Tech apprenticeship is the new CS degree

The digital economy has the potential to open up opportunities for millions. This reality has become possible only in the last few years.

When I entered the IT industry in the 1990’s, the market was much different than today. The world-wide-web existed but companies really had not adopted it yet. Enterprise software and corporate IT were surrounded by high walls. You needed CS  degrees, expensive certifications and software licenses just to “learn”.  This put individuals in a catch 22:  you needed employer sponsorship to support the learning;  you needed the learning to support getting a job with the employer.  

Walls started to crumble

I distinctly remember the first big crack in the wall came with the Y2K crisis.  At that time, every company needed an army of COBOL and RGB programmers. They also needed people to replace the networking equipment and servers that their companies were buying while the tax benefits were good. DeVry and Chubb jumped in and offered affordable apprentice-style IT training programs for people who would have been locked out of the new economy.  This provided the ability to get a decent paying tech job. I have many friends who went through those programs. They are still thriving in well paying IT jobs today.

The crack became a bigger hole with expansion of the world wide web and the availability of more open source programming languages and numerous online training sites.  Within 10 years, it broke wide open: general purpose web collaboration tools like Youtube and Github and made it free to learn any technology you wished. Getting matched to opportunities that knew you could apply the skills was still the rub though.

I have been blessed with a prosperous career in I/T, tech, digital (call it what you wish).  I’ve met countless folks whose Computer Science degrees offered zero preparation for the development of business applications and websites that awaited them.  When asked, they typically give a common set of answers about what would have helped them:

  • Real problems to solve
  • An opportunity to learn directly from other people
  • Ability to learn on the job
  • Subsidy of their education so they should put more time into their jobs instead of worrying about tuition bills

New opportunities for everyday people

I’m encouraged by a new generation of firms that facilitate apprenticeship, particularly in geographies not necessarily blessed with a large number of firms to drive mass employment. It will be exciting to watch how firms like Techtonic and Catalyte can build talent pools of hard working Americans in locations were you can afford to live well at a fraction of coastal housing prices.  




Buyer Beware

I’ve been spoiled. Spoiled in that I’ve had the privilege to work with some pretty amazing software developers in my day. The kind that are always looking to be better at what they do.

pawn shop photo
Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

During the last couple of years, I’ve been reminded that solid software craftsmanship is a rare thing. In fact, there are just a great number of companies that make a good living off of poor workmanship. They do some hand waving in the design workshops, print really colorful journey maps on large sheets of paper and make nice license origination bonuses from software vendors. They don’t develop a shared vision with their customer and they certainly don’t stand by their work.

I had worked with companies like this in the past, but then was lucky enough to avoid them for several years. I guess I tricked myself into believing they didn’t exist anymore, but I was wrong. They’re still out there.

It’s up to you as a technology buyer to own your solution. This means understanding the requirements, the technology and the talent. It also means that the only one to blame for picking a bad partner is you. You need to know when you’re partner is not going to stand by you every step of the way, and when that happens, find a new one.

Bad technology partners are like ungrateful houseguests that overstay their welcome. They take advantage of your good nature when they repeatedly cut and paste their way to your first release. They unpack their 7 different javascript frameworks into your codebase without having an opinion why. They fail to install the software licenses they were rewarded for selling to you so that your website crashes.

Great technology partners are like good friends. They’ll be with you through good times, and likely lots of bad times, but they’ll stick with you every step of the way. They clean up after your bad partners after they’ve left the party. They ask for things that make it easier for them to help you. They educate you on better ways to do things and they consistently exceed your expectations of value.

What kind of partner do you want? What kind of partner do you want to be?

