I was talking to an old colleague yesterday who shared his frustration with one of his developers. This colleague had recently purchased online access to a library of technical books, and had suggested that his developer utilize this library to learn more about some of the technologies their company is implementing. The developer responded that he doesn’t read books, since he can google everything he needs.
The same day I was listening to Nicholas Carr talk on his favorite topic of late, how the Internet is changing the way our minds work. In his book, The Shallows, and his Atlantic Monthly Article, “Is Google Making us Stupid?”, Carr discusses how the way we access information today is changing the way our brains work. For the worse. He talked in the interview about how much we moved forward with the advent of the printing press and books and how we are now at risk of stepping back as we give up reading books (and the knowledge books provide us) for the cheap thrill of accessing quick data via Google and the like.
People are losing both their ability and interest around understanding the systems behind the way things work. And this is scary when you think about the risk it introduces to enterprises. It is one thing when my mail file crashes and I go search for a fix. Based on a Yahoo Answers post, I may go drag around some system files and delete some things, but the damage I can cause is limited. Developers or architects or operations support people are using Google as their sole source of information, and generally only on a reactive basis. It is rarer and rarer that they spend the time to understand the root cause of the problem and learn the overall system.
I’m all for the increased productivity and effectiveness progress brings, but companies need to watch out that it doesn’t go too far. If I were interviewing developers, architects or ops people I would definitely dig into their preferred methods of problem solving even more than I ever have before.