20 Mar 2017

With No Apology - Stop with the BS! Featured

This blog post has the potential to be a very controversial. I'm sure there will be many in the IT industry who will want to protest against a post like this, but there will also be others who would agree with this post.

Disclaimer: Following a review of the first draft of this article, and after careful consideration, I opted to remove about three paragraphs of text. The three pieces of text outlined some of the current buzzwords that drive some of us mad. It also included an extract of text from a website of a well known international consultancy (and no, it's not the one I work for ;-) ), that quite simply put, is a paragraph entirely formed out of BS buzzwords and phrases. You know, one of those monologues that consist of a lot of fancy buzzwords, but doesn't tell you anything. I decided to remove the text as I don't want this article to look like an attack on any individuals or organisations. I didn't mention any names of persons or organisations in this article, nor did I have any particular names in mind when I was writing the article. However, I am conscious of the fact that some people will be drawing conclusions. Therefore, any conclusions drawn by the reader are their own, and do not necessarily represent truth, or align with my intent with this article. You might also be reading some parts of this article and think "this guy is writing about my organisation!". Well, if you've been around the IT industry long enough, you will know that his issue is everywhere. No, it's not just your company. I'll place a bet that it is in every IT business out there.

The issue I outline here, today, is by no means new. It's been around since the dawn of time when two distinct camps of individuals started meddling with computers. In the one camp, you'll find technicality gifted people, those who really couldn't care less about pretty pictures on presentation slides, or inventing new buzzwords to drive their personal image or to hide the fact that there are things about technology that they simply don't know or understand. Then you get the other camp, where we find many people from different walks of the "IT life". They are those who have an interest in technology but couldn't cut it as real techies due to no fault of their own, or, to climb the corporate ladder, had to let go of some of the technologies that they did at some point in their lives know. There's nothing wrong with that. The camp also has those who couldn't care less about technology, but they are good at selling things, including technology. There's nothing wrong with that either. We do need people who are good at selling things, including the solutions we as techies build. This post does not simply target either one of the two camps as a whole. No, it deals mainly with the behaviour of a few individuals in the latter camp. However, I do acknowledge that in some cases, there will be those from the technical side who are guilty of falling into the same traps as what I'm about to outline below.

So, what's my problem? Well, simply put, my problem is the invention of, and constant verbal and written diarrhoea of meaningless sentences and paragraphs filled with buzzwords by some in the industry, in other words, (and for a moment, excuse the language), bullshit. You might think it makes you sound intelligent and that it has the potential for launching you into a nice cushy job. Who knows, maybe it will (we will discuss how and why in a minute), but in reality, to the rest of us, it makes you look like, well a bullshitter really, trying to brown-nose his/her way to the top. I guess on a subconscious level; it's not so much the buzzwords that I have an issue with, but rather the reason or intent for their use.

To try and explain why I have a problem with the level of BS in the industry, let us consider the following hypothetical scenario. Let's just for a moment think about why all your BS and smooth talk could get you into a nice cushy job. Let's assume that the person responsible for hiring you into your next job doesn't have a clue about what he/she is doing in the IT industry and is therefore just as much of a bullshitter as what you are. In which case, you might just have a shot at landing an offer for a cushy job. I take exception to the saying "You can't bullshit a bullshitter." There are hiring managers in this and every other industry who used an awful lot of BS to get to where they are today. The reason? Because they don't understand their respective industries and in the case of the information technology sector, the technology trends that drives it. So along you come with your fancy meaningless buzzwords and smooth tongue which impresses the clueless hiring manager to the point where they offer you a cushy job. That would be all good and well if you were locked in your comfortable office never to be seen or heard from again while collecting your paycheck. I'd be happy with that. Honestly. At least then you'd be silenced. But no! Because you've secured a job via the BS route, you now feel the need to continue further down the path of BS to at the very least maintain equilibrium with your peers and directors/managers and their opinions and beliefs in your abilities. At this point, your BS spills into the public domain, littering the world with your buzzword-filled blog posts, tweets, Linkedin posts and YouTube videos.

Like all companies, those in the IT industry are run by business-minded people, not technologists. Come on, let's not kid ourselves here. The days when an engineer or two or three could build a technology company out of a garage without strong business minded people helping them are over. The fact is that you have to have business minded people at the top of even the most innovative technology business to make it work in the current climate. However, you have to ensure that the technologists take care of and drive the message around the technology and innovation that the business is building, promoting and selling. I'm sure everyone will agree with that statement, right? However, what seems to happen now is that there are a lot of people who built their careers on who they know and how good they are at BS, rather on what they understand and their ability to adapt and learn new things. That is of course not only the case in IT but also in every other industry. However, I can only speak from an IT point of view, because that is all I know. These people are now in charge of forming a "vision" and "strategy" for those businesses' technology innovation and sales. They think they know some things about the industry, because they attend daily Webex meetings, speak to so-called industry experts and browse business and technology websites to try and spot the current trends and bandwagons to join. The problem is that if you've never really been able to understand the existing technologies, how are you going to form a vision and drive direction using new and emerging technologies? If you think you can get by simply by doing some of the Webex, meeting and internet browsing activities as stated above, how do you know if the information you're looking at and making your decisions on isn't just more BS? More BS generated by someone who potentially also finds themselves in the same situation as you are? Consider the source of your information. Failing to do so could result in a situation where the blind is leading the blind.

