The Three Towers

Simply put, Ivory Tower is a sort of metaphor which means that someone is living or self-confined into a theorical world, far away from the practical daily life. It’s a way of being somehow disconnected from reality. I strongly believe this is a kind of disease that affects many technical working environments such as Software Companies. In fact, it becomes more serious when the affected people hold a position of responsibility within the department, e.g. a software architect.

Although a number of Ivory Towers exist, I’m just going to write about (in my opinion) the three most usual:

  • The Conceptual Artist’s Tower. The population of this tower tends to believe things are made out of Visio tiny elements without knowing or pondering what exactly implies each little box from a technical perspective. These people make decisions exclusively according to Gant diagrams or Visio schemas disregarding technical concerns. The key to open the padlock of this tower lies in Technical Knowledge. Sometimes the matter is a lack of knowledge and sometimes is just a lack of willingness to learn. For the first, there are cheap medicines: reading books, asking your team and listenning to them carefully (and judiciously). The cure of the second one is harder because it involves a change of mindset.

  • The Tech-Geek’s Tower. The residents of this technological prison ignore (or pretend to) the reason why things are done and particularly the expected results. They’re actually the opposite of the first tower people, but the actual sickness is almost the same in both cases. The Tech Tower prisoners search blindly the best technical solution regardless of the final product goals. The cutting-edge technology is used just because “it’s cool” and neither cost/money nor time are considered. The master key of this tower is called Business Knowledge. It comes to provide us with a healthy mid-long term vision which is the most useful tool when the designed product is going to face the harsh market reality over years. The point here is: the best product is useless if it hasn’t the right feature at the right market time.

  • The Darth Vader’s Tower. The lonely inhabitants of this tower think of themselves as legendary leaders while they harshly manage a gang of insignificant programmers-pawns. Unfortunately, praises are seldom heard of these small dictators (particularly among their teams). They could do a good work, but when things get worse they are usually stabbed and abandoned. The rope to escape from this tower is made out of stuff known as Interpersonal/Human Skills. These are the basic skills we use to interact constructively with one another, such as self-criticism, empathy, assertivity, confidence, sincerity, prudence and so forth. All of them make us first of all human beings and afterwards professionals. That’s why leaving this tower is at the same time the simplest and the most complicated goal to achieve.

Knowledge Trade-off

Software architects who live in any of this tower will unlikely do a good work. Tons of time and talent are needed to get the expertise you need to become a master in business, technology and human interaction. Since I believe the super-professional doesn’t exist, the best way to address the issue is looking for a trade-off which lets you grow lowly and constantly.

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