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Learning from Dead Giants for Field Service

Learning from Dead Giants for Field Service

Learning from Dead Giants for Field Service

January 16, 2012 ClickSoftware 0 Comments

On October 5 2011, the whole world mourned the passing of a true giant, Steve Jobs. A week later, the computing profession lost yet another giant, Dennis Richie. The sad coincidence of these two figures passing away was noticed by many, triggering such statements as “Dennis Ritchie: The Shoulders Steve Jobs Stood On“. And yet, unlike Jobs’ name, Richie’s name is seldom recognized outside of software development communities. That’s unfortunate, since Richie is the person who designed the C programming language – a language which has influenced most popular programming languages today, from C++ and C# to Java and JavaScript. He is also the person who, together with Ken Thompson, developed the UNIX operating system which has been tremendously influential over the operating system world. In fact, if you own a smartphone running either Apple’s iOS (Jobs’ brainchild) or Google’s Android operating system, you’re a UNIX user. All in all, it’s very difficult to do anything in the software world without using any of Richie’s prodigious output.

By all accounts, Richie was a gentle giant, a modest personality: he famously said about the development of C that anybody else in the same place at the same time would have done the same thing. One of the things most mentioned about his character is his sense of humor that was greatly appreciated by other programmers – sometimes only by programmers, as in this T-shirt quoting a comment by Ritchie within UNIX code (if you really want it, here’s Richie’s explanation). He also had a tendency for practical jokes. In one of these, he and his co-worker Rob Pike played a trick on their boss at Bell Laboratories, Nobel-Prize winner Arno Penzias, with the help of the famous Las Vegas duo, Penn and Teller. Penn and Teller are very appreciative of the great work done at Bell Laboratories and were very happy to participate in this elaborate scam. In the area of celebrity practical jokes, this one is really hard to beat!

What does all of this have to do with the field service management and uses of computers in this business? Not all that much, though both people had great influence over computing in general and, more recently, mobile computing. However, this sad coincidence may be an occasion for thinking about how our business is changing, and about the people who drive the changes. While most of us will never work with people with the stature of Jobs or Richie, we all know the types that they represent: The dreamer who sees a different vision of the world, and challenges the engineers to deliver on that vision; and the engineer who rises to the challenge by coming up with a new world of technology. Both are world-transformers, creators, innovators and leaders, yet their style couldn’t be more different. And both are in short supply, yet very necessary. In the field service world in general, and in every field service organization, you will find examples of both types. How do we recognize them, reward them and facilitate their way to greatness? If you’re looking for a question to ponder in the new year, this one could be a good pick.

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