Keeping up with technology trends: a guide
Ahead of the curve
It’s safe to say that in two decades of work in IT I have seen my share of “new” trends and technologies: some durable, others not so much. The web industry has grown exponentially over this period, and so has the need to learn how to deal with, well, everything about it.
As a rule of the thumb, every single project we work on brings something new, be it a new framework, an architectural requirement, or a design trend, and we are expected to know how to deal with it.
The elephant in the room
“So how do you do it?”, you may ask. How can Arekibo become experts about something that is potentially brand new in a short time span? I will share some insights on how my team (Cloud Hosting Solutions) deals with this expectation from our clients in conjunction with the Arekibo eco-system.
The golden rule
Radically new technologies or methodologies are, in my opinion, rare. I reckon that, in most cases, whatever “innovation” we are dealing with is the result of the natural evolution of the industry and its needs. So, armed with experience from previous iterations and with some reading we usually get a general idea on how this works and how it fits with what we do on a daily basis.
The golden rule here is never to dive straight into something that is too ground-breaking or that is still in its infancy. The risks are simply not worth it most of the time, unless this is a client requirement. Even then, our approach is to review viable alternatives that everybody is more familiar with. This makes the outcome more predictable.
The adoption of a new framework, for example, is usually gradual. If we were to base our product on something exceedingly new from day one, we could end up with unforeseen problems, compatibility issues, and limited support from the community.
There are several ways for us to gain insights into a topic or a trend:
- Community driven: blogs, bulletins and conferences
- Training material and certifications
- Sharing our experience (among colleagues and across departments)
The community driven initiatives (blog posts, bulletins, and conferences) are usually a good starting point. Most of the times we can “read the room” and get a feel for how the community is reacting to something new and can get a sense of how it is meant to be used, its limitations, and its usefulness in the context of our work.
Partnerships are a strong ally when it comes to staying up to date: technology partners are obviously keen to share their latest progress, and they will always send out comms about it. Engaging with account managers, reading their newsletters and enquiring about their products or advancements has led us to obtain solid results over time.
Most major technology providers such as Microsoft, Progress Sitefinity, Kentico, and Sitecore also offer “partner programs”. These programs are meant to demonstrate knowledge of the products and expect one or more exams to be undertaken. These tests require a deep knowledge of a set of topics as well as hands on experience to succeed. Becoming a partner may be a lengthy process, but the training programmes are always worth the time invested: the teachings from the training material (books, courses, or simply the official documentation) are usually very practical and can be applied daily.
Last, but not least, word of mouth and sharing experiences. You would be surprised to know how many times the Arekibo staff found brilliant solutions to problems just by sharing their experience and discussing ideas in a light-hearted fashion during social events or lunch breaks. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak interrupted this naturally occurring event, but thankfully we have maintained the tradition of saving some time every week to share experiences or ideas about new approaches.
All about the method
Hands-on experience is invaluable in real world scenarios (i.e. projects), for both confidence and to obtain a deep understanding of the subject. Bear in mind, in this context hands-on is not restricted to technology, but processes too. Research & Development, peer reviews and risk assessments play big parts in our methodology.
R&D is typical of the early phases of the learning curve, where small proof of concepts (POCs) are mocked together to get a better understanding of the process or technology. These POCs are then showcased and reviewed internally, sometimes briefly, other times more in depth when required. The team(s) then provide their feedback and thoughts on the subject and can discuss pros & cons. The reviews allow the team(s) to identify potential issues and to apply further changes until the tests are satisfactory. The learnings may not necessarily be used immediately, but over time they are very likely to become useful.
Finally, the risk assessment. Changes often imply unforeseen outcomes that need to be accounted for regardless of their elusive nature, since a margin of error is always to be expected. To address this issue, we make a risk assessment. The starting point is finding out how much risk is tolerated by the pilot project: if the threshold is low to none, be it budget constraints or delivery times, there’s a high chance that we’ll go back to the board and consider alternative solutions with virtually no risks. If, on the other hand, the fault tolerance is sufficient or there is a strict requirement to implement the change, we will make a contingency plan to address potential issues as they occur. During this phase, communication between the team and the client is crucial: each decision made on the matter needs to be justified and both the requirements and the risks need to be clear to all parties involved.
All that glitters is not gold
In conclusion, staying up to date with the latest advancements by engaging with communities and partners is the best way to stay ahead of the curve. Innovation is both welcome and a necessity in our industry, however common sense needs to prevail over the excitement. Just because something new and cool has been announced, it does not necessarily mean that it is the right fit in every context. At the same time, it is important not to get scared of changes: with the correct approach, innovations can be introduced at the right time and in the right place to deliver fantastic products with no unpleasant surprises. To quote the movie Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should” - you'd be surprised to know how many time I’ve heard this reference during meetings.
Feel free to contact us to sit down and discuss how your company can get ahead of the curve.