Notable African Americans in Technology, the Wikipedia Project

BIT Tech Digest has been embarking on a journey to change the perception of Blacks in Technology since 2010, our first podcast was just over 3 years ago on November 23rd, 2010. Since then there are many who have joined us in this mission, Soledad O’Brien comes to mind with her production of “Blacks in America 4: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley” where she leveraged her media outlets to drive visibility to African American tech founders participating in Angela Benton’s NewMe Accel program. To that effect we here at BIT are continuing our efforts to change the perception with the announcement of a project to crowdsource a database of Notable African Americans in Technology.

The purpose of this project is not just to make a list, there are already lots of lists on black inventors, but to take it one step forward. The Notable African Americans in Technology Project‘s mission is to ensure that people who look like us and understand our unique experiences as African Americans are represented accurately in the past, present and future by writing their and our stories into the rolls of the largest collaboratively edited reference projects in the world, Wikipedia. As a community it is our job to ensure that African Americans who are notable in Technology are noted in the greatest Encyclopedia in the world, Wikipedia. As the saying goes, “pics or it didn’t happen”.

The Inspiration Behind this Project:

When you were young you probably remember reading about African American inventors during black history month. You’ll remember Lewis Latimer who hacked Thomas Edison’s lightbulb and created the “Process of Manufacturing Carbons” to make lightbulbs… well… a usable commercial enterprise!  You’ll remember Frederick McKinley Jones who hacked our food distribution channels by creating mobile refrigeration technology and delivering a practical, mechanical refrigeration system for trucks and railroad cars. Thanks to him we have California Strawberries being shipped to Australia and Cherry Garcia all over the world. I mean wow, these guys were innovation power houses. They literally changed the world we live in.

That being said let me be straight up for a minute. After 3-4 years of reading about these inventors (and many others) as a kid I grew tired. I wanted to hear something new and these stories just didn’t cut it among the modern day Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who were juggernauts in technology and business. Benjamin Banneker certainly didn’t compete very well against BET, rap music and East Coast/West Coast Beef (that’s in Wikipedia too)! Luckily, I didn’t have long to lament because at some point a chain email came across my hotmail (I’d bet it came across your desk too) about Mark Dean and his contributions to the ISA Bus and the gigahertz computer processor chip! Now we’re cooking with grease! Then I learned about Jerry LawsonMarc Hannah, Shirley A. Jackson, and last but not least Lonnie Johnson (best known for his invention of the Super Soaker) who in more technical circles is known for his contributions in the energy space from the Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System (JTEC). Learning about these individuals gave me an anchor for African American technology advancement in the present, not just the past. Sadly though, my discovery of these amazing African Americans in tech was a fragmented experience over many, many years. The names of these people came to me through one-off random occurrences, a gchat message from Greg Greenlee with a link to an article on Paul Judge in August of this year, a conversation at a networking event with William Hammons in 2012 about Jerry Lawson, a random google-surf-bug over Thanksgiving weekend discovering Lonnie Johnson, a conversation at the Community College Computer Lab with Thaddeus Howze in 2002. You get the picture! With so much technology at our fingertips finding people in the present day who look like us to be inspired by ought not be so random but the truth is, it is stochastic.

Why is discovering present day African Americans in Technology so difficult? If you’ll please excuse me for a blatant generalization with the intent of making a point, African Americans tend to live in the past. It’s a cultural thing with our people and it dates back to Africa’s written and oral traditions of storytelling. Storytelling is engrained in our culture and it’s such a beautiful gift! Sadly this gift has been hardened and marred by our history as victims of crimes against humanity through brutal colonialism, human trafficking, and unspeakable abuses and atrocities since landing here on Plymouth Rock. The “all too realness” of our stories are perpetuated to this day through the legacy of Trayvon Martin, incidents of prejudice and hate crimes which feel like every day occurrences to a great many of us trying to escape the school to prison pipeline.  ”We’re not even safe at Universities in the great Silicon Valley!” is what my insides scream. And among all these stories, the pain of disenfranchisement outshines our rising stars and opportunities for enfranchisement. The stories reflecting our worst nightmares overpower the stories reflecting our greatest dreams.

