Okay, I live in a “tech town” and I completely understand the fascination with young tech heads. The whole area seems to have appropriated the youth culture. I see 40-year old’s sporting porkpie hats and “soul patches”. I find 30-year old’s “commuting” downtown on their skateboards. Really, in my city “literally” (as the kids like to say) everyone has a tattoo.
I mean, who does not love the fresh, young, traveled, highly educated, and socially engaged techie? They consume information like water and come to meetings with a starry-eyed optimism that is easy to get on board with. Clearly everyone that imitates them and those who are hiring for IT are fans. Every mature IT worker that I know has been advised to take dates off their CV. We cannot intimate that we are over 40 or the algorithm won’t even let us past the first cut.
But, for business owners and senior execs whose business is a traditional product or service and not technology; you may want to think more carefully about who you have leading the IT staff and NOT follow the crowd. Here are some reasons why:
1. Old guys/gals are not easily impressed
With everyone talking about the “killer app”, you need to have a cynic making the decisions on where you spend your money. There is a fine line between cutting edge and bleeding edge in technology and you want to be on the right side of that. Someone with a clear head needs to think in terms of security, reliability, and maintenance rather than “it is so cool!”
2. It’s about the business (sic. economy) stupid
I know I am stealing this from George Stephanopoulos but it’s true. It has always been true. If you don’t have an IT leader that has been through the battles and understands this, you will get a jumble of engineering solutions that burn resources and are not moving the business forward.
Most of my peers started when we were making business solutions from scratch. Our focus is and always has been the business. Technology is just a tool.
3. Experience counts
In a tech culture where we collect degrees and certifications like merit badges, real experience solving business problems with technology will get you further than the skills for passing a test. Let’s face it, business problems rarely model exactly like test problems for a certification – not to mention the reality gap between college and “the real world”.
And broad experience helps. I have seen where my experience in the finance industry saved a communications company from making a very expensive mistake.
4. We can translate
It is so common that I hate to bring it up but I hear this story over and over again. There is a major failure in IT (this occurs to around 60% of businesses each month so you are not alone) and the business owner or CEO goes down to talk to IT. This is what he hears:
“We had a blah blah blah. We need to buy blah blah blah. We need more staff for blah blah blah”
Now, every industry has its own lingo and anachronisms and as a tech consultant for 30 years, I will admit this is where we shine. We even use the exact same terms to mean completely different things, and we like to change it up every couple of years. If you are not in the industry it is difficult at best to keep up.
Since most mature IT folks have had to do this translation from the time we were building and testing applications by counting 1’s and 0’s, it is part of their nature to translate the key ideas into plain language that the business can understand.
Oh, and BTW, rarely is spending more money the solution.
5. We have seen the enemy and it is us
Here I go stealing quotes again but Pogo must have worked in IT. (Right there I have committed the sin of revealing my age! The young‘uns have no idea who Pogo is.)
Over the years, in their sincere wish to keep our IT ecosystems updated and relevant, IT departments have spent millions of dollars on the latest solutions and patched them together without a cogent plan. Engineers generally run into a problem and go look for an engineering solution then graft it in or layer it onto the existing ecosystem.
Boy has this bit us in the butt! It has led to a morass of vertical applications and outdated or application dependent hardware, which creates an environment with unidentified points of failure and unaccounted for risk.
Us old dogs have learned that trick the hard way so we ask the right questions before we add a “cool, new” application or infrastructure element. We want to make sure it is on the road map and that integration, support and total cost of ownership is accounted for.
It is great to have a stable of highly educated and energetic young techies in your IT department. But when you need someone to lead them in the discipline of supporting your business objectives with technology, look for someone that has been delivering business solutions with IT across a broad spectrum of industries; even if he/she does wear a porkpie hat and soul patch. It will often save you money and time you can spend on growing your business rather than your IT. It should also give you a few more solid nights’ sleep.