If there is one thing that is constant in the IT world, it is change. I learned early in my career, that helping people navigate change in their environment, driven primarily by technology, was a critical key to success.
My first experience with major change in the work environment occurred when I was a junior officer in the US Navy and a project manager for new IT systems at the Bureau of Naval Personnel. We were helping the Navy transition from paper and “punch card” duty assignment systems to automated systems. This was a big deal in the 1980’s and a major change for the Navy. The most important lesson I learned from that experience was leadership. The Admiral and Chief of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) made a commitment to lead this change, and he lead by example. He used the new systems. He walked around the offices of BUPERS and questioned those who were or were not using the new systems so he could understand their issues. He emphasized to his entire staff how important it was to have their team use the new IT systems. He didn’t give them a choice. He led from the front.
I learned from that Admiral that leadership is not about dictating policies and procedures from the top down. It’s about diving into the details, understanding the challenges and relating to those who have to implement the policies that one is establishing as a leader.
In those early days, we were implementing major changes, like putting personal computers on the desks of every employee. This was despite the words of a CEO who said there would never be a personal computer on every desk or in every home. That CEO’s major computer company was eventually acquired by Compaq Computer Co, (it was Digital Equipment Corporation). A faint memory for many of us now.
One of my most memorable moments in IT, and dealing with change, dealt with the infamous Y2K challenge. As a leader in software development, I was challenged with leading a massive change to the IT systems that had been in place for 20+ years or more. No one really knew what would happen when the clock ticked midnight on Dec 31, 1999. We did know that we had a massive problem with all of our computer programs, written on mainframe computers, with 2 digit year data fields. So, “98” could be “1998” or it could be “1898” or it could be “2098”. What would happen with the financial systems, the benefits systems, the insurance systems, and other computer systems, when the clock ticked “Jan 1, 2000”? There was fear, uncertainty, and concern about being locked in an elevator, losing access to bank accounts, and more. So everyone in the applications and software development world scrambled in 1996 and 1997 to put together plans to address this daunting and upcoming event. CICS programmers were being hired out of retirement at outrageous salaries to help rewrite old programs to handle the New Year. Millions of dollars were spent rewriting programs. IT organizations were panicking about the massive change in front of them. Never were there so much planning, preparation and angst to be ready for that moment, when the clock ticked midnight. And then it happened. Jan 1, 2000 came and went. There were no major outages. There were no elevators stuck in buildings with groups of people stranded. No banking systems crashed. It was a non-event. In the end, I was proud that the IT profession had adequately prepared for the worst disaster of our lifetime, but we experienced none.
Despite the fact that this happened almost 20 years ago, the lessons are the same. In today’s world, as we transition from “Cloud Computing” to the “Internet of Things”, we believe that we are going through the most dramatic change in our lifetimes. I say to you, hold on to your seats! You haven’t even imagined the change we will go through, in the next twenty years.
In that first job at BUPERS, I had the privilege of managing several defense contractors who were developing software for the US Navy. Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) was one of those companies. I also happened to be at Compaq years later, when we were acquired by HP, and I ended up leading an HP Enterprise Services Sales team. I have fond memories of working with both organizations.
And now, those two companies have come together to form a new, transformational company, DXC.Technology. While it is easy to be nostalgic and reminisce about the “old days”, it’s much more fun for me to look ahead and imagine what the new world will offer to us. The IT Industry learned early that change is required to evolve!