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AITP's Role in the IT Industry

Wednesday, June 5, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Richard Riehle, PhD, San Jose Chapter President

(Editor's note:  This article was an email from Richard Riehle to an AITP committee, as they prepared for the June 11, 2013 Virtual Water Cooler webinar on "Strengthening Chapters and Regions.  What's In It for You".  Members are welcome to post comments to this article by clicking on the "Add Comment" link at the bottom of this article.  They may also submit their own articles by writing to

Information Technology is, as everyone knows by now, not only about data processing.  The old-time data processing issues remain with us due to the continued use of mainframe computers, evolved versions of COBOL, and the persistence of large-scale data bases throughout industry. We must continue to serve that community, but need to also broaden our range of influence without becoming so scattered that we end up doing a little of everything, but nothing very well.

This requires us to revisit the notion of principles.  We need to determine what is common to all of our IT professionals, and provide the educational and managerial resources that attract those IT professionals to an organization that some may see as having become irrelevant to their unique technological environment.  What are the unifying principles in IT and IT management that are of interest to the majority of our colleagues?  I do not have the answer to the question, but it is a question that needs to be asked, not just today, but every day as our IT industries plunge forward with new challenges, new technologies and new problems to solve.

Someone once suggested that, just as Newton's Third Law of Motion suggests action and reaction, IT problem solving is characterized by the notion that, for every new set of solutions, there is an equal opposite set of new problems.  While that analogy does not hold exactly, it does suggest that one avenue of interest where we need to be alert, and where we need to be ready to contribute is, better phrased, for every new set of solutions, there is a guarantee there will be a large number of new problems.  Where new problems arise, new opportunities also appear.  Each new IT innovation carries with it a responsibility for an organization such as AITP to inform and educate its members regarding "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" related to that innovation.

The fact that new solutions always introduce new problems is what keeps us in business.  It is the reason why we will always need more problem solvers.  AITP needs to be a contributor to the development of those problem solvers as well as those who must manage the problem solving process.

In the contemporary IT environment we must understand the full range of problems and their solutions to continue to be relevant.  In the early part of my career I was mostly involved in data processing as a programmer, then a software designer, then moved into a series of managerial positions at many levels of the IT organization.  My career took a turn to the domain of embedded systems, mostly large-scale military systems.  Finally, with my PhD in hand, I moved into the academic world teaching a variety of computer science, information technology, and software engineering subjects.

The central theme has been information, but information at many levels of abstraction.  We, in the IT world, are largely concerned with metaphor and abstraction that we convert into operational solutions: engineering.  As the information takes on different forms, is hosted on different kinds of platforms, and becomes transformed into messages that travel around the universe (yes space applications are also IT), we need to continue to understand how understanding the fundamentals remains important even as the technology disguises those fundamentals behind a variety of clever gadgets and seemingly new kinds of software.

One of those fundamentals is the notion of mission.  We continually need to be asking, with each new great idea, "What problem are we really trying to solve?"  So many of our smart and talented young IT technologists are so enamored with the technology that they still fail to ask that basic question.  "What are the risks associated with this new technology or technological solution?"  This is another fundamental question, and it is seldom asked in any kind of systematic way.  Risk is associated with the product, the process, and the actual project, but who do we know that does careful risk assessment?  Usually, we simply adore our great idea, and charge forward to implement it.

There are more such issues, of course.  These include understanding the new models for software architecture, fads in development processes, and how software can be designed to ensure that it will be able to evolve as requirements change.

AITP can be relevant as an organization devoted to the pragmatic aspects of IT.  The ACM and other such organizations are important in the contribution they make in research, academia, and as place for people to publish their research.  AITP has the opportunity to support the practical day-to-day concerns of IT managers, IT developers, and others who are less interested in the esoteric issues, but more concerned with solving problems that need solving today, not simply in the future.

Even as AITP remains close to those "in the trenches" it can still have an eye to the future. However, that future needs to be perceived as relevant by the membership.  While that sounds simple, it is complicated by the need to avoid wading into areas of IT that are not of practical interest; such wading is tempting because there are so many fascinating ideas floating around in our community.

I have gone on long enough with my rant.I hope it can be of some value.

Meanwhile, I will continue with my current project of trying to resurrect the San Jose/Silicon Valley chapter of AITP.  We will, in that effort, be looking for strong leadership at the National/International level.

Richard Riehle, PhD
Professor, Core Faculty
International Technological University
355 San Fernando Street
San Jose, CA

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