Innovation Hibernation: The Road to Straight-Through Processing

Effective last week on September 5th, the investment industry moved to  “T+2” settlement.
This new rule makes investment transactions complete two business days after the actual transaction date.  This is a change to the long standing “T+3” settlement rule which since the 1990’s has caused investors to have to wait three business days before they could consider their transactions closed. Keep in mind this was a huge jump from the T+6 rule that existed previously.
Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash
Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash
What’s fascinating to me is that the last time I was thinking about this rule, it was 2001. That year, there had been a huge push by the major investment banks to move to what would be called “Straight Though Processing” or STP for short. If you worked in financial systems integration consulting, you were working on STP.  In any event, I can remember being perched in our Manhattan offices through the midnight hours to develop our several hundred page proposal.
Later that year our attention turned to 9/11, and STP was no longer as important as keeping the financial system running. Just a few years after that, we lived through another financial crisis, this time due to mortgage-backed securities fraud. That crisis which brought down several of the largest players in finance also pushed the notion of STP further away from public awareness.
So here we are, 16 years later with a reduction in settlement time of one day. The nirvana of STP is still elusive, but it’s kept alive in terms of progress toward an ideal: you’ll see clearing houses now present their STP Rate (e.g. 95% STP).  That said, the road to T+2 is one that illustrates some important points about innovation in business.
  1. You can never underestimate the ability of a crisis to sideline even the boldest business ideas. 9/11 was an event of monumental significance where the sheer emotional and destructive forces unleashed succeeded in pushing this initiative far from the minds  of those who would champion it.
  2. Incremental improvements can often be “good enough”.  In this case, 16 years later, the industry pushed to “T+2” while maintaining the spirit of STP. While this was short of the goal, the reality is that one day gained back by investors is enough to eliminate mountains of incomplete trades and put more money back into new investments.
  3. You’re going to need a bigger framework.  STP was trying to make a number of existing complex systems work together. In contrast, the greenfield Securities Process Automation (SPA) movement has shared many of the same goals as STP while also proscribing a more far-reaching ideal. That said, it has been much more modest and pragmatic in implementation recommendations.
In any event, it’s great to see something you worked on come to fruition. I wonder what we’ll be saying about Blockchain in 16 years.

An Open Web or a Collection of Native Walled Gardens


This week I am looking forward to publishing a new piece on the future of search in the ThoughtWorks Insights blog. It’s been informed by some great presentations I’ve seen over the last few months, and if I ever speak to you about online marketing, chances are I’ve picked your brain on the topic. That said, the following is really a train of thought that sort of spiraled out of that article, but did not really have a home.

Several recent developments in the tech space are starting to suggest that we are transitioning heavily towards an app-oriented world. Among them:

  • Flipkart’s decision to take down its website to become an app-only company
  • The introduction of deep linking for bringing local mobile content into search indexes by Google and Apple.
  • The introduction of new native publishing platforms from Facebook (Instant Articles) and Apple (News)

The reasoning for these moves is based in the want to optimize (control) the user experience on the device. This might be for performance reasons, for better usage analytics, for advertising reasons or all the above.

I fear that without serious conversation about search interoperability, we run the risk of having a collection of walled gardens.

Sound far-fetched? This would be like the pre-world-wide-web internet that was dominated by the likes of CompuServe and Prodigy. In fact, Phil Windley has put together an incredible article that explores this possibly called The CompuServe of Things.

It’s not all bad though…
One promising development was the recent announcement from Google and Twitter on a collaborative, open-source solution for publishers to deliver high-speed news on the internet.

Another incredibly exciting development for me is a technology ecosystem called This amazing community has begun to develop a set of open source technologies for hobbyist developers to spin up personal servers. Just browse their free ‘App Market’, and you will begin to envision a world where you can not be held hostage to the services provided by the big-box web companies.

What is really beautiful about it is that they are incredibly passionate about keeping alive an internet where people can develop “indie apps” that are easy to share and run. I immediately thought of Dave Winer and his quest to encourage ecosystems where developers can create small, fit for purpose apps based on API’s with other web services. I sincerely hope he spends some time with Sandstorm and develops versions of his River4 and Podcatcher apps for the platform.

While this battle will need to play out, it is clear that the war for an open Internet is still going to continue to be fought for some time. I’m hoping to see more innovations like Sandstorm to keep the web free and open.