• United States

Fear not: This industry will bloom yet again

Mar 15, 20043 mins

Maybe it’s the depressing weather: In much of the U.S., it’s gray and dismal, without even a hint of spring. Or maybe it’s the drumbeat of IT jobs getting outsourced to India, highlighting the commoditization of tech skills. Or possibly it’s that former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers finally got indicted for fraud – but too late to save the company that he managed to destroy out of misguided ego, greed and a lust for power.

Whatever it is, I’ve lately heard several folks voice sentiments of loss and disillusionment.

Researchers who were active in the early days of the IETF tell me they miss the time when six weeks of focused effort could result in standards that made a difference. “What we’re pining for is a way to do cool and fun things, to do them relatively quickly and in the way that we feel is best – and then have it change the world,” writes one.

A fellow writer confessed disappointment upon learning of Ebbers’ indictment: “I expected to feel happy about the fact that justice was finally served – but instead it was just a letdown.”

So what’s up? Are we collectively under the weather, or is this truly the end of an era? Was there a brief shining “Age of Innocence” when idealistic techies were able to change the world, before greedheads and hucksters hijacked their ideas for politics and profit? Is that age over for good?

I’ll give the time-honored consultant response: Yes and no. Yes, things were different in 1994, back before most politicians or CEOs had heard of the Internet. Techies were able to change the world – and were honored for it. It happened. That age was real.

But no, I don’t think this is the end. The wonderful thing about technical innovation is that it’s perennial.

Researchers in labs in the U.S. and abroad are working on new technologies that will change the world – again. They’re exploring grid computing, virtualization, real-time databases and application communication technologies that are revolutionizing system-to-system communications.

Open source development is coming into its own. And inside corporations, IT executives are brewing up some of the best and most innovative homegrown applications I’ve seen in a decade.

Yes, the 1980s and 1990s were a rare and special time for computing and communications. But so were the 1970s. And 1960s. And 1950s and . . . . Get the picture? Spring always returns – even after the longest winter. While no two springs are ever exactly the same, they all hold the promise of new things unfolding. So don’t give in to the winter doldrums – keep your eye on the unfolding next new tech adventure.

A brief correction: In my last column, I wrote that the AT&T Wireless sale would “fatten up AT&T’s cash reserves.”

AT&T benefits from reclaiming its brand but doesn’t get the cash. AT&T Wireless was entirely spun off from AT&T in 2001.