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Passion Or Vocation? August 5, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership, Technology.
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In a recent issue of Technology & Invention magazine, Mara Vatz wrote about discovering her grandfather’s engineering textbooks from the 1930s.  Herself a recent engineering graduate, she was struck by the difference between those old books and those she recently used.  Her grandfather’s books were filled with the passion of engineering, of being consumed with the excitement of building and creating, of bending the natural world to the will of man for the betterment of society.

Her books, in contrast, were dry and methodical.  They taught engineering as a sequence of steps that could be applied to solve a problem.  They presented engineering as a vocation, just a job, just some rote sequence of steps far removed from the real world of problems to be solved.  The contrast made her sad, longing for a time when her chosen profession seemed more alive to its practitioners.

I have the same worry for the world of IT.  At the risk of cementing my geezer status, I learned computing in a time when everyone wrote assembly code.  I punched cards and booted machines by toggling switches on the front panel.  I learned how to build computers from the transistors up, wire-wrapping individual logic gates to decode address lines.  It was fascinating, consuming, and instilled a passion for technology that I carry with me even today.

Are we instilling the same passion today?  Or has computing become a vocation, a series of steps that you use to solve the problem at hand?  I am certainly not advocating a return to assembly code, but I want to make sure that our newest computing professionals have that same gleam in their eye as I did so many years ago.  The layers of abstraction we’ve built in our systems enable us to create systems that were inconceivable back then, but those same layers remove us from the nuts and bolts of computing.  As those nuts and bolts fade away, our true understanding of computers fades.

Some of today’s IT people have that passion.  You can see it in your best people, the ones who dig in and never let go of a issue, who wake up at 3 AM with the answer to a problem, who run into the office with the next great idea.  But does everyone have that passion?  And if they don’t, should they?

I want everyone to have that passion.  Passion is infectious, and passionate people in IT create passionate people outside of IT.  If people didn’t find that passion in school, we need to pass it to them ourselves.

Much is made of leadership and mentoring, teaching important skills to our teams.  Beyond leadership skills, we need to convey the passion of our field to our people.  We have to constantly demonstrate our love of this stuff, the wonder of a problem solved, the satisfaction of a user helped.  If we aren’t going to get excited about a new tool, and our people don’t get excited, how will we engage our users?

My passion is for computing, of course, but this applies to every discipline.  Do you have a true passion for what you do?  Do you demonstrate it every day?  Do you infect your people with that passion and enable them to carry it to others?  Or is your job just a vocation? If so, I’ll bet your people feel exactly the same way.

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1. Blogs for August 2009 « A CIO’s Voice - August 5, 2009

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2. Bruce W Cavey - August 5, 2009

Again Chuck, spot on!
I get inspired by your blog and you make me think.
MDM is one of the areas as a turn aound agent I find most in need of leadership help.

It is always about the data–like follow the money follow the data!

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4. Laura Brandau - August 5, 2009

Thanks for the nice article, Chuck. I wholeheartedly agree that what you do has to be about what you are passionate about. You make an interesting connection between instilling passion and leadership and also passion and engaging users.

I think one key to the latter is whether or not your meetings with your users would be classified as “fun” (still productive, but productive in an exciting, fun way). Do you help them see possibilities? Do you help them see themselves using the new software? Do you find ways to make the little details you need to build good software relevant and interesting?

Laura
http://www.bridging-the-gap.com

5. Lui Sieh - August 6, 2009

I really do not understand how one could continue doing this kind of work day-in-day out without passion. You sort of need to be a little nuts(!) to get through the days and weeks with all that goes on in the IT world.

And at the end of the day, passion leads to excellence and the ones who last, must really like it…no matter how much we might complain about things…

Cheers,

6. Mike Bader - August 10, 2009

The world is filled with people who achieve success, create breakthrough ideas, and truely made a difference in whatever they do. They can be IT professionals, teachers, doctors, salespeople, athletes, engineers and students. What’s the common thread? Passion! Great article Chuck!

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