As head of business analysis, putting together a talented team is one of the most valuable things that I do, and I spend a lot of time recruiting team members from junior to senior and beyond. Over the years, I have noticed that the proportion of students studying technology and related subjects has definitely increased and this is a great sign. Technology now influences every area of our lives, in a way that simply hasn’t been possible before. So, as consumers, we are far more technically savvy than we have ever been and I think that this has led to a greater level of interest in IT careers.
Whilst something may be technologically possible, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the technology will be adopted, or even welcomed, by the people who are intended to use it. Ethical considerations will play a larger part in product development than ever before; just because something is technically possible, is it the right thing to do?
As IT professionals, we design and build great technology solutions, but we also need to be able to explain to the users of that solution what the technology does. The recent issues with data privacy show how organisations are increasingly - and rightly – being called upon to explain themselves. So, we cannot focus on technology in isolation. The technology has to be viewed in conjunction with how it will be used; we all have a role to play to make sure that IT is good for society.
Understanding the ethical issues around technology will become as important as understanding the technology itself, as the two go hand-in-hand. As an employee, understanding the tech isn’t going to be enough, you will also need to understand the people who use it. That’s why our staff have signed up to BCS’ code of conduct, to ensure that we continue to develop and utilise technology in the right way.
In many ways, technology has enlarged our worlds, making communication quicker, easier and cheaper than ever before. But, it has also made our worlds smaller, allowing us to be exposed to only those views that align with ours, or only the news that reflects our own worldview. Diversity in IT is a growing issue, but many of those who are working in IT have shrinking worlds. Technology has given us myriad tools, but are we better communicators for it?
Technology is not the solution, it merely enables the solution and, ultimately, most technology is delivered for its customers – whether they are individuals, organisations, governments or charities. So, the better we understand the customer, the better the technology will meet their needs. But in our shrinking, filtered, streamed and ‘un-friended’ world, our understanding of people who aren’t like us, and what’s ‘normal’ or ‘average’ has perhaps never been so poor.
The answer? Serve a customer. If you can get a job where you’re interacting directly with the public, that’s great, as it will help you to pay your bills and develop your skills. But, if that isn’t possible, think about other things you could do, maybe volunteering in a charity shop or joining a group or club that is outside your normal range of interests.
Serving a customer is the very best way to come into contact with a broad range of people, some of whom you might not otherwise have talked to. And this will help you to understand all users, not just the ones like you. Business analysts have a range of techniques to help them understand users, such as customer journey mapping and value chain analysis; as analysts, we ensure that we understand multiple stakeholder perspectives. But, this should be understood by everyone in technology, not only business analysts.
Regardless of what role you aspire to, remember that you are either serving a customer or serving someone who does.