Sam Buchanan's weblog.

Smarter and Faster, Part II

So I should explain the Hughtrain cartoons. Just so we're clear, I'm not quite as bitter as you're about to think I am.

I work in IT for a large public higher education system.Not long ago I had a revelation that almost all the technology innovation I see at work isn't happening in IT. Instead I see it coming from a few people in particular within Academic and Student Affairs who push for tech innovation to support the educational mission of the system, often introducing technology themselves because IT is out of touch. I realize that some of this is because ITS at MnSCU has been pathetically underfunded and can barely manage skeleton support and subsistence. And I'm not being entirely unfair to my IT colleagues: I said almost all technology innovation. But still.

You might picked up on it here if you've been reading along the last couple years, but I'm more than a wee bit frustrated with a development process that strongly favors multi-layer committee approval of every damn little thing, and careful planning of work months in advance. See, we operate at the intersection of higher education and state government. This tends to slow things down a tad and quash any chance of doing anything even remotely cool or even useful.

There. I came out and pegged myself as a developer: I want to build cool shit. But it's not really that simple. I keep thinking that we're operating in a post-Cluetrain world, that the lessons have been absorbed and that people are clued into what's happening with what's been happening with web development the last few years [1], and reality keeps smacking me down. I am consistently disappointed by the caliber of the web apps we're slowly churning out. Top-down, faceless, human-less "enterprise" development. Our intranet is stagnant, except it's brand-new and public-facing. Unless we break free of what is pretty damn close to a waterfall method, we're screwed. I believe that we're committed to doing a good job, I just don't think that many of us are all that interested in doing a totally fucking amazing job.

But hey, that's me.

I still have hope of sneaking something in. I'm finding ways to push the confines of narrowly defined use cases that still meet the specs and that make the apps better. And at least I've started telling my coworkers that I think it's our job to write kick-ass apps — or rather, apps that help users feel like they kick ass. I've obviously been brainwashed by Kathy Sierra. Thing is, she's right.

Pity no one liked my idea of running the student housing application as a first-person shooter. Just as well, I don't think that the oughta-be-Quaker in me would be comfortable with the violence. I wonder if anyone will bite at running registration like fantasy football? :)

There. Now I've pegged myself as a developer and completely loony.

[1] - i.e. Web 2.0 — yes, I use the term willingly. Now you know I'm loony.