This year as I “celebrate” Thanksgiving I juggle our culture’s nostalgia for our great leaders (MLK, Malcolm, Garvey, Mandela, Ghandi, JFK etc) and inventors of the distant past, with the very real, very great opportunities of the future, and the very critical junction of opening access, opening education and opening possibilities which is at the present.  I ponder the leaders who I believe are on the edge of greatness, Kimberly Bryant. I give thanks to God for blessing her and her mission. I wonder why isn’t there a wikipedia page for Kimberly Bryant? I wonder- if there was a page for her, would I be able to find trail that would also also lead me to Paul Judge’s page? Enough pondering! Let’s make it happen. Let’s make it real. Let’s ensure that when Miles (listen closely to his question at 8:22 makes his way to wikipedia for his Black History Month research project we’ve laid a trail that will inspire him. Let us all be empowered to own our past, present and future by participating in the crowdsourced curation of information about us. Read on for what you can do today to help.


Call to Action: 3 ways you can help

1. Contribute to the Database: If there is a notable African American in Technology that you know of add them to this public google database called Notable African Americans in Technology (Wikipedia Project). Please share this link as widely as possible. *Looking at black twitter*

2. Create Wikipedia Articles from the Database: If there is a notable African American in the database that doesn’t have a wikipedia page create one for them. A screencast/video on how to create a wikipedia article is here:

3. Update Existing Wikipedia Articles for Categorization: If there is a page for an African American in technology add it to the African Americans in Technology category by adding this tag to the article: [[Category:African-Americans in Technology]]

THANK YOU for supporting BIT to reach over 1000 registered members!!!

This past August Blacks in Technology reached a special milestone, 1000 registered members! It feels exciting to be writing about this achievement because when BIT was started by a few good men (Greg Greenlee and Ronnie Hash) who wanted to change the perception of African Americans in technology they started simple with a forum to create a safe place for people to connect, share, learn and grow. Since then the vision has expanded to:

Increase Visibility, Participation and Change the Perception, all through community. BIT is “Stomping the Divide” by establishing a blueprint of world class technical excellence and innovation by providing resources, guidance and issuing a challenge to our members to surpass the high mark and establish new standards of global innovation.

To that end BIT has reached thousands by  sparking inspired discussions with a plethora of very talented individuals on our podcasts (Anjuan Simmons,  Lisette Titre, Keatron Evans, Hadiyah Mujhid, Curtiss Pope and many others!)  hosted mentoring discussions on our forums from people new to the field looking to learn more, and even presented a rousing discussion on what it takes to create the next  Tech Thought Leaders at SXSW where inspired leaders in technology joined the conversation such as Chris Bennett of Black Founders, Christine Johnson of IamDTech, Cleavon Blair of Blosme Software and Navarrow Wright CTO of Interactive One and of course our very own Greg Greenlee, founder of Blacks in Technology. Blacks in Technology has grown in it’s social media base to over 5000 subscribers across LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and others. All of this would have been impossible without YOU. This post is to thank you, our members and those organizations who have joined us in the journey to Stomp the Divide! To honor this occasion I selected just a few of my favorite tweets from this year. 
















AND before I go I have to thank and highlight our friends over at Broadband Social Justice for selecting Greg Greenlee as Geek of the Week! Woo woo! Way to go Greg! Congratulations and thanks for your contributions and making this possible!

