30 Mar The new techie dilemma – MBA or JD?
I was reading a New York Times article on the recent Apple vs. Bloggers court battle, and it suddenly struck me how much of the tech news recently has involved the courts. Twenty-five years ago when I started out in IT, the techie court cases were, well, almost non-existent.
OK. I’m sure that’s not really true. There was the ATT breakup and… and… well, not much. A decade ago things had started to heat up with bio-patent cases and the Microsoft anti-trust tussles.
What strikes me most about the recent wave of litigation is who the players are. On one side you’ve got business, but they’ve found a different dance partner. The government, with some notable exceptions, is becoming something of a wall-flower. The current legal tangles are giving a whole new meaning to the e-commerce acronyms of B2B (business-to-business), B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2I (business-to-individual).
Think about the Apple Trade Secret Bloggers. Think about the record industry going after individual downloaders. Think about the California Personal Data Privacy legislation – as Peter Stockhausen, Manpower CIO urges every IT leader to do.
Think about ISPs suing phone companies for access to their broadband lines, in front of the Supreme Court now. A quick search of news archives yields hundreds of such cases.
I haven’t heard of a disgruntled employee suing their own IT department for some personal professional failure, but I won’t be surprised when it happens. This isn’t just an information-technology phenomenon either. One of the seminal events for the middle of this decade will be the jarring collision of medical technology and personal belief in the unfortunate Terri Schiavo case.
These technology-meets-individual-belief court cases are deeply personal and even the business to business cases have significant implications for individual life, liberty and the pursuit of information.
Our one-by-one vested interests make Shakespeare’s “Shoot all the lawyers” directive a less than useful solution in this case. Even if all the lawyers magically disappeared, the rest of us would still be scrapping about what the rules are and who violated which ones. Technologists and technology leaders will not be allowed to stand on the sidelines in these debates, claiming the moral neutrality of our creations.
As our technologies have gotten increasingly sophisticated and intimately entwined with our daily lives and decisions, the line between capability and responsibility has evaporated. Like it or not, we’re going to be involved in these fights, whether through response to regulation such as Sarbanes-Oxley, de-regulation such as the 1996 Telecommunications act, litigation such as the running Apple-blogger skirmishes or the aforementioned California privacy statutes.
Circling the servers or throwing up moats of methodology isn’t going to be a winning response. We need to get out into our organizations and our communities. Make friends with corporate counsel. Get to know the risk-management folks down the hall. Take an internal auditor to lunch. Quick: Name one person in your governmental affairs department or one local legislator or regulator that has an impact on how your company does business.
Not that big a company? Doesn’t really matter. The field of play isn’t restricted to just your business anymore. It’s the whole environment in which we conduct business and culture.
The days when we technologists could blithely create new capabilities without a concern for their broader impacts are over. It’s not just a matter of better systems specifications anymore. The stakes have gotten both too large and too personal at the same time. As our technology capabilities have gotten out in front of our societal norms, we’re making up the difference in the courts.
Just like a savvy IT professional is able to converse with the MBAs, we better develop a similar level of ease with the JDs.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.