There are two main themes underlying the information revolution. The first is a continuation of the industrial revolution, most things got better/faster/cheaper/smaller unless they required skilled manual effort. And the class of things that require skilled manual effort is shrank.
The second main theme is “disintermediation” which is fancy term for cutting out the middle man. Increasingly information flows from source to sink electronically without the need for someone’s specialist knowledge to interpret or summarise it. People who need to make decisions get the information they need directly from its producers.
The next stage of disintermediation started about 40 years ago when new notation systems were created to describe the process of managing and using information. Waterfall methodologies like SSADM enabled system users and system designers to share a common language, sort of. Although it took special skills to develop diagrams like DFD (Data Flow Diagram) and ERD (Entity-Relationship Diagram) it took only a little training to understand what they showed.
The latest victims of disintermediation are the systems analysts and project managers who managed communications between coders who wrote software and the business users who specified what software needed to do. The gap between the two groups is gradually narrowing. Business users have PCs at home and are used to how software works and are getting better at describing how it should work. Programmers no longer wear white coats and live in air-conditioned basement computer-rooms. They talk to business users every day and often have a better idea of how the business really works than those who think they are running it. This new way of designing and building software has a name “agile methods” which is a clue to what they are intended to achieve. But that’s a story for another day.
Last week I flipped my LinkedIn status to semi-retired, acknowledging a state that has actually existed for some years. Three quarters of the UK’s senior (age 50+) IT workers are unemployed. As the years pass and the gaps in employment get longer it gets harder to find a recruiter who will even return a phone call.
This isn’t a new situation but there is a sign that it can’t go on much longer. In the past the solution to finding (cheap) new technology skills has been to import them. In my lifetime this started with importing West Indian transport workers and more recently Polish plumbers. In IT we have been relying on India and Eastern Europe to provide new graduates.
The growing resistance to immigration, if it continues, will restrict UK companies’ freedom to import workers. Paradoxically Brexit will make the situation worse because we will need to import several hundred thousand IT workers to make it happen just when the brexiteers expect immigration to go down.
In theory we have age-discrimination legislation but it isn’t enforced. For instance it is still quite common to see the requirement for a degree in job specifications. As the probability of having a degree correlates strongly with age this is covered by the regulations on indirect discrimination and has been since 2008. Adding “or equivalent experience” to the specification makes it legal but we really should be taking active measures to expose employers who don’t implement that change.
Back when Methuselah was still in short trousers I had an idea. It happens now and then. I had been reading, in Byte magazine, about a system used in France called Minitel. Homes were given little terminals that were attached to the home phone line. They replaced the printed telephone directory but people were finding new things that could be bolted on to deliver other services too.
At the time I was working for the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. I was training people throughout the company how to use a computer, at that time this included telling people what a mouse was and how to use one. One of my trainees was Pierre, who was going to be handling the new IBM account in Europe. I mentioned to him that there was a new Minitel like system available worldwide. Not as advanced as Minitel but showing some promise. I had access to it from home but our work network wasn’t connected to it. I suggested that he look into the possibility of using it for advertising.
I wonder whether anything came of that?