Business IT – Art or Science?

I seem to be getting a little more philosophical these days….

I believe most serious and proficient programmers see programming as more of a science than an art.  I think the best and most practical ‘Business IT’ programmers regard programming as a both a creative and scientific occupation.

We (as programmers) can fit into several categories. 

  1. The hard core techy who still wouldn’t look out of place at an 80’s Microsoft staff party.  They’re almost certainly male, and see computing (not IT) as a science which should ideally be funded by a bottomless government grant.  These guys don’t allow themselves any technical option other than the Rolls Royce.  Their daytime (and night time) occupation involves a keyboard and an mouse.  These people are also not primarily motivated by money.

  2. The hippy programmer who’s talented but a bit lazy, and always has a conflict of interests.  They’d rather be off surfing than tapping away at a keyboard but they find they strangely miss the creative outlet when away from it for too long.  They’re probably more interested in the business than the IT, but that may depend on the industry.  Banking will probably turn these guys off!  They’re interested in IT as it suits them as a day to day thing.  They’re mostly interested in just having enough money to support their lifestyle outside of IT.

  3. The business IT professional who’s probably a jack of all trades and potentially master of most of them.  They’re confident in their technical ability, but are still not quite as comfortable in the ‘business’ arena.  They want to understand the business but don’t want to be bound by it.  They’re often frustrated by the commercial compromises they have to make to their ‘elegant’ solutions.  They’re motivated by a combination of money (good market rate), people they work with and the work they do.

These are obviously generalisations and also an incomplete list, but I certainly know more than one person ‘clearly’ in each category.  A lot of people may have elements of each character (I do).

I think those that recognise business IT as a combination of art and science are probably on the right track…

The Quest for Business Value

I’ve been thinking about Business Value recently. 

We can all go through our IT lives (in big non-IT

companies) and get lost in the sea of people, levels of management and bureaucracy that leads to our

contribution feeling a little insignificant.  A characteristic of this is that as long as we do
‘enough’, we’re consistently insulated from the people with the money and the ‘actual’ business drivers
for the projects we work on.  This ultimately leads to a lot of people thinking they’re great
programmers and great providers of business value (as projects come in roughly on time  – sometimes,
and we all move on). 

Unfortunately, the case is often that great programmers don’t have ‘great’ support in terms of
interpreting the original business need.  The levels of management and people can easily blur the
picture and lead to incorrect requirements. 

We’ve all had the frustrations of companies that persist in ‘throwing money out of the window’, and we
all think we should be taken more seriously.  Are we kidding ourselves a little however, in that we
think we can handle anything, but when faced with a senior manager who needs a rapid result for a focused business idea – we’re completely lost?

I think there are two main groups of people to look at here (I don’t normally like to use the us and
them thing but…)

Us (Programmers)
Them (The guys with the money)


Apart from being the single most adaptable role in IT (which is a generally underrated thing) we’re

normally more focused on the technical solution rather than the business requirement.  We have to be
coaxed into thinking the other way, and then we consider it an obstacle to compromise our perfect
solution!  We usually forecast that our solution will also positively affect the bottom line in a big
way as we have to ‘quantify the benefits’ in order to get the project approved!  If we really
understood the business goal in the first place we might ‘actually’ be able to do that.


The guys with the money often don’t want bells and whistles.  If they end up with great software that

everyone loves it’s a complete bonus.  What they actually want is something to ‘do the job’, whatever
that may be.  We’re turned on by IT, because it’s more than just a job to us.  Not everyone is however!  If it’s not fantastic but it’s not costing the company money then it’s usually OK. 
Expect to be supporting it until it breaks in a big way!

Where do


Analysts fit?
  If you actually have these people around then they’re potentially the

most important people to ensure that the business and technical needs of a project are balanced
correctly.  In my experience however, this is a role that few people succeed in, as they naturally lean
more one way than the other, and the programmer ends up doing the job (badly) anyway.

So where does that leave us?
  We (as programmers) then take up the challenge to run with requirements

gathering etc and focus entirely too much on the technical (because that’s what we do!).  We can then
easily lose sight of the business value. 

This raises another 2 questions :

Is it up to ‘us’ to raise our game and be more considerate of business value?  OR
Is it up to ‘them’ to learn a little more about how IT works and meet us half-way?

I think IT’s been around long enough now for everyone involved to be considerate of their role and how
it either affects or requires their organisation’s technology.  I know this isn’t the universal reality but one has to be optimistic!

In order to be a truly ‘useful’ programmer (in a business environment), I think you’ve got take it on the
chin and make a concerted effort to understand the high level business goals before jumping into the
technical detail – or go and get another job where you can get lost in a sea of people and red tape and not have to worry about it