A journey into the unknown (or fears of being left behind)


Geek alert – subject matter may cause rolling of eyes into back of head, and extreme feelings of tiredness

I have a confession. Whenever anybody asks what I do for a living, I tell them that I work in IT. This is the truth, but I always find it a bit uncomfortable to say, because the more I get to know about IT, the more I come to realise that I actually know very little about it.

I’m between jobs at the moment, and I decided to put at least some of my free time to good use by getting a proper qualification. I have a degree, but I work as a business analyst, and increasingly, employers are starting to list a business analysis diploma as a requirement on job specs. I’ve always shunned the diploma as something that only recent graduates with no experience would bother to spend time and money on – after all, the reality of business analysis is that no two jobs are the same and the key skills required, such as knowledge of the actual business area in which you’re working, willingness and ability to learn new concepts quickly, good interpersonal skills, analytical skills and facilitation skills, are not easily taught; rather they are learned through on-the-job experience. But I’ve always worked in investment banking, specifically working on interest rate and credit derivatives, and over the years I’ve come to realise that the questions that always catch me out in interviews, are not the technical questions related to how derivatives are traded and processed, but more general questions around how I gather requirements, how I deal with developers and senior stakeholders, and how I resolve conflict.   I always struggle to describe how I do my job, and it’s become increasingly evident that what the interviewers often want is just a few key words in response to what is essentially a textbook question, whereas I will mentally search for examples from previous roles and come up with so many different mental scenarios that I end up stuttering and stammering trying to provide a simplified explanation.

So I signed up to do the BCS International Diploma in Business Analysis – comprised of four individual written certification modules followed by an oral exam for the diploma. Each of the individual modules could be done as a 2 or 3 day taught course, or via self-study, and I opted for the taught courses, expecting to find them fairly dry and boring but figuring that would be the quickest and easiest way to get the modules out of the way and ultimately get the diploma.

I could not have been more wrong. Yes, parts of the syllabus were rather dry, but being in a classroom with other delegates from different industries, different backgrounds, all doing the certification for very varied reasons, was invigorating, and unleashed a passion for learning that I haven’t experienced in some time. Mentions of concepts such as big data and analytics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, digital and mobile technology, programming languages I’d only vaguely heard of, highlighted to me just how much technology there is about which I have very little understanding.  And now that I’ve got the time to read up on some of these concepts, each term I type into Google brings up a whole host of results which introduce new terms and concepts I’ve never heard of – trying to figure out how all of these fit together is literally mind-blowing.  And what I’m really struggling with, is how is it that all of these technologies and applications exist? Take programming languages, as just one example. How is it that there are so many programming languages available, with new ones seemingly emerging on a regular basis? Each language takes time to learn – surely there’s a point at which, like with normal languages, it just becomes impractical for everybody to be using different languages? To a certain extent this is just more traditional languages such as C++ and even Java, being replaced by new, simpler languages like Ruby, Python and Javascript, but it’s not at all clear why a developer would use one language over another, and it seems the older languages are still being taught, so clearly they still have a use.

And on the subject of learning – there’s a whole host of online providers out there, such as teamtreehouse, codecademy, udemy to name a few, but there’s also something called raspberry pi, which based on their website looks like it’s a completely separate device with its own software, aimed at teaching kids the basics of coding (the modern day equivalent of the old Commodore 64 that those of us who grew up in the 80s will remember).   That’s all very well for kids, but how are we adults supposed to catch up?  How do we even go about figuring out what we need to know, in order to avoid getting left behind?

My father finds technology incredibly frustrating – he can just about cope with word processing and email but has no patience with mobile phones and absolutely no interest in using a tablet computer. My mother, on the other hand, loves her iphone 5, can’t wait to upgrade to a 6, and is constantly ringing me up with questions about why she can’t get some particular feature to work – a constant source of frustration to me as it’s incredibly hard to diagnose any kind of IT problem over the phone, and “switch it off and on again” doesn’t generally help for her sorts of queries.   But occasionally she’ll introduce me to a new piece of functionality that one of her friends has shown her, and it’s always a bit embarrassing to then have to admit that my mum knows something about mobile technology that I don’t.

I guess the point I’m trying to make, is that no matter where we are in terms of our individual knowledge about, and attitudes to, IT, I don’t believe any of us understand it fully, and it’s often hard to know whether to simply shrug our shoulders, accept that we know enough to get through our daily lives and not waste time trying to understand concepts we may never fully grasp, or whether to embrace the unknown in the hopes that it may open up new opportunities, provide new ways of interacting and remove many of the mundane tasks that we all secretly hate doing.

This has turned into a bit of a rambling post – it’s a very big topic which I will inevitably revisit as I manage to organise my thoughts a bit more.  For the moment, I will keep on Googling.

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