Two Ways of Knowing About IT

I’ve been thinking lately about how I think about IT (meta-thinking). I’ve realized that it’s different from the way a lot of other people think about IT.
Last night, my son–who is a Sophomore in college–called to say that he was frustrated with some of his friends in the Engineering department. He is interested in math and physics–the foundation for engineering; they keep telling him, “Just look up the formula in a book.” He wants to understand the theory behind the practice; they want to move straight to the practice. He is interested in the “Why?”; they are satisfied with the “What?”
The result of this–in Physics and IT–is that there are people who have a collection of “experience” which makes up their “expertise.” When they run into a problem outside their “experience,” they have to get more “experience” to solve the problem. Because they don’t have a foundation in “Why?” they can’t think theoretically about the problem to solve it. If the problem is a common one, they are in luck. Google will find the answer for them. If the problem is uncommon or subtle, they’re sunk. They will then engage in “scrambling behavior.” Scrambling behavior is trying every solution they can think of until they (hopefully) find one that works. Problem: This is time consuming, expensive, and may not work.
On the other hand, there are those that revel in the “Why?” They understand the theory behind things. Note, though, that I’m not just talking about the technical theory (how the computer works), I’m talking about the business theory as well (how a business works). These folk are true experts because they can solve problems no one else has solved before. They also solve them more economically than others because there is no wasted motion.
Here’s the essence: There are a lot of “What?” folks. They are the ones that asked the professor, “What do I have to do to get an A?” There aren’t many “Why?” folks. They asked the professor, “I know you said this wouldn’t be on the exam, but what do I have to do to understand it?”
Yeah, I know I’m odd.