Geek of the Week - bbsj

Google Site Reliability Engineering: Reasoning About Systems

Google seems like a great place to work. I say this after being invited to participate in a Site Reliability Engineering workshop hosted at their Mountain View headquarters a while back and I have to say, I learned a lil something something. A few of my favorite people have taken up work over at Google Inc. over the years (including one of my earliest development mentors) so of course that helps my impression of the company but the Google engineers who delivered the presentations and mentorship over 3 days impressed me as well. I do apologize for those who came looking for this blog earlier. It’s been sitting in draft for weeks with my busy schedule so I hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to download the full pdf mind map on what I learned. Google SRE Site Reliability Engineering Concepts Mind Map

The workshop was being held for an interesting reason: Site Reliability Engineering is an emerging field with no university major or related coursework so you can’t learn it in school. There are no certifications for this area of work. The engineers in this field have paved the way with pure sweat equity, and when it comes to managing global distributed systems as large as Google’s I’m just guessing it’s got to make you sweat from time to time. Some of the stories shared during the workshop included “the day google search broke everywhere, all at once” and “the day google blocked everything”. I won’t publish too many details because I don’t want to spoil the fun but your welcome to ask me more questions about the experience offline.


At any rate, these engineers have mastered and designed tools, techniques, resources and experiences that you get only in real world production settings aka trial by fire. I love it! As a result it is increasingly difficult to find engineers with these kind of skills. Basically Google, Facebook, Twitter and all these companies poach employees off each other with experience in this arena all the time.  That begs the question… What do Site Reliability Engineers do anyhow? Well they work on making all Google’s services such as Search, Gmail, Google Ads, Google+ etc more reliable. It’s beyond keeping the lights on. Some may call it DevOps, but it’s more than that too. Think about what has to be done to keep all those API services that companies pay big bucks for up and running with seven 9s. I learned in the workshop that people who tend to be good in this field come from a variety of backgrounds. One of the guys worked at NASA while some have backgrounds in product management. To be good at this you need to have diverse skillsets and much of it really just comes from a lot of lessons learned.


The biggest takeaway I took from the workshop (and there were many takeaways) is that you need to have a way to reason about your systems. It’s something that after being brought to the forefront I immediately began to think about better ways I could do that at my own job. It’s got me thinking about reasoning about systems in a whole different way. Visualizing problems has always been fun to me. My favorite tool for this is actually Doogle Draw. I’ve been using it to facilitate reasoning about all sorts of problems from annotation system design, to the problem of increasing diversity in technology.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 3.03.20 AM

If I were to leave you with one tip I would recommend every BIT Member hit the library (check online libraries too) to find The Back of a Paper Napkin (Solving Problems & Selling Ideas) by Dan Roam. This book was recommended to me by one of my Product Management mentors and it’s a great introduction for learning how we can improve the way we look at problems, see elements at play, imagine the elements in an abstract way and show them to others through visualization. Reasoning about systems is a difficult thing to do especially with very complex systems, and there is no one who will not love you (not even the biggest a-hole) if you make this easier.

P.S. I did ride around on the Google bikes. It was fun. The end.


Entrepreneurs Gain Visibility at TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon

The anticipation is electric for the anxious entrepreneurs wondering around the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco where one of the most anticipated Hackathon events of the year is being hosted by TechCrunch at Disrupt SF 2013. The powerpoint decks are smokin, the live demos work (mostly) and the shaky accents come from all over the world to earn our interest in 60 seconds or less.


The event started on Saturday morning with several hundred participants made up of entrepreneurs, professionals, hackers. Corporate sponsors like Evernote, Samsung, Chevrolet, Amazon, and others participate with hopes to increase adoption of their APIs and have the next killer app, integration or innovation leverage their technologies. Everyone is here looking for talent or showcasing their own. It’s no surprise to bump into former colleagues from around the valley, or people you follow on twitter at an event like this. There is even a contingent of hackathon frequenters who use these events as opportunities to find seed capital and connections leading to capital for their endeavors.


