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Innovation for Techies
Jay Pullur
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
A techie in the fast-growing Indian IT field can easily stay on top of changes. Each project is an incremental technology refresher. Somebody is bearing the cost of learning and even forcing them to learn more. But where does all this learning and experimenting go? Why does it not lead the techie to innovate? Why do they remain passive consumers of all that’s new and innovative?

First set of reasons lie within the engineers themselves.
Being a good techie invariably means going beyond the current project. Depth and clarity of understanding, at least in some favorite area should never be missed out. More importantly one should be a programmer at heart to build something innovative. At the same time, one has to keep in mind that today’s APIs and other technical details may very well be obsolete or superceded, and hence not get buried in them.

Most engineers tend to be at the other end of the spectrum; trying to become ‘generalists’. Frequent job-hopping and resume building culture prevalent today, leads to weakening of one’s ability to find focus and area of strength. While broad understanding of various technical areas is important for innovation, it is absolutely critical to be very strong in one area.

Sometimes, organizational culture could be responsible for the techie losing their fundamental innovation capability. Authority-based management cultures of an organization, where managers are not expected to know or deal in much of technology carry this danger. In the process of moving up the ladder, to manage projects, then groups, and so on, it is easy to slip and become the typical manager, looked down by the technically-capable.

Good industry experience should help visualize what is going on in the industry (having seen it for some length), why things are moving that way and what to look for in the near future. It should give the techie the right understanding what can be made to work. After all, innovation is about bringing the balance between ‘what is possible’ and ‘what is not possible’.

The hard part is staying technical over the years, yet doing more. Understanding the underpinnings of new technology waves, coupled with managerial perspective, can be very potent mind for innovation.

The worst reason of all is the blunt mind. Many engineers are so consumed with their projects and day-to-day work, that they never devote any time for thinking different things and thinking differently. One has to be very careful not to get used to the comfort of steady job (particularly while in a large organization) and let his/her mind to rust.

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