I’m a software developer and to many people, my job is science fiction. Friends often say to me, things like… “I know that you write code and work with computers… but what do you actually do?”
Computers are thought of by many as magic boxes, but the reality is, those ‘magic’ boxes run our world. Our cars, our roads, our banks, our phones, our hospitals – so many aspects of our lives depend on computer code. I want to unravel some of the mysteries of software and computer science and information technology, and show you that it’s not science fiction – and that there is a lot of power in understanding the workings of the technology that runs our world.
This post is the first in a series based on content I am presenting at the New Librarian’s Symposium 2019. I think it’s pretty cool to be talking about computers and software at a library conference – because library industry professionals, just like software industry professionals, are in the business of information.
The theme for the conference, which is the theme that informs this post series, is “Collaborate, Deviate, Innovate”:
- Collaborate: Computers and computer systems only exist because of the collaboration of people, and humanity is woven into the fabric of technology.
- Innovate: To work in the business of tech is to work in the business of innovation. Through process improvement, data collection, programming and automation, the tech industry is all about finding novel ways of doing things to ultimately create efficiencies.
- Deviate: The flip side of innovation is disruption, because you can’t massively improve something without shaking up the status quo. Information technology has been shaking up every industry ever since the advent of modern computing in the early 20th century.
Technological Progress and the Digital Divide
On aggregate, technological progress makes societies more prosperous. Technology makes our lives better in so many ways: electricity, optical lenses, personal computers, medical devices, automated transport… but, the more processes we’re able to improve using tech, the more we write ourselves out of our place in industrialised society. The more connected we become, and the smaller the world gets – and the fewer the number of winners. Take the story of Kodak, the inventor of the digital camera: in the late 1980’s, Kodak had nearly one hundred and fifty thousand people on staff. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. In that same year, Instagram was sold to Facebook for one billion dollars. Instagram was a company of 13 people at the time. (1)
The world is getting smaller, and along with this, we’re seeing a growing “digital divide” between those who have the skills, resources and privilege to access technology to their advantage and those who do not. Digital literacy is becoming imperative to survival in the 21st century, with many important services moving online – services such as government accounts, banking, and home utilities like gas and electricity. We’re facing problem whereby the current population of people building technology aren’t reflective of the diverse population that the technology should be serving. There are implications for those who aren’t accounted for in the tech development process – and through the exponential power and growth of computer systems in our society, those implications become self-perpetuating.
In this series I’m going to talk about why it’s important for diverse groups of people to be designing, developing, managing, testing, and learning about computer technology. I want to encourage all people, no matter who you are, or what industry you’re in, to learn about how technology is inextricable from our present and future, and I’m going to explore what part you can play in making tech more accessible to ensure greater equality for the future. And I’m going to show you what you can do to empower yourself with the skills, knowledge and resources to learn about computer programming and computer technology
It’s not science fiction.
Sources and Links:
- Utopia For Realists (and how we can get there) by Rutger Bregman