The Information Technology Milieu

This short article is a reflection on the field of Information Technology from the perspective of the religious order with which I’m connected.  Information Technology (IT) is defined by programmers and sysadmins, and the management of that talent.

The Programmer

By programmer I don’t mean the writer of code snippets but rather the folks with the creative talent to develop programs that create entire industries. For example, Dennis Ritchie, Donald Knuth, and Larry Wall,  to pick a few examples.  The programmer is a writer, intellectually creative within a broader field that includes, say, Homer, Plato, and Shakespeare.  Besides writing, there are of course other creative fields: art, business, politics which have their own creative geniuses. Nevertheless, the programmer is the creative talent within Information Technology itself.

Rather than looking at this more and more specifically, one can also consider more generally and get down to basic biology.  Women give birth and that creative ability is appreciated by men. Or at least has been for millennia if they do not foolishly come to appreciate the creative act of sex more than the creation itself.

The Sysadmin

Speaking of appreciation, the sysadmin is a person who has the ability to appreciate what the programmers create.  While not as valuable as the programmer, this is also a rare talent and hence valuable whether administering Windows, Unix servers, databases, or F5 network software.  As with programmers, it perhaps is useful to place these folks within the broader category of appreciators of writers, for example: Samuel Johnson or Christopher Ricks.  By the way, I recognize that this name-dropping is a lazy shortcut; however, I’ll excuse it as a way of being concise. I’m a sysadmin, not a writer.

Speaking of appreciation there is also its evil shadow, jealousy, about which John Milton has written eloquently.  More broadly, if one considers the milieu of business rather than the field of writing, one of the main tasks is to distinguish between appreciation of talent and jealousy of talent when hiring upper management.

Management of Information Technology

I’ve contended that IT is defined by programmers and sysadmins. But what about management of IT? This becomes complicated unless one keeps in mind that Business is its own creative field, just like Writing, and the distinctions I apply to IT also apply to it.

It is perhaps useful to distinguish between the CIO (Chief Information Officer) and the CTO (Chief Technology Officer).  These are defined differently by different people. I think of the CIO as the person tasked with operationalizing IT, putting it into practice. This creative endeavor is hence closer to the programmer category than the sysadmin category.  The CTO, on the other hand, has the task of accurately appreciating new IT which is also valuable to Business, especially giving the rapid change in the field.

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