Forum: Anniversaries all around IT, but trouble is on the horizon

ICT is still a land of opportunity, beckoning the smart, the creative and the brash, the flamboyant and the nerdy alike

It’s been an incredible week for milestones. Sputnik turned 50 and the handheld calculator, originally built by Texas Instruments, turned 40. As you’ll see on page eight, computer science at AUT marks its 40th birthday shortly.

Jim Donovan, CEO of Fronde, points out on his blog that Silicon Valley has just turned 50, though that date is somewhat in dispute:

“In what seems to be a very low-key anniversary ... Silicon Valley marks the 50th anniversary of its putative founding. The San Francisco Chronicle has a historical piece on what most people take as the start of Silicon Valley — the founding of of Fairchild Semiconductor. The Chronicle also has some comments from several of today’s leading CEOs. Silicon Valley’s local newspaper, the Mercury News, runs a similar historical article.

“There is an alternative view of history. The eight founders of Fairchild Semiconductors had previously worked for Shockley Labs, which claims its founding 18 months earlier was the start of Silicon Valley.”

Donovan points out that Silicon Valley is as much a cultural phenomenon as a technological or business one.

“The Fairchild startup was seen as the one which also brought in many of the classic start-up elements — venture capital, flat management, staff equity deals, casual dress, egalitarian organisational ethos, etc, etc. Shockley was old-school.”

We, too, are celebrating a milestone this week: Computerworld turns 1,000 — issues that is.

It’s all a sign of an industry, or a series of intimately interrelated industries, reaching a level of maturity, not to say middle age. But what is so great about this industry is its constant renewal. It is still full of mavericks, people trying to disrupt existing orders and questioning received wisdom.

It also regularly creates new “wild wests” as playgrounds for more adventurous souls. Right now, wireless communications is one and, despite reaching adolescence, the internet remains another. ICT is still a land of opportunity, beckoning the smart, the creative and the brash, the flamboyant and the nerdy alike.

It’s just about possible to put your finger on the changes technology has wreaked on businesses. But, and I’m thinking about Fairchild here, the impact of ICT has been much deeper than that.

It has, to some incalculable degree, also changed the way we think and the way we treat each other.

It is that cultural power that makes ICT truly disruptive.

The role of technology in helping to create egalitarian social change — in society, at work and maybe even in the home — has not been recognised nearly enough. It has shifted the bar, hopefully permanently, in favour of the skilled and the talented, people who in another age may never have had the opportunity to express their abilities as they now can.

Meritocracies, though, present their own challenges. Information elites are still elites and can become self-perpetuating. As an industry we need to keep ensuring that we are offering and creating opportunities, multiple points of access to technology and training and for creative thinking.

The biggest crisis this industry faces, across the world, is a developing talent crunch. That’s an issue that both industry and government need to address urgently.

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