The specialism radar

Last Friday I attended the first technology radar session with a group of colleagues. We created an inventory of the tools, technologies and platforms we use and support, and we took a good critical look at each and every one of them. It was a very interesting afternoon. It was good to explain to colleagues what we use and why we use it. Or why we don’t want to use it anymore. Or why it was never a good idea to begin with. But the thing I liked most was the fact that I didn’t understand most of what I heard.

I work at a pretty big agency. I think I have 250 colleagues, or even more. We have offices in five cities in The Netherlands, so I don’t see everybody every day. Apart from the physical boundaries, our organisation is still divided in a creative unit and a development unit, a leftover from the waterfall days. This means that we don’t see each other as often as we should. This tech radar session was one of these rare opportunities. It was hilarious at points.

PaaS SaaS

People were seriously talking about PaaS, SaaS, IaaS, without sniggering. These are all words that sound ridiculous in Dutch. But I understand that if you hear them every day they lose their silly sound. Even when people mentioned SOA nobody was laughing. SOA means STD in Dutch. I heard of tools and techniques that I couldn’t even imagine. I heard of fights between camps that I had never heard about before. But at the same time the people who didn’t snigger at the abbreviation SOA, rolled their eyes when we discussed yet another front-end library. Apart from being a funny day, it was mostly a very insightful day. The world is much bigger than HTML.

Cross-over

One of the things I want to achieve with my membership on the board of Fronteers is to connect front-end developers with other disciplines. Fronteers is the trade organisation of front-end developers, and while I think it is a good thing to focus on our specialist field, I also believe we should take a very close look at the disciplines around us. We can learn a lot from the people we call back-end developers, and we can learn a lot from all the different designers too. At the same time we should share our specific knowledge with these people. Front-end performance for instance is a very different specialism than server performance, and performance as a whole is something that’s not always understood by all designers.

I was amazed by the fact that we work in the same company yet we know so little about what we do and what drives us. We read different books, we follow different blogs, yet we build the same web sites. Now, I am lucky to work in a company with so many different specialists. I can just walk up to somebody and ask a question. During lunch time I speak with testers, developers, art directors, linux nerds, you name it. If I worked in a design only environment I would never know about PaaS. At the same time I realise we have a long way to go until we truly work together. Until we ask UX specialists to help choosing the right CMS. Until we ask developers to give us feedback on the designs we make.

Some ideas

I’m not sure how to achieve this cross-discipline walhalla. I have a few ideas though. For instance, I’m thinking about organising cross-over Fronteers meetups, where different specialists talk about the same subject. For instance, a good graphic designer could talk about typography, a CSS nerd could talk about the technical part of typography on the web while a cynic could rant about the foundries with their hostile web licences. Another meeting could be about different approaches to software architecture. Or about the meaning of the word lean. But much more is needed, I think.

But at the same time I might be wrong. Is collaboration really necessary? Do we really have to understand each other? We have been building stuff for years without talking to each other, and somehow it works. Will things be better once I stop sniggering when I hear the term SOA?