of the unpredictability and seeming chaos of the human world. They are ultimately being asked to leave the world of technology were cause-and-effect rule for the dynamic and variable world of human interaction of human inter-personal communication, motivation, management and leadership.

Is it any wonder this is such a difficult shift to make? Most technical professionals don’t even know they are being asked to take on a new career! Think of it that way, and you begin to understand why I think preparation for this shift is so important. From technologist to technical manager is, for most, a new career.

The transition can be made. It is actually a very enjoyable transition. But it is best made with your eyes wide open and with an understanding of what you are really being asked to do.

Be well

Steven Cerri

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