So, am I saying that if you don't understand existing technologies that you don't have a place at the top, driving strategy and direction? No, it's not at all what I'm saying. And neither am I blanketly labelling everyone non-technical who finds themselves in a leadership position at the top, a bullshitter. The vast majority of business leaders are not technical, and they are also not bullshitters because they earned their positions on merit and most importantly their proven leadership abilities. Here is where leadership comes in. There's obviously nothing wrong with being non-technical. However, you need to admit to at least yourself that you don't know what you're doing with the nuts and bolts of technology and accept that it's not your job to know what you are doing. You need to then identify and rely on those individuals in your organisation who do know current and emerging technologies and who understand how to make those technologies work together. That doesn't mean just pick any "technologist" who seems to have a bit of available time and a loose interest in the subject you're trying to build capability. IT is a vast field, and not all technologists will have technical ability in all technologies. That is simply not possible. Pick your candidates carefully. You'll probably find that the people best suited for the job aren't the polished types in suits with straight-cut jackets, who know how to say a lot of words with a vast and impressive vocabulary, yet still, says nothing. You'll probably find that the right person is the individual who couldn't care less about their image, but does care a great deal about technology and helping their customers. Equip those guys with what they need to do their jobs and lead them well. If you nail that bit, you won't need to get on the buzzword bandwagon, as the results will speak for themselves. Just because you are in a position of leadership, doesn't mean people see you as a leader. One of my favourite speakers on leadership is John C. Maxwell, and he quotes: "True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned." I firmly believe that one of the biggest challenges the world is facing right now is a lack of leadership. Not just a lack of leadership in any particular industry, but the world in general. The world needs leaders, not bullshitters. There will always be vacancies in leadership, so why not just step up, cut the BS and be the leader this world needs?

I also see a lot of mud-slinging on Twitter, with vendors and partners trying to prove that they or their solutions are better than others. There's a lot of name calling going on, and that's not good for anyone. It's yet more BS. It puts your organisation in a bad light, and it creates friction between you and the ones you're putting down. I've been guilty of this myself, unfortunately allowing my frustrations to get the better of me and putting vendors and others down on Twitter for various reasons. I know what it's like to in hindsight go back and delete a bad Tweet or two. I'm a work in progress, and that is a start. Yes, sure, in private I could have unfavourable opinions of others in the industry, but who hasn't got those? It's how we deal our personal views and opinions in public that determines how we move forward. I do think that if you honestly believe your product or service is better than the rest, then let the product or service do the talking.

I could have pulled buzzwords into the post and made fun of them, but there's no need. There are a lot of buzzwords out there, but it's not necessarily the buzzwords that I have a problem with, it's the motive and the reason for the buzzwords that gets my back up. I find great joy in seeing my colleagues and fellow techies in the industry demo some of the most exciting solutions that they've built for their customers. What makes me even happier is the no BS approach they take. It's pure skill in the use of technology, no BS. I wish the rest of the IT world would either catch on or just butt out.

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Last modified on Monday, 20 March 2017 10:38
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  1. AppDetective

Being technical myself I agree with much of the frustration you highlight and particularly loath buzzword (I will hit the next person who says 'Holistic' or 'Big Sky Thinking'!!). For decades there have always been these useless BS'ers in the...

Being technical myself I agree with much of the frustration you highlight and particularly loath buzzword (I will hit the next person who says 'Holistic' or 'Big Sky Thinking'!!). For decades there have always been these useless BS'ers in the industry - it's amazing they don't get found out sooner or get away with low delivery). However there is one area I think is missing - the hardcore Jedi techie 'who doesn't care about what they look like' can often find it hard to think of the bigger picture outside of their technology or to articulate information to customers - witnessed many times. I would say 3/4 from the technical area and 1/4 from the corporate buckets you describe would be best balance without any BS? What do you think?

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  1. Rynardt Spies    AppDetective

I see what you mean. However, I'd say it's tough to put a finger in the air and say what proportion of people in the industry just uses BS to get by. However, both the technical and non-technical camps have individuals that as good at BS. The...

I see what you mean. However, I'd say it's tough to put a finger in the air and say what proportion of people in the industry just uses BS to get by. However, both the technical and non-technical camps have individuals that as good at BS. The problem BS in a technical role is that sooner rather than later it will show, as you simply won't deliver the technical requirements of the task at hand, and if you do manage it, the quality of the work will be just enough to get by.

I agree that a lot of the hard-core techies don't think about the bigger picture. However, they should be able to explain a lot of the technologies to the non-hard-core-technical individuals to equip those people with the basic understanding and knowledge of the subject, which will enable them to speak to customers and senior stakeholders without having to BS all the way through

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