Today was one of those epiphanies for me about how intimate and co-dependent our relationship with our tech has become. And as is true in all co-dependent relationships, neither side is completely blameless. Sometimes when we’re blaming our tech for letting us down when we need it most, we should really be apologizing to it instead.
As spring hits New England, I finally climbed out of the basement where my spin bike resides, and prepared for my first outdoor bike ride. Now, as everyone who trains indoors knows, that transition from spin bike, treadmill or elliptical machine to the rigors of actually moving your body through space, against wind and gravity, is a tough one. This year, during the course of the winter, I’d started using a heart-rate monitor. I did this to track my exertion given the stationary nature of the spin bike (and truth be told, at the age of 55, to help ensure my heart did not explode in my chest as my 55-year-old body tried to keep up with my 21-year-old ego). After the ride, I took off the heart monitor and checked the app, only to find that somewhere along the way, the connection had been lost, and I didn’t have the heartrate data on my phone app.
Now this is not the end of the world—I obviously did live to tell the tale. But it hit me how intertwined the data-driven experience of my ride (speed, time, elevation, heart rate) had become with the physical experience; in this case, one of my goals had been to map my physical feelings of stress with my actual heart rate and calorie burn so as to better manage my workouts. So this fail of technology – however it occurred – meant I learned a bit less about myself. But it got me thinking about how often technology fails us. Clearly, we see and read a lot about the failures of technology, which come in many forms, ranging from the tragically intimate (a camera app that loads too slow to capture baby’s first steps), to the broadly disturbing (a few hundred million credit card records being stolen from an insecure network). Those failures can be glorious and encouraged, such as the explosion of a SpaceX rocket on the launching pad as they push the envelope of what our tech can be asked to do. Most, however, are far more mundane, and entirely preventable.
Which brings me to the question of how often it’s really us failing our technology and not the other way around. Now bear with me; I’m not talking about disappointing our robot overlords – that problem is still at least a few years away. I’m talking about all the technology and high-tech products in our world that are too hard to use, too slow to be convenient, too unreliable to be counted on, or too insecure to be trusted. I make my claim because, more often than not, those failures are not the fault of the underlying tech, but result from the shortcuts, bad choices and compromises we as vendors all make along the way as we try and get our applications and software-driven products and services to market.
To claim those are examples of technology failing us would be akin to painters blaming the canvas and brushes for their terrible renderings of fruit in a bowl. Certainly, we will still push our tools to the limit, and they can on occasion limit us. But the underlying raw ingredients of the digital world are powerful, and getting better every day. World-class infrastructure can be bought from the cloud for pennies. Bandwidth is basically ubiquitous and free. Piece parts can be modeled on 3D printers and in programs themselves before ever seeing a factory. Programming languages are more intuitive and flexible than ever.
So if the raw materials are so good, why is the work product often so bad or frustrating?
The flaw lies in our still-evolving ability to further abstract those tools from today’s new kinds of artists and artisans – the programmers, engineers, UX designers and others who are crafting the digital solutions that are increasingly the source of value for companies in every industry. Fortunately, we are on the cusp of a revolution in this area– where we can let our digital creators focus entirely on creation: putting underneath them the supporting infrastructure of tools that make sure their visions can be turned into amazing products that are fast, reliable, secure and able to collaborate with their brethren in our totally connected digital world. And doing it in transparent ways so that the creators can be creators, and the artists can be artists. After all, how much of Yo-Yo Ma’s genius would be wasted if he had to spend two hours a day tuning all the instruments in the orchestra and checking on ticket sales while he was warming up for the performance?
That’s the transformation that will accelerate the pace of useful innovation and breathtaking creativity. It will let us thrive in a world where technology can live up to the demands we place on it as a seamless extension of our personal and professional lives. And where the creators in our midst can ensure that the realities of their products live up to their vision – and our dreams.
And that’s why I’m excited to now be part of Veracode. Because that’s a vision CA is pursuing as it seeks to eliminate the distance between ideas and outcomes. The modern software factory CA seeks to help customers build is one part Henry Ford’s assembly line and two parts Santa’s workshop; it’s a place where creativity and innovation can translate into real software (and software-driven products) that can be produced at speed and at scale, so they can make real, impactful improvements in the world we live it.
Is this a mission worth pursuing? Well, Gutenberg may not be famous for any of his writings … but the tools he built to propagate the spread of information and ideas transformed the world as much or more as any single work printed upon it.
So yes, I think that’s a mission worth pursuing.