The New World of Work: Unique Tasks

In a previous post I mentioned that I’ve seen some Gartner Inc. studies, among others, that state that we’re in a “new world of work”. Since I’ve been working in technology for quite some time, and working around the world for longer, I agree that things are not what they were in the 9-5, Monday through Friday, pre-defined, single-employer world of yesterday. Things are far more dynamic, and include emerging work methods like the “swarms” I mentioned, and another interesting by-product: unique tasks.


What this means is that we’ve pretty much “drained the swamp” for many industries in the area of automation of repeatable tasks. Machines now perform tasks that years ago were done by people – but even more so than just performing obvious tasks like making pasta or painting cars, machines perform very complex work that many thought would never be taken over by electronics. In software, this trend is even more prevalent, in everything from scripting to 4GL programming languages and visual programming, where non-professional developers write code. In fact, Microsoft is one of the key vendors catering to this market. We just released project “Lightswitch”, which lets non-developers write fairly sophisticated code. In effect, we’ve pushed the coding tasks to the end user, much like what happened when word-processing software pushed typing out to the executives, removing the need for a secretary to do that work.


You can even see this in the next computing wave: the “cloud”. It remains to be seen what the full impact of having servers somewhere else is, but one scenario might be that developers and business folks write code using data objects, not tables and so on, using simple programming techniques that bypass many of the roles that we data professionals currently hold. If this scenario plays out, they would simply buy a cloud services, open Visual Studio, and begin to write code. No design, no planning for server layouts, HADR, scalability – all that would be handled by the cloud. They won’t need (or they’ll think they won’t need) a data professional at all.


I’m not saying this is a good outcome – one can look at the state of business communications to see that the removal of professional secretaries may not be a great thing. But it did happen. Business folks and non-trained developers won’t write code properly, or plan for disasters the way they should. Things will go wrong, and the cloud vendors (like Microsoft) will react to that to fix those issues. But what of the data professional? How should we react?


My personal opinion is to begin now to work with the organization to find out where the business needs for new technologies for data lies. I work closely with the Business Analysts, or, if there aren’t any, with the business people, to educate them on the value, placement, retirement and so on of data within the organization. I’m helping the organizations I manage to find where data “in the cloud” fits, and when it should stay “on-premise”. In fact, I had this discussion just a couple of weeks ago, when I migrated two applications to the cloud for a small church I work with. I laid out the pro’s and con’s of the decision quite clearly, and we decided to implement two solutions on the cloud. I did the work, and they were up and running in an afternoon. I simply couldn’t have ordered a server, installed and configured the software, and written the code that quickly. It’s maintained, versioned and so on, and they can now hit the application from anywhere. In that case, it was the right thing to do.


But I still have applications “on-premise”, even at that small church. For those, I’ve automated just about everything I can think of. My role as the data professional there is what I call a “System’s Shepherd” – I just ensure the automation is running. So my new role is twofold: I do a lot of design and decision work to enable this new world of automation. From there I automate heavily. And after that, it’s a monitoring and reacting environment. Even the reacting is largely automated. And in that way, I can support more systems from a remote location than I ever could before.


My advice? Learn the cloud. Learn scripting. Learn automation. Or be dominated by all three.