Why Basic IT Infrastructure is Exciting


Who ever thought that tech­nol­ogy would become such a deep part of ‘our culture’s conversation’?

Who ever thought the Pres­i­dent of the United States would apol­o­gize for a failed web site?

A Story of Open Rebel­lion at Yale


A para­ble is a suc­cinct, didac­tic story, in prose or verse, which illus­trates one or more instruc­tive lessons or principles.

Last week’s story about Yale’s stu­dents cre­at­ing a “bet­ter” online course cat­a­log is a para­ble for every­thing hap­pen­ing in IT today.

It’s worth read­ing in order:

  1.  Yale shut down a stu­dent cre­ated appli­ca­tion, “course book plus”, that grew in pop­u­lar­ity because stu­dents pre­ferred it to the orig­i­nal. It appears they pre­ferred it bet­ter because it pre­sented infor­ma­tion more clearly towards the goal of help­ing them pick classes.
  2. The Dean of Yale explained their rea­son­ing, pretty much say­ing the stu­dents could have “any color car they like, as long as it’s black”. Mean­ing, the school doesn’t care how improved data visu­al­iza­tions can help stu­dents make bet­ter deci­sions. The school cares about keep­ing con­trol of the data for rea­sons that aren’t keep­ing the user expe­ri­ence top of mind. (I want to be care­ful to make sure I’m not judg­ing Yale’s rea­son­ing. There may be very good rea­sons for Yale’s posi­tion, and espe­cially if I’m not talk­ing about Yale, but the gen­eral case. That’s besides the point.)
  3. Another stu­dent, Sean Hau­fler, released a ver­sion that com­plies with all of Yale’s copy­right con­cerns except for how the data is dis­played, is unblock-able by Yale, and still gives the stu­dents (users) what they want. In fact, it reduces infra­struc­ture needs by opti­miz­ing caching per­for­mance so will give stu­dents an even bet­ter mobile expe­ri­ence while sav­ing the uni­ver­sity money in the long term.1

What does this have to do with IT?

Well, 6 years ago Cisco had peo­ple with a part of their job to find and stop peo­ple using Macs. Now, Cisco don’t care who uses what com­puter as long as they com­ply with appro­pri­ate Cisco IT poli­cies. Cisco have thought big­ger, and instead of say­ing “can’t use macs because of secu­rity” have asked “how do we make user com­put­ing secure?” and then solved that higher order problem.

IT can’t solve every employee or cus­tomer (I hate the word user) prob­lem. What they can do is cre­ate an infra­struc­ture that lets peo­ple solve their own prob­lems, like the Yale stu­dents have. IT’s role is then to pro­vide the infra­struc­ture in such a way as to pro­tect the enterprise.

3 Exam­ples of the sorts of things IT can deliver to help embrace this change:

  1. Ensure that there’s a secure infra­struc­ture so that devel­op­ers don’t have to be experts at secu­rity or compliance.
  2. Cre­ate an auto­mated test­ing and deploy­ment infra­struc­ture so that changes can be deployed more eas­ily with­out sac­ri­fic­ing quality.
  3. Pro­vide a con­sis­tent iden­tity solu­tion so that data rights or com­pli­ance poli­cies can be cen­trally & uni­ver­sally enforced in the infrastructure.

These ele­ments are then shared as a ser­vice, or inher­ited ‘invis­i­bly and auto­mat­i­cally’ by appli­ca­tions so that peo­ple can cre­ate their own solu­tions and IT can pro­tect the organization.

Oh, and there’s more. Have you seen my list of 10 things every devel­op­ment orga­ni­za­tion should be exper­i­ment­ing with?

Let­ting go is scary. Unfor­tu­nately for IT the ques­tion is no longer if, but when, what hap­pens in Yale hap­pens in their organization.


  1. I want to point out that at least for me, Sean’s web­site loaded incred­i­bly faster than Yale’s Daily News… maybe he can help their stu­dent paper’s site too? []

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