Hackathons aren’t for the faint of heart, and they aren’t for kiddies either… On second thought, let me take that part about kids back… Black Girls CODE brought a few girls to hack alongside developers from ThoughtWorks. I was so inspired by them I joined in to include some Salesforce hacks to allow them to store chapter, class schedules, students and volunteers inside Salesforce while ThoughtWorks participants hacked up some ruby code to display a public facing app with the mashup. They weren’t the only kids to steal the show, another young girl (couldn’t be more than 7) was found hacking alongside her dad. Spoilers: She stole the show on Sunday when she presented her final product, an app to find playdates with other kids. Hackathons are for everyone!




Some hackers have built their products entirely from scratch over the last 24 hours while others have extended upon already existing technologies that they work on already. My personal favorites were a live tweet news app that finds news based on tweets, annotation app for books targeted at university students, Protect Me app which routes your directions to avoid recent crime scenes and another app that allows you to turn your bookshelf into a library enabling people to bookshare. Glasion was the most flashy and lets you use google glass to find and buy stuff you see people wearing on the street online. Some pitches were not very original, two groups presented a service to allow you to share you travel itineraries… Hello, Some were not so serious, one guy even built a chat room. A chat room…? Some were just blatant self promotion, one guy obviously wanted to highlight his github account and coding skills to boost his consulting.  A few exceptions appeared to have only presented for laughs, I’ll spare you the misogynist details but they ended up trending on twitter. I give a shot out to TechCrunch staff for calling out the bs by telling people to treat the event with respect by not presenting stuff that would be blatantly offensive or inappropriate for an audience that could contain ambitious 15 year olds (actually there were people there younger than than, remember superfunkidtime?) and anyone who might be streaming it live from all over the world.


From the BIT community Adria Richards (some of you might remember her name) took to the stage to pitch an app to find places you should consider moving to based on the demographic makeup of the region. A young man presented Postcards for Change (if anyone knows his name please post it in a comment) as a way to spread awareness about causes you care about through a postcard.
Black Girls Code as I mentioned before represented very well while Justin Dawkins and Kwame Ampem who some may remember from NewMe Accelerator pitched a Fashion app to find clothes based on color swatches.




Aside from the pitches the hackathon was a great way to meet other people. I also bumped into some talented people I’d like to highlight although unfortunately I missed their pitches! Did anyone catch them? (Please comment)


I always get inspired when I go to events like these. It’s very important for members of the BIT, women and tech community in general to find more opportunities to participate in events like these because they keep you on top of your game and engaged in this fast moving competitive field. The sooner you get into it the sooner you find friends that will help keep you in, engaged, and up to date. Inclusion starts with engagement. And speaking of engagement, if you can’t be there in person watch the live screen here and join in on the discussions with us on twitter @blkintechnology or follow me directly @iayori.


Hope to provide a few more updates on Disrupt SF before the conference ends and if you would like to guest blog on this topic and others, hit us up! We want to hear from you!

Culture that Inspires DIY Mentality Builds Tech Stars

The first time I heard the quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” I got a geek rush. My brain immediately went flipping through every failure I’d seen where the strategy was perfect, but failure ensued anyway. I thought even more about my upbringing in the school of hard knocks and those fallen soldiers who had brilliant minds, but nevertheless, never made it out of the hood. Culture is critical, it’s what we feed our children without even knowing it. It is the foundation of what drives our interaction with others, even how we see ourselves. I identify myself as an engineer because everything I ever read about engineers, inventors, and creative people seemed to resonate with my own identity (with a few tweaks here and there). What I’m saying is, no one had to tell me. When you don’t require external validation, or someone to qualify you, you have the autonomy to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do (or at least attempt so). The battle for identity establishment starts in the mind, but even before that it starts with your culture.

