The state of IT in Michigan

From Canada's tall whispering pines, to Lake Superior's farthest mines...

Where is the economy headed? Are we spending more in the IT area? Should we be? How is my job looking, and should I be looking?

If you’ve followed me on this blog or other social platforms, you’ve heard that Sam Kahan, the former senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Detroit Branch, came to speak with the Society for Information Management last evening.

And if you were following those streams, you may think I’m a great guy with good friends and family… but you know that I am not an economist by trade or training.

The Data

Sam told us last night that mathematicians say “1+1=2”, but economists start by understanding that the data available are both incomplete and unreliable.

Incomplete and unreliable data… in a volatile economy with lower home values and savings, political unrest in various places, high health care costs and pension programs in default.

With that, here are some of the data Sam shared with us last night (without intentional embellishment):

  1. The world recovered from the recession of 2008-2009 and momentum looks positive for the next two years
  2. Post-recession growth will be slower than in the past
  3. It’s still a question whether (or how) countries will be able to adapt their economies to a more balanced global structure
  4. Unemployment and incomes affect savings rates, which are too low for stronger growth to be driven by consumption

Meanwhile, in the information technology space:

  1. Information-related spending is up by double-digits – about 5x GDP growth rate of 3%
  2. Nationally, there has been an increase in employment of about 350,000, or 5.3%
  3. In the state of Michigan, employment is up 26,000, or 7.6%

One of the reasons we discussed for these increases is the amount of investment held back in IT during the recession.

So, what can we do about it?

There is meaning in the data only if it triggers an effect or consequence for us. Otherwise, we just stare at it (like I did in Statistics class).

Overall, it sounds like Sam is saying things look OK for IT in Michigan… though there are so many other factors, and after all the data are incomplete and unreliable.

The thing is, people who got caught in the last recession may have never seen it coming. If you are fortunate to have maintained your job throughout, you probably did not see it coming either, at least not in the way it played out.

When faced with specific economic data, it might be better to take our cues from fundamental economic principles for direction. Besides those referenced by the link, consider these as well:

  1. By ourselves (without help), we cannot take care of our lives, and neither can our customers, employers, employees or colleagues… that is, everybody needs help
  2. As long as we can offer help that’s valuable, we can transact for it… that is we can “get a job” if we can offer that help
  3. The more valuable the help we offer, the more options we have available to us… that is, we are “wealthy” in that way, regardless of our income
  4. The way to stay valuable is to learn, study, invent, practice, make attempts, fail once in a while, and ultimately… to engage

Even if I have to swap the strawberries I grow in my back yard for rice, I can transact. Take this time while things are growing in our industry in Michigan to build skills and increase your relevance and value in the marketplace!

Oh, but first, take this time to post a comment with your thoughts! Do it! You will feel better afterward.

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Who says what’s valuable?

So, what's it worth to ya?

You? Or your customer? Or their customer? Or some high-priced-out-of-town-consultant who will work as long as there is budget?

As we write software, especially using agile approaches, we often speak about the notion of value.

Most commonly we refer to value according to the perspective of the business owner, customer, stakeholder, etc.

I am writing about value today because of questions that arose from my earlier post on producing software, in which I summarized an objective of agile to produce quality software, fast.

(I was waiting for Vince to let me know he had posted his thinking, but figured we would be safe to cross the streams after all. Sorry, Vince.)

Quality and Value

A fundamental question is “What makes quality software, quality software?” Is it just freedom from defects? How about conformance to specifications (you gave me what I asked for but not what I wanted)? Where does “value” fit into a notion of “quality“?

Now, Vince can guess where I am heading, but there is not room in a single blog post to write about all of this… so I get a two-fer or a three-fer (or “more-fer”?) on a single set of distinctions!

Anyway, let’s start by saying that value is not something you can carry in your pocket, but an assessment – an interpretation. The assessment might have merits backed up by fundamentals, it could be supported by generally and widely accepted principles, or it could just be an opinion.

In that way, value is not objective, fixed or permanent… but what people value nevertheless can stir them into a frenzy.

Works of Art

Writing software, especially custom software, can be compared to being commissioned to produce a work of art – what we produce may be one-of-a-kind, especially when someone is paying through the nose for it.

If you haven't got a penny, then a hay-drachma will do

In those cases, it only makes sense that the commissioner (the “customer”) has the final say in what is valuable, and that assessment will be the framework within which the software is considered “quality”.

Now, I often work with my teams as we write proposals to think of “the offer we are willing to make“… which might not be the same offer the customer is looking for. Imagine Michelangelo being commissioned to whitewash a picket fence.

We need the courage (the ethic) in those cases to decline making offers that we don’t value.

In doing so, we avoid cheapening our help and we preserve the economics of custom software… after all, it is not always the appropriate course for a customer. When it is, we can be valuable.

What do you think about your customers’ notion of value being an assessment? Do you think they believe it is real, fixed and obvious? Have you considered NOT making offers that you don’t want to make? Why might you be hesitant to do so?