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What will we learn about?

“It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – said Steve Jobs about design to the New York Times.

This week is the ‘most technical’ part of the course. I call this part the ‘slide rule’, which is a metaphor from my days of switching from engineering to business. At that time, engineers usually had a slide rule in their upper pocket and they could do all sorts of magical calculations with it, confusing people with business degrees. It was intimidating. Nowadays the IT people have a sort of secret language and gadgets that serve the same function.

There was a maths teacher in one of our universities who spent several weeks in the class for the business students teaching them how to use the slide rule so that the business students would not be embarrassed by the engineers. It is really impressive that you can even calculate square roots using the slide rule. Of course this was obsolete, even at that time, as we had pocket calculators that would do the same job faster and more conveniently with no mistakes. However, this was not the point. It was all about the appearances. Those business students who learned how to use this simple tool were immediately better off with the engineers. The purpose of this week is the same: I want to prepare you to be able to talk to the ‘IT guys’ and not to believe them too easily when they say that what you want simply cannot be done…

Therefore, this week I introduce some of the most widely used methods used in IS/ICT design and implementation. The goal is not to achieve a high level of sophistication in using these methods but to understand the thinking process behind it and to acquire the terminology. So when you have to talk to the ‘IT guys’ about the implementation, you are somewhat better at this and you don’t get confused when they show you a drawing where differently shaped bubbles are connected with arrows. This also means that each of these methods are used in a graphical form, i.e. through drawing diagrams. You will probably never be expected to construct such diagrams but you should become able to read them. This works very similarly to some of the elementary things in mathematics, such as multiplying matrices. Nobody does it manually, but it is useful to do it manually once with not a very complicated example (e.g. two 3×3 matrices) as then you will never forget the essence of it and will be able to follow even when it is done by a calculator.

We normally prefer to use the tool we know best. Of course, we may be able to use several tools. It is dangerous to know only one tool; then we end up as in Maslow’s message:

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” (Abraham Maslow)

None can, however, be proficient in using each and every tool, not even all tools in one’s own field. What we should try to achieve is to be really good at using a few tools and know enough about other tools in the field to recognize when we need to call an expert with another tool.

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Information and Technology Today

University of Strathclyde