Culture that promotes advancement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) gets it’s support from some key factors such as social economic status, parents level of education, dual parent households and exposure to other cultures. Where I grew up the predominate factor on culture was survival because in the words of President Obama, cities like mine and cities like Chicago suffer ”the equivalent of a Newtown every four months.” We know that culture is so critical yet the debate rages on and on about what we must do to get more African American kids interested in STEM and more diversity in technology. It’s not that the African American community doesn’t see the value of pursuing technology, it’s been pretty obvious that technology is the future for the past 2 decades at least. I believe the problem is more akin to the issue faced by women in STEM. The advice given to address the disparity for women and girls is that families must provide early encouragement in math and science.  Well it certainly doesn’t hurt! Encouragement is important. But in our media drenched societies our children raise themselves on youtube, music and peer pressure more so than parents, especially in the inner-city where single parent households are predominate. So although I value the comparison, I don’t accept the cookie cutter solution that says encouragement is enough. I need examples and resources to boot.

When I was a kid my mom didn’t really let us watch much of anything on tv if it wasn’t educational. There was a lot of PBS on at my house yall. 3,2,1 Contact!, Electric Company, Sesame Street, Bill Nye the Science guy, that sort of thing got easy approval. Science became cool to me early on. Unfortunately my mother wasn’t fond of us making a mess in her kitchen so experiment much I did not. However the foundation was set because the interest was there.

As I got older and we got poorer, puberty set in and fashion became important. I’m serious! We couldn’t afford to buy nice clothes so my mom did the next best thing, she bought us a sewing machine. Don’t tell me clothing design isn’t engineering because I’ll just disagree and leave it at that. I spent hours drafting patterns, sewing skirts, head wraps and dresses, coming up with methods to reinforce seams in a way that provided the durability required while still looking fashionable, but this was design labor at it’s best and practiced by a 14 year old girl from the hood in Oakland, CA. What I didn’t realize was the effect that DIY was having on me and my sisters brains. I didn’t realize that we had gone beyond the realm of consumerism to creation. From buyer to innovator. But that leap made all the difference when it became time for me to build a career in web design as a teen.

What I learned from watching PBS was that the stuff in our world was really invented by regular people using science and sometimes a bit of dumb luck. But what I learned at home stitching crafts was that I could invent just as well as anyone else if I had the right tools. These experiences laid the foundation for me to readily soak up the knowledge my brother dropped on me when he taught me HTML, which I latter turned into paid work. Well paid work at that. What I’m trying to get at is that in my experience, it wasn’t just encouragement that made the difference (I had my share), but the key to building kids confidence to try new things is providing satisfying experiences combined with their own creativity, where they can create rather than consume. Innovation isn’t as hard when you’ve innovated once before. For most people it’s getting beyond that first initial step and trying something new, risking the failure (hopefully failing gracefully, this is where adults come in) and turning it into some kind of success to reward the behavior of risk taking and trying new things.

The brightest kids in our society aren’t innovators simply because they are gifted. I recently judged a host of applications for scholarship awards for high school students across the nation and the thing that struck me most from the applicants in Silicon Valley was the sheer ambition of the projects these kids were willing to attempt, even for those who failed, and many of them did fail. These kids were trying all sorts of things, experimenting with robots, solar energy, all sorts of stuff we normally attribute to geniuses. Was it because they were all geniuses? No, I highly doubt it. It was because they believed they could do it, or at least saw the value in trying. Trust me, genius or not, privileged or not, people don’t try things when they don’t think they can achieve some measure of success by doing it. Obama’s inaugural speech still rings in my ears,”Yes we can”. Those 3 words infused into our culture will be the difference for this generation. The 3 words “Yes I can” infused within a child will be the difference in their life. And you… YOU might be the one who makes a difference in that kids life by believing in them and taking action to support them.

Want to see how far a DIY mentality can take you? Watch this man build an iPad… from Scratch! My mentality says, if he can do it, why can’t I?

