Posted on August 23, 2016 by staff

There’s no room for sentiment in technology


In the month that hundreds of thousands of students get their GCSE and A-Level results, Hester Lonergan looks at the challenge faced by the education sector because of the speed at which technology is changing.

When my university friends pulled out their mobile phones four years ago, the odds were it would have been a BlackBerry. Apple barely got a mention.

How times have changed – and I’m not just talking about the contrasting fortunes of the two smartphone manufacturers.

Fast forward to 2016 and BlackBerry has announced it will no longer manufacture the BlackBerry Classic. When you consider it was only launched in December 2014, you can see how quickly tech trends change.

So what does the demise of the BlackBerry Classic tell us about tech and, more importantly, the way we teach it?

With thousands of students about to embark on degrees – and computer science graduates topping the jobless rankings – how equipped are our universities to teach tech, especially as certain types of tech can become obsolete before the course has even finished?

That was exactly the point made by Steve Pettifer – the University of Manchester’s director of teaching strategy in the School of Computer Science – at a roundtable discussing the role of technology in the education system.

The example he gave was the demise of Symbian – something we’ll come back to later.

It says somewhere that in life, the hardest part is saying goodbye. But you can’t be sentimental with tech. To stay afloat, the key is developing the skillset to take advantage of the next big thing.

BlackBerry pinned their hopes on a new product called Priv, replacing the keypad with a touchscreen. Reports suggest it’s not been the hit BlackBerry hoped it would be; it might force the company to rethink their angle and give up on phones completely.

And they might be wise in doing so.

Speaking at UKFast’s Cloud UK Live, WIRED magazine’s David Rowan used the example of Fujifilm. They used to be a major player in the photographic camera and film market, but when digital cameras and smartphones came out, they adapted. They now specialise in medical imaging units and are very successful.

During his talk, Rowan referred to the tech industry as Darwinian. Technology moves so quickly that the winner is the one who adapts in time. It really is survival of the fittest.

At the roundtable, Steve Pettifer said a recurring discussion at university is whether or not to put specific computing content on IT courses, which brings us neatly back to Symbian.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Symbian – I hadn’t. Symbian was an operating system (OS) that led the way in mobile technology.

Developed in the 1990s and first implemented in the early 2000s, Symbian was widely adopted across smartphone manufacturers.

Just like the BlackBerry Classic, Symbian had its day. It was the first OS to be widely used, but the launch of Android killed it off. Symbian began to phase out in 2011 and was essentially defunct by 2014.

When Symbian had the monopoly, Pettifer and his colleagues were pushed to add it to their IT degree.

As Pettifer explained: “It would have taken us about five years to get a graduate through our programme.

“Symbian came and went – for a brief period it was the world’s most popular mobile operating system – then Android comes along and then nobody’s ever heard of it again.

“Tech comes and goes so fast – it can come and go faster than we can create courses or push students through the courses.”

And that is the nub of the problem facing business and education. How can you stay ahead of the technology curve when technology is changing so quickly?

There’s no easy decision – but when it comes to technology, there’s no room for sentiment.