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DIY tech

In the past, a technically