Soft Skills for Software Engineers (and other techies)

Anyone can learn to code, but being a successful engineer requires more than mastering the language of machines, you must also be fluent in human needs. I’m talking about soft skills and emotional intelligence. The first thing I learned when being groomed in the land of geeks and nerds is not to take things personal. Geeks and nerds can be… well… (I can’t really put this nicely) crass, gross, and outright rude in the same way that jocks can be. Responses like RTFM and email replies to your questions with “” are the tip of the ice burg. Wait til the yo mama jokes start coming out. At the computer lab in college (where I also worked) I often sought out a quiet place in the corner to work on my projects because I didn’t want to deal with people making fun of my web designs and critiquing my code to death. Eventually I developed what I like to call the “Tech Skin”,  it’s a type of cloak which allows you to interact undetectable inside “the borg”, accepting all manner of South Park-etiquette and learning to dish out your own emasculating zingers when the opportunity arises. In laymen’s terms the tech skin is a thick skin developed acutely  for the techie environment. The tech skin allowed me to ignore most of the bs jokes and teasing that gets dished out as part of the culture. Developing that tech skin is essential to survival in tech, but success… Success is not survival. Success is something different.

In order to be successful you’ve got to get beyond the culture and get with the soft skills. Sitting behind your monitor and writing neat code isn’t enough, you’ve got to come out from behind the screen and start making friends. Making friends sounds kinda soft and mushy but it is really a critical talent, and it can’t be forced. Here’s the secret… You actually have to care. If you want to rise to the top by creating incredible products you have to care about your customer. If you want to make your company successful by solving their great challenges of performance and scale you have to care about the people who these challenges impact. You have to care enough to communicate, relate, emphasize, design, develop and implement to make them and their lives, their spouses, their kids and grandma (yes, grandma) happier.


When I landed my job doing quality engineering I loved it, I lived in the land of reverse engineering, test cases, black box and white box analysis and I didn’t have to worry about feelings. I came in every day, I did my job (and a bangup job I might add *wink wink*) and I went home to live my life. I didn’t stop to learn about the life of the people who I built the software alongside, I didn’t wonder how the founders met, what brought the frenchmen who managed our offshore developers to the American shore, or why that one consultant has a parrot in his office. Frankly my dear I didn’t give a damn. In my mind it was just a job to me (and a meager paying one at that), but that was my first mistake and luckily I recovered from it quickly. As I began to get to know my cohorts I learned about their culture, their families, their personal challenges and professional challenges. Ultimately I realized that learning and caring about who they were helped us to work better together under the toughest conditions, including rounds of layoffs, multiple acquisitions, recovering after major systems failure, role changes and ultimately moving on without burning bridges.

The crux of my experience was that no one told me I needed to develop these soft skills, and more importantly, no one showed me how. In the uber masculine culture of tech, being one of very few women, how do I learn to get past handshakes to hugs? When is it appropriate to shift, how do you know for sure? When do you insist on explaining something patiently when someone makes it sounds like they already know it all (recognizing false pride). How do you get others assistance when everyone is slammed with their own priorities? How do you get people to listen to your ideas and enroll them in executing with you? How do you get people to give you truthful, heartfelt counsel and advice? I’ll tell you how and what I tell you may shock the hell out of you. 3 rules, people, engagement and environment.

Step 1: People: Remember people’s names, not just the names who you think can get you ahead in your career, but the receptionist and the person who empties your trash just the same. Bonus point when you make the effort to pronounce names correctly whenever possible. You might be surprised by the good vibes people receive when they realize “you know who they are” and they are in demand. It’s a simple ego boost but it really is real, especially in the sometimes thankless world of technology where we all remember the names of coding language, but no one can pronounce their lead developers full name.

Step 2: Engagement: Greet people with meaning, when you say “Hi, how are you doing?” you have to mean it. AND when you say it, you have to take the time to listen for the response. It’s called engagement and it’s a two way street. When you engage with people, they tend to engage back. When you listen to people when they speak, have a genuine interest in who they are, what they have to say and build a foundation of meaningful engagements, they tend to pay you the same respects overtime. That respect goes a long way. It’s all about knowing how to give and knowing when to take.

