Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Computers not so boring after all ...

In his Wired article Dream Machines, Will Wright (creator of The Sims) makes an interesting point about the difference between the traditional view of computers and the part they really play in our lives:
“Think of it this way: Most technologies can be seen as an enhancement of some part of our bodies (car/legs, house/skin, TV/senses). From the start, computers have been understood as an extension of the human brain; the first computers were referred to as mechanical brains and analytical engines. We saw their primary value as automated number crunchers that far exceeded our own meager abilities.

But the Internet has morphed what we used to think of as a fancy calculator into a fancy telephone with email, chat groups, IM, and blogs. It turns out that we don't use computers to enhance our math skills - we use them to expand our people skills.”
That's a really interesting point given that universities are still focusing on testing maths skills in computer courses. Are young IT graduates getting the training they really need to understand the place computers play in the modern world?

Have they been taught psychology, usability, graphic design, communications? Do they have any idea at all about how to make not just a technically excellent product, but how to answer real human needs? Clearly this is at the heart of recent successes in Web companies - MySpace, Flickr, digg and del.icio.us depend upon the social aspects of the technology and are (in some ways) clearly very simple.

More to the point, are modern IT organisations looking for the right people skills in the staff they hire? Are the job descriptions analyst/programmer, systems architect, DBA still meaningful? Or are we perhaps going to see a great divide between those who understand people and creative thought (the valuable ones), and those who fulfil the role of mechanics and street sweepers (the ones we outsource to the lowest bidder) in our new world?

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