Recently, I was asked why my current company hired me and why I joined. It was an honest question (or at least I thought it was), and I answered the question as honestly as I could, “I was hired in order to help us change.” My hiring manager made a point of asking “change related” questions during the interview, as well as stating that some changes needed to be made in order for the group to truly succeed. As Martin Fowler once said, “If you can’t change your organization, change your organization.”
For better or worse, this has been a common theme in my career, change. When I first started in the software industry, much of my work was replicating systems in a client-server model that used to be run on a mainframe. Eventually, this work was replaced by data warehousing and data mart consulting. This was due to the rapid data collection of the client-server systems and the decrease in hard disk prices. People had the data, but did not know how to look at it. So data warehousing became very important to people. This change also helped people realize that Microsoft Excel was not the best tool for generating reports or looking at large volumes of data. So, I made my way back to software development in the form of web development and server-side development in Java. Companies wanted to “slice and dice” the data from a fast user interface without the problems of distributing and maintaining installed software. The transformation to web applications was a very logical one. You installed the application once on a server, and many people could access information using a very lightweight application. Upgrading was just as easy, so the development processes could change as well. We could release upgrades more often.
Now we are seeing that the move to applications on the internet is becoming more interesting. Instead of static reports or basic data administration applications, we have things like search, social media, various music players and a whole lot more. The real question to ask is, “How does this application change the way I work, and does it make it better?” The various search websites had a massive impact on the way people find information. Google has become a verb as well as a huge company doing many more things than just search. They were only able to become a large company because their search application was a major success. It changed the way people found information, it changed the way people work.
In this manner, change is influence. What paradigms or applications will influence the future of applications? Semantic search has that possibility because keyword search is still a fairly limited way to find information. Can a search engine really tell you who the first person to mention a specific application that was launched about 5 years ago? You could look through the search results, but the context or semantics of your query are not reflected in the results. Are lifestreaming applications like FriendFeed true change agents? Not in their current state, but there is the possibility that “friend” recommendations could be part of a fundamental change. Are social networks like Facebook going to lead the charge for change? Again, not as they currently exist. Something is missing from social networks such that they are only used to get in touch with someone you know or knew a long time ago.
As a blogger and early adopter (I hate that label), I find that many people are talking about the “shiny new toy”. From the time I started this blog, I have tried to avoid getting caught in the newest toy. However, if that shiny new toy changes the way I work, I will blog about it. Actually, I will probably rant and rave until more people hear about it. The problem is, what are we looking for? Most likely, the answer is “I will know it when I see it”. Are there any applications that you use that you feel are those “agents of change”?