Oh yeah, since this is a technical audience and I’ve been in attendance to many a cons (anime, comic, sci-fi and tech) in my day, and I know better than to leave this out when I have an opportunity to sneak it in… Defiantly make sure you have that showering, teeth brushing and smelling good thing down. Nothing kills interest and engagement like BO. Just keeping it real folks!

Step 3: Environment: Change your setting, and I don’t just mean go to happy hour. Take meetings in the break room or at the cafe. Take walks with the pregnant lady on your floor. Greet your co-workers when you see them at the gym. Smile for Pete’s sake! [Who is Pete by the way?] Bring more of who you are into your work life and career and use your tech skin when it counts, like when you’re trying to keep the building from burning down.

Well there you have it, 3 simple rules that I hope will help you to jump start your soft skills and hopefully help you be more successful in life and your career in technology beyond the code.

Let me know what you think and if you have anything to add in the comments!

IT Manifesto

Have you ever worked with someone who happens to be the legendary name that is the author of the only useful document(s) that get handed to every new tech person in the company? I’m talking about the kind of reference docs that if read properly creates an expert by the grace of RTFM. The genuis’ behind building, and sharing this information are guided by principles that surpass hand to mouth labor. Their craft in tech is a work of art, some say a labor of love. I have been fortunate to keep the company of more than a few genius minds in this arena and have compiled their collective wisdom to form an IT Manifesto which I hope will inspire you.


Don’t just “Keep the Lights On”, OWN the Boogiema: I’ll put it bluntly, maintenance sucks and without it things fall apart. Being the one who puts things back together all the time can unfortunately establish some not so good habits. If you’re in an environment fraught with issues related to keeping the lights on then make it a point to avoid being the IT person who is kept on staff because “without her/him everything would fall apart”. Rather, aim for the reputation of the person who turned the entire department around and people now say “you are an amazing asset to grow along with us.” How do you do this? By learning from the maintenance pitfall you’ve encountered and devising solutions to make maintenance easier. By learning the cultural norms surrounding maintenance related to small business vs. big business systems and designing solutions to address them you can be the superhero who is heralded on the patent plaques rather than the guy who gets celebrated month after month for saving people’s behinds from the same boogieman sneaking up out of the dark again and again.


Know the Beauty of Abstraction: Complex problems often breed complex solutions which can create more complex problems further down the road. The worst part about a really complex problem is that if you aren’t careful the problem will begin to drive you, rather than you driving the solution. This is precisely where abstraction can be critical to the long term success of your work in IT. Any problem you solve is only a piece of the puzzle, if you can master the art of abstraction then your puzzle pieces will always fit together rather than stepping on each other over time or creating bigger problems down the road. Trust me, you don’t want to be the one who built the system that gets ripped out entirely in 3-5 years. Abstraction prevents you from overburdening your solutions and enables you to foster simpler designs that are prime for automation, reuse and future extensions. Learning to think abstractly is no easy feat, it involves a keen interest in learning about the best systems in the world, the problems they solve, and the solution development process for those engineers.


Don’t be Afraid of the dark: Teddy Roosevelt said it is the man who errs, who’s face is marred with dust and sweat, who tries but fails valiantly who is to be admired. Roosevelt, like many of the greats knew that the difference between good and great is the ability to take risks and try something new. In IT that is particularly important over time because technology changes as fast as you can turn a page. One example of playing it safe is the fear of the shift from on-premise to cloud-based solutions. Stop stalling and do something that makes you feel completely ignorant for a while, something that will require you to think harder, more creatively, and unlock innovations you didn’t realize you had locked inside. Work on something that makes you stay up late into the night troubleshooting, something that will be on your mind when you wake up and you’ve found that in your dreams you’ve discovered a new possible solution to a problem you’ve been having. In other words, stay sharp. There is nothing wrong with doing things the old way, there is something very wrong with being afraid to try something new.


