Are you a dinosaur?

There are several theories about what happened to the dinosaurs, which, for those who were sleeping in class, became extinct about 65 million years ago. One of the most common theories is that a large asteroid struck the Earth, creating a blanket of debris in the atmosphere that caused a catastrophic climatic change and killed off many living things.

The Internet and the World Wide Web are asteroid-size developments for those of us who've been working in the data processing profession for more than 10 years.

In the federal government, staying abreast of technology is perhaps more difficult than in industry. After all, in the commercial world, it's not that difficult to justify some small, skunk-works type of project to get good, hands-on exposure to a new technology.

But most agencies discourage unauthorized innovation. And there are a maze of other obstacles — software may not be available, the new technology may not conform to authorized standards or the computers available are too old and slow or, more likely, don't have enough hard disk space and memory to explore the "latest thing."

Most supervisors and managers in government got there by being good at what they were doing before they were a manager. In the technology business, that was most likely programming. The mental abilities that apply to programming in older languages apply to the newer technologies as well. Analysis, logic, deductive reasoning and a controlled, step-by-step approach are still needed.

Are you doing all you can to become conversant in the new technologies? Take this little quiz and see:

    * Do you know how to find the IP address and DNS settings of the computer you commonly use at work?

    * In the past 6 months, have you removed the cover of a PC and successfully inserted or removed a piece of hardware?

    * Have you installed the Windows 2000 upgrade yourself?

    * In the past month, have you been able to provide a correct answer on a technical topic to a friend or co-worker?

    * In the past 3 months, have you downloaded and actually tried a trial or free version of any software development environment or tool?

    * In the past year, have you written a batch file, script or program, however small?

    * The last time a new project started at work, did you ask for a technical assignment, however small?

    * The last time a peer review of software or a database design was conducted, did you participate?

    * It's 10 o'clock, do you know where your Web server is? If you don't know, do you know how to find out?

    * Do you know the version of the Web browser you're using and what your security settings are?

Give yourself 10 points for each "yes" answer. A score of 90 to 100 says you're staying current and probably moving forward. If you scored 70 to 80, it's time to start getting more active technically. But if your score was 60 or below, give some thought to whether you really want to stay current — and if you do, get busy!

—Bragg is an independent consultant and systems architect with extensive experience in the federal market. He welcomes your questions and topic suggestions at tbragg@acm.org.

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