IT Career JumpStart

Jun 29 2009   9:50PM GMT

The Lessons of History

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I find myself in a very interesting work situation right now. Because of a couple of books I wrote in the mid-90s — those halcyon days when computer books flew off the shelves, and good writing work on relatively advantageous terms was easy to find by today’s standards — I find myself now tasked with reconstructing who built what bits of technology precisely when and how they did it in a period from October 1993 to October 1995. It’s been incredibly interesting and informative, and has caused me to rethink what happened back then as well as I how I conduct business in the here and now. Let me explain…

Lots of IT wit and wisdom emerges from being immersed in the current milieu. Today, for example, this might mean pondering hot topics that “everybody” knows about and lots of people are digging into. If you want a couple of for instances that are pretty right now to illustrate, think about virtualization and Windows 7. Generating plenty of buzz, attracting lots of users, and exciting ample interest from those whose job it is to plot a technology course for the next 12-24 months.

Dealing with this stuff in the here and now is pretty easy. But digging back into the there and then raises questions about how information gets distributed, who did what when, and how all the pieces of common knowledge were used to create workable production technologies upon which business activity could safely rest. What I’m learning is that although lots of people understand how information handling processes and activities work in a loosey-goosey kind of way, only a few really understand in depth how they work in detail, and can go out and build such things.

That’s why I keep coming back to the notion of learning by doing. Intuition and understanding things in general will get you only so far. If you really want to master a subject area, you have to put those faculties to work and build or make something that works. I find this insight as helpful in learning new operating systems (Windows 7) as I find it useful in figuring out what to do with virtualization (creating images of multiple hard disks in a virtual machine requires creating one giant virtual disk, then using partition management software to carve it up into individual drives of the proper size and number) for testing, rapid deployment, or remote clients to use.

Thing about what you can do with what you know, and you’ll get further than if you simply keep packing away interesting and potentially useful bits of knowledge. Only if you put that information to work can you ever know if it’s worth anything, or good for something.

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