Scale and Performance as Foundation: Many of us are familiar with the “quick and dirty” and the heralding celebrations for such solutions. Know in your little IT beating heart that the celebration is both short lived and superficial. Ponder this, who likes a firefighter who puts out the same fire once a quarter? Yes, I said it, it gets old and it’s dangerous. Don’t be like that. Every IT person must know how to ask themselves basic performance and scalability questions and have the ability to assess when a band-aid is an unacceptable solution.

Sample Scalability Questions: Is the system architected to allow for extension or modifications for a changing business? What are the needs for long term maintenance? Have you allowed for configuration options or does everything rely on a code change? Is there technical debt?

Sample Performance Questions: How many users are expected to use the system? How does it react to concurrency? What is your systems threshold and where are the failure points? What are the direct and downstream impacts of an increase of usage by a multiple of 10 or 50000?

Many quick and dirty solutions meet the answers to these questions in a live environment, Orca anyone? You need to know these answers before ever going live based on GP.

NOTE: Because I’m passionate in this area I’ll give you my personal advice: Don’t let your business stakeholders influence you not to think about scale. Ignore comments like “we only expect x number of users at one time”, or “we aren’t concerned with performance right now, just get us the functionality”. All the features of Noah’s arc won’t help you if you spring a leak before you hit land. Think about what happens if you get an incredibly high influx of data or if your batch size is met continuously for several days, how will your integrations respond to the consistent load? What are the impacts to db performance or cpu? Are other services impacted? What happens downstream? As an IT person you must know in your heart that features, scalability and performance all work together for the long-term good.


Keep Calm, Stay Focused: Everyone with a career in IT has seen it. I’m talking about the “Emergency Breakfix” situation. The system is down hard, the release won’t deploy and you’re 4 hours behind schedule or there are 4 department heads on the emergency bridge line and they all want updates from YOU. Building a successful IT career isn’t just smarts, access and permissions, a big part of being successful is having your wits about you and knowing how to respond to a variety of incredibly stressful conditions AND STILL bring everything back online. It takes not being deterred by egos, whether your own ego or those of other people. It takes being an influential voice of reason (reason alone isn’t enough) when the basic procedures and organization breaks down. It takes integrity, trustworthiness, patience, a voice that conveys power, dedication and focus. I highly recommend praying to God and some form of meditation. For real.


Embrace your inner step-child: IT can get a bad wrap, someone once told me that the totem pole for tech careers went from support on the bottom, to IT in the middle with R&D on the top. My response to that was basically “Whatever dude”.  Don’t be overly concerned over what other people think you do in IT, or how valuable they think you might or might not be. YOU KNOW the impact and buiness value that you deliver. We don’t just install software in IT. We don’t just open the box, take the Apple out and plug it in. In the world of IT we fix bugs R&D never even knew existed. The concepts to develop solutions in IT are not the same as R&D, it’s an entirely different world, apples and oranges. Don’t be fooled by talk of salary differences either. That being said, don’t waste your time arguing this debate with others. Be confident and embrace the inner step-child that is inherently created through the politics of division of roles and responsibilities. Once you get over the politics you can focus on the real task at hand- building awesome stuff and toasting to successful deployments. If you know anyone in IT struggling with this totem pole and pecking order, tell them to get over it. Then tell them to read this Manifesto.

Ref docs, ref docs, ref docs: Learn the basics of technical writing and document your work and systems from the perspective of a newb. Not only will it help you remember critical details and decisions about your systems, it also affords you the freedom to take month long vacations to Africa or India without all hell breaking loose. Also, since we IT people like to talk a lot of smack to each you need to know that without mastering this very simple step you will never truely know the deep seeded satisfaction and glory of telling someone to RTFM or STFU.


There you have it! I would love to hear what your thoughts are on this issue. Please comment or send me a tween @iayori