Passion and the geek

We had a talk with our CEO a couple of months ago. Well, she talked, and told us the grand vision… the beautiful picture, you know that talk.

And then she said this: “Hands up all those who are passionate about education”.
And hardly any hands went up. Mine certainly didnt.

No big surprises for anyone out there right? Well, talking to my CIO friend, he told me that she had been shocked. She was passionate about education, and didnt understand that not everyone in the organisation was. An interesting point…

Now, to the point of this blog, which, hidden in the lengthy anecdotal introduction, is this:
IT projects need passion to succeed.

Passion is not normally a word used in IT much. But it should be.

A reasonable proportion of IT people, particularly developers, are somewhat passionate about what they do. Others, just in it for the money. The best have a passion, but sometimes that passion can be misguided, leading to increased complexity, which I am passionate about avoiding at all costs!

But this sort of passion is not the point of this blog. I am talking about the passion for the IT project itself, not the technology, but the actual thing, the application, the… thing.

Now, any honest IT geek is going to tell you, they are passionate about the tech, and how they can make a beautiful system. Not about the point of the system. Theyre never going to use it, that would be a waste of passion…

No, the passion needs to come from the business. I believe, if the business is not passionate about an IT project, it is highly likely to ‘fail’*. Passion must come from the business. If there is no passion, the project should not be started. If the passion is not going to come from the people whose lives you are improving, whose system it is, DO NOT START THE PROJECT!!!!**

there will be a few more posts about this, since I think this is a very important point, and leads nicely into another agile rant….

**unless its really cool technology that you want to play with on someone elses budget 🙂 then, full steam ahead! Uh, where captain? Ahead fool! uh… theres a big rock there sir… We’ll smash right through it! ahead I say!

*fail in IT is one of those nebulous terms that nobody defines really well, but generally it means that somebody up high ends up looking really bad to someone even higher…P

Passion and the geek

4 thoughts on “Passion and the geek

  1. Kerry Nitz says:

    I think passion is inextricably linked with the sense of ownership of the code and the tightness of the relationship with the business people. When there is mutual trust between the business people and IT – both sides trust the other’s decisions in the other’s domain – and the programmers are committed to the code with a sense of pride in it, then passion will come easily.

    Retention is a big factor in retaining passion in a team – the staff who are most passionate about the business tend to be those who have been around long enough to ‘live’ it.

    Poor management can still blow this away – ie not trusting programmers and treating them like children – or continually bringing in contractors in the lead roles instead of developing your in-house people into those roles. The other side to passion, especially evident in those who have hung around and ‘lived’ the business, is cynicism.

    Cynicism vs passion: if you find an organisation that leans heavily toward passion over cynicism (and all orgs have a mix of the two) it’s worth hanging around.

  2. Hey Kerry,
    Interesting! bear in mind Im writing from a contractors point of view, with lots of experience of greenfields development.

    I havent met many developer types who are very passionate about their business. Ive met many who love IT, and love the tech and the pleasure they get from developing, but… those things can be found in any business.

    So, you seem to be saying that there is some ability to transistion IT people (who love tech) to business IT people (who love tech for the business), which is interesting from a contractors point of view. Im not sure I can see it, but I may be leaning towards cynicism!

    This whole discussion leads into my case for agile, because agile is the best way (so far) that enthusiasm for the IT product can be shared to the people developing it. I still believe strongly that the passion and enthusiasm must come from those people who will ultimately be using the system, and that this enthusiasm needs to be shared and nurtured (by using fast iterative developments) for IT projects to have the best chance of succeeding.

  3. Kerry Nitz says:

    Definitely where I am there is a whole bunch of IT people who are passionate about the business. Part of this is historical. The IT shop here was originally started with a major project run by which also took people from the business side and trained them up as programmers to take over the systems once the consultants had gone. So the core of IT on the applications side has a business background which sure helps in terms of being passionate about it. Allied to this, they haven’t been stuck in pure production support with development being wholly farmed out to contractors, as appears to be the case in some IT shops I’ve heard rumours of. (Contractors are good in two ways: they can bring experience and knowledge that doesn’t exist within the org – and this should be used as a development opp for those who work with them – and they can fill in for periods where the work temporarily exceeds the capacity available.) There is a strong culture of internal development projects (the nature of the business is that there is always alot of change being driven by the business) and so the opportunities for development through project secondments are very high – projects also have traditionally been run with close contact between business reps, testers and developers; again leading towards developing a passionate attachment to the business. In my first stint in IT here (I started on the business side in process design), from 1999 to 2003, I was involved in about 5 projects.

    The above isn’t to say that there aren’t issues, but having so many committed to the business also means that there is a large enough core who are determined to stay and strive to make things work better. I hate to use the term learning organisation, but in the past the IT shop here has come close to it. At the moment, I’d say things are getting to busy in many areas to allow the time for reflection that learning needs. On the plus side, management have indicated that they are well aware of this and are attempting to do something to remedy this.

    [As an aside, regarding your comments about talking to students about IT careers, I recently looked at the NZ careers site that schools use and the section on programming as a career stated that the outlook was “average” and noted that “While the computer industry is no longer growing as fast, there is still a demand for skilled programmers.” Really encouraging isn’t it? Then I read that “… In recent years, window-based programmes and database work have been areas of growth…”! Not surprisingly, it was last updated in 2003.]

  4. Interesting that careers website. I doubt anyone really looks at it. Maybe we need to setup a IT specific one, covering all the roles in IT, and with stories and anecdotes from some of the names in NZ ITC? Hmm. Maybe when I get a bit of time…

    Your org (IRD?) seems to have a pretty good approach. It seems that your IT people are passionate about the business, which is not something I have seen particularly often. But my point really is that there needs to be passion from somewhere, and the ‘business’ needs to supply it. If the IT department are such a part of the business that they can be passionate about it (Im still not sure how that works. Where do project requests come from?), then that is fantastic. The ‘business’ (including IT) is supplying the passion.

    There just has to be passion from somewhere, and there a many projects started without someone, anyone, really caring that much… cue the death march music!

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