Ethix Forum – Issue 11

How has the Internet changed the nature of your work? What challenges have you encountered in making the changes personally?

The Internet has enabled new business models and challenged existing ones, and has thereby had a profound effect on the nature of my job. I have been engaged over the past several months in the creation of a global aerospace exchange that will connect buyers and sellers throughout the aerospace value chain via the web. We have teamed with four other aerospace leaders (and sometime competitors) to do so. This business model was enabled by the Internet, and was not even in the realm of possibility just three years ago.

On a personal level, I am available to suppliers and customers virtually 24 hours a day, no matter where in the world I might be. I get email from existing and potential business partners, my bosses, colleagues and teammates. My kids, and even my pastor, know that the fastest way to get to me on the road is by email. Internet-enabled communication does not replace personal communication, but it makes more communication possible.

My laptop, like my toothbrush, now travels with me wherever I go. The Internet has made the world a much smaller (and faster) place.
Scott Griffin
CIO, The Boeing Company
Bellevue, WA

I’m a computer programmer working mostly in microcomputers. In recent years I’ve programmed in Microsoft Windows for companies making computer games and entertainment and reference products. My role is mostly with the internal mechanisms of the game, with little impact on the game’s actual content or appearance.
Some changes the Internet has made in my work:

1) There is a widespread marketing initiative to put some sort of Internet awareness into every software product. Games gain much genuine excitement through play with human compatriots in real time via the Internet or other online connection. Almost every product gains value if users can be put in touch with technical support, product updates, or other users. Sales can sometimes be enhanced through additional content supplied via the Web (whether artwork, document templates, tax forms, or new product features), whether paid or gratis. Marketing endeavors are helped by automatic customer registration.

2) The Web is a wonderful channel for technical information needed to develop software or to maintain a computer system. Access is quick, extensive, and doesn’t depend on the time of day. Along the same line, it’s often easy to send an email directly to, say, an author of a magazine article and thus to obtain a little technical help directly from a minor authority in the industry.

On the down side, online help may provide an excuse for vendors not to provide adequate live technical support, or to be careless about a product’s reliability. For example, many computer games are now built with the ability to upgrade themselves automatically via the Internet. This reduces pressure on programmers to get the initial release right, because the user can download a patch developed after the CD was manufactured.
3) Even before the Internet penetrated every business, in-house email had become an essential convenience for corporate memos of every kind. The Internet forced email and in-house computer networks to become universal in the corporate world.

4) The Web is a live distraction from work, at least for several of my colleagues. There’s a current tendency to check one’s stock portfolio or news items during time that would be better spent working. I’m not arguing for a work day bereft of relaxation, but in my current work group, Web surfing cuts measurably into some workers’ effectiveness. News from the Web regularly stimulates discussions that interrupt the concentration that programmers need.

5) Speaking of the stock market, the current Internet gold rush is still having major effects in the San Francisco Bay area. Demand for programmers has boosted salaries and made programmers choosy about their work assignments. Hope for dot-com IPO riches seems to dominate the choice of a job. Actual riches and influx of highly-paid workers is boosting housing prices, causing real suffering for those without a secure home or wishing to upgrade.

6) The Web has (at last) made computer literacy truly widespread – at least the ability to find useful information and to use a computer as a communication tool. This is more apparent in my non-work life, particularly with family and church committees and staff.
Michael Erisman
Senior Human Resources Manager, Pepsi Bottling Company
Denver, CO

Challenges I’ve had in making these changes (some are implicit in the comments below):

a) The products I’ve been involved with have required new internal capabilities to make use of the Internet. This has required some new technical learning. This isn’t a problem at all. To learn and to develop new mechanisms are two of the great joys of working as a computer programmer.

b) Availability of software and information via the Web is an enormous convenience, saving time and enhancing the quality of my work. Again, this is not a challenge.

c) When venturing to the Web for information, or when reading email, it’s a challenge to stay on task, and to limit the effect of distractions such as personal email. This is a partial blessing: the ability to respond immediately to personal email can provide real human benefit while costing only a little work time, which is easily made up.
Phil Davidson
Berkely, CA

The Internet has made it easier to communicate efficiently with international contacts and colleagues in Scandinavia. Telephone communication has always been a bit difficult because of the time difference. With the Internet, I can send my message at the end of the afternoon and usually get a response by the next morning.

One little problem of Internet etiquette has come up a couple times, however. My Scandinavian colleagues expect a bit more personal warmth in Internet messages. When we used the telephone each conversation would begin with a discussion of the weather and the family. With Internet I usually just get straight down to business. I also typically close my Internet messages with a programmed signature that includes all of my contact information. I have heard from some of my colleagues that they don’t think my messages are personal enough.

Documenting communication is an issue. Even in the paperless society promised by information technology, some communication must be preserved on paper.
Charles Peterson
Director, Center for Scandinavian Studies, North Park University
Chicago, IL