The other day, I was spending a little downtime with a couple of my staff members to unwind before tackling the rest of the day. Both of these guys, like myself,  have been in IT for quite some time — 15 years or more. My network guy is the epitome of a “gray beard” as he’s a retired IBMer with vast mainframe experience, and he even has the gray beard to go along with it!

We were discussing the rate of change in IT. It’s been accelerating at a must faster pace than it used to. Of course, this might just be a sign that we’re getting older and the days are getting shorter, but it seems like things are changing faster than ever. Of course, when I entered the IT field in 1994, the BBSs had yet to give way to the Internet, so the phrase “Internet-time” had yet to be coined. Operating system patches weren’t as critical since systems were not as easy to attack, and consumer-drive IT changes were still well into the future. Over the past decade, a number of things have changed that have, I believe, accelerated the pace of change in the field. Here are three:

  • The Internet (or, series of tubes, depending on your perspective): As I mentioned, with the Internet came the phrase “Internet-time” which means getting something done and launched on the web before your competitor can. With the Internet has also come a burgeoning global network to which just about every viable company is connected 24/7. DSL, cable, fiber and other 24/7 connections permeate our neighborhoods. This interconnectedness has created a hacker’s paradise and IT teams are constantly working to keep systems defended from attack. Sure, in 1994 we wanted systems to be protected, but today’s security environment in a whole different ballgame requiring a lot more time (and a lot more bad PR if something does go awry).
  • Regulations: SOX, GLB, etc. Over the last 15 years, the regulatory environment has gone nuts with new requirements. It’s hard to stay current with all of the mandated requirements that must be followed as a cost of doing business today. Thanks, Enron.
  • Consumer-driven IT: iPods and iTunes are only two of the mass of Web-related services that IT departments either embrace as productivity enhancers or shun as security nightmares. With new services being introduced all the time (Live Mesh anyone?), keeping up with what’s out there can be a challenge. Thanks, Apple.

Personally, I like change. I’d get bored very quickly if things stayed the same for too long. That said, it can be a challenge to stay current. Hot button technology changes on a regular basis. Today, it’s green IT and virtualization. Yesterday it was SANs (and still it, but you know what I mean). Here are some ways that I keep up:

  • I write. A lot. It forces me, in a good way, to keep an eye on the technology landscape and see where things are going.
  • I read. A lot. I have a subscription to just about every trade rag out there. At the very least, I skim the contents looking for the good stuff.
  • I play. A lot. VMware Workstation is probably the best piece of software invented. Ever. I used to have like three computers sitting on my desk at home and had to reload them when I wanted to test something new. Today, I can just whip up a VM from a base image I already have. I test everything I can in order to get a feel for how things work and how something might be applied to my organization.

I still have a life, too. My kids get plenty of time, and I still get to do my work and keep up. It’s not easy, and I’m far from being an expert in the new stuff that comes out, but I don’t need to be. I have people for that. I just need to know enough to get by and understand the business benefit that can be realized.

Do you think the pace of change in IT has accelerated in the past decade? What else do you think has contributed? What do you do to stay current?