I’ve been working with computers and writing code since I was a little boy. My first computer was the Commodore 64, and now I carry around a device in my pocket that literally has 33 million times the amount of memory and is also millions of times faster. My first programs were written in Basic and generally not longer than a few hundred lines. In my prime as a development lead, I could crank out thousands of lines of Java or Perl or C++ every day.
My goal, however is really to write less. Writing more code takes more time, and the more time I spend on one thing, the less time I have to spend on something else. For me, that is what technology is actually about. Some people worry that technology is breaking down some of the core values that hold our society together. Some worry that technology will keep eliminating jobs and making it harder for people to make a good living. I certainly acknowledge that there are challenges that technology brings, but there is so much value as well. The biggest value is empowering people to do other things better and faster. Computer technology has only been around for 70 years or so, but the pace of change is accelerating.
When I arrived at college in 1993, I had never heard of the internet. I didn’t have an email address or a social media account. I arrived at MIT from Montana and dived into a world on the cutting edge of technology. A lot of the things that we take for granted today like email and instant messaging were being actively used while the rest of the world barely knew about them (we used a tool called Zephyr that allowed us to IM long before AOL instant messenger brought IM to the masses). The world wide web was in its infancy and there were only a couple hundred websites. Most people were still using older networks like Gopher (look that one up) and FTP for sharing things.
By the time I graduated 5 years later, the web had exploded. Companies and individuals were creating web content at a furious pace. You started seeing URLs on billboards and TV. You could get software from the web instead of the store. You looked up the weather online. Even getting your news was just a click away. Life had completely changed. Now my children are growing up in a world where they can literally talk to an artificial intelligence that was pure science fiction only a decade ago.
My dad was a lawyer, and when he started his job, it was a lot of work to find the information he needed to do his job. The laws were published in large heavy books that were updated every year, and they took up a lot of space on shelves (and this was really just for Montana State Law – there was another set of books for Federal Law). There was also a large number of books that captured past legal cases that were used as references for building new cases. Being a lawyer involves a lot of research as you write briefs and other documents that are filed as part of the legal process. There are legal assistants to help out, but back then it still involved a lot of pulling books off shelves and pouring through pages to find the needed information. Typing up the documents was done on a typewriter. It was a tedious manual process to format the text, and if you made mistakes, it was a manual process to first erase the mistake using liquid paper and retyping. My dad was one of the first people I knew as a kid to own a computer, simply because it made writing those briefs easier. Around the time I got to college, an electronic service called WestLaw was introduced that allowed you to lookup law information on your computer. Initially they sent you CDs that you would have to insert for the lookups, but now it is all online. The books quickly became office decoration, and suddenly my dad could do his research and write his documents in a fraction of the time. He didn’t end up working less (my dad loved the law and it was his passion), but he was empowered to do his job better and faster.
I did use books for research in the early days of my career, but now I do most of my research online, either through Google or Safari Online or online tutorials. It used to be that a task of writing some code involving something I was unfamiliar with meant that it would be days or weeks before I could complete it, but not I can search and quickly find answers. I don’t even really read tech books cover to cover any more, mostly because I learn as I go and I learn through much more interactive means.
In the last year or so, I’ve stopped writing code and started spending more time guiding development teams who are building software. My goal is to empower them to get the job done fast, cheap, and with good quality. There a lot of tools that we lean on to do this. We use Jenkins to continuously build, test, and quality scan our code. We use Git to enable our teams to focus on parallel work-streams and not worry so much about trying to merge it all together. We use Docker and containers to enable flexible environments that can scale up and down as needed. We use Ansible to build out virtual environments in a matter of minutes. We use the cloud to innovate, prototype, and design.
This is why I have become a technology evangelist. I see a new technology or webinar or eBook pop up on my Twitter feed or on Facebook or on Flipboard, and my first question is how can this technology enable me to do my job or to help my team do their jobs better. Containers, cloud and Machine Learning are really exciting things to work with, but their real value is how they enable your business to deliver better, faster, and with higher quality. I’m here find and champion those enablers.