On the Future of IT, Part I: Beowulf, IT, and Broken Pottery


October 20, 2014 | DevOps | Kevin O'Brien


On the Future of IT

On my drive into the office, I’ve taken to listening to versions of university lectures, at least temporarily replacing my old standby of NPR. I’ve not lost any of my appreciation for the local affiliate (WBUR), but I find that spending a couple of hours each day on a consistent topic passes the time more enjoyably.

This month, my topic of choice has been a survey of medieval European history, written and delivered by Professor Dorsey Armstrong, who teaches at Purdue. Partially inspired by my fascination (read: addiction) to Crusader Kings II, Armstrong’s depth of knowledge and delivery are both incredible; she’s as apt to tell a bawdy joke from early Anglo-Saxon literature as she is to launch into a spirited bit of Old English while reading from Chaucer.


On this morning’s drive, I was listening to her describe the Beowulf tale, and discuss how what was originally a story born of oral tradition was likely influenced by a scribe with religious leanings. Without diving too deeply into the details, one of the themes that Armstrong presents is that the Medieval period in general is defined following the collapse of the Roman empire in or around 476 AD as being about the rebuilding of European civilization as an amalgamation of Germanic, Christian, and Roman ideas and values, often despite profound tensions between them.

Western civilization is, I think most will agree, pretty successful.

What this led me to think about was how any endeavor that is built from stress ends up being stronger than those that are not. It’s as true for the societies medieval Europe as it is for muscle growth in the human body: where there is hardship, the end result is improved. Sam Sheridan, Harvard University alumnus, author, and mixed martial artist, often quotes Virgil when talking about this idea: Mundis Ex Igne Factus Est (“the world is born in fire”). The Japanese call it kintsugi, the art of repairing and thus improving things with gold.

Are we witness to a moment of similar rebuilding inside of information technology? What mix of cultures will define how the security, development, and operations will be construed in the coming years? Over the coming few days, we’ll take a look at these ideas in more detail, ranging from the legacy of BYOD and user-cloud selection to the nascent DevOps movement and its implications on how products are both built and secured. Stay tuned!

We’ll also be speaking on Wednesday afternoon at the MassTLC Information Security conference in Boston, doing a bit of crystal ball gazing and looking for answers to these questions (and more). If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll join us — the last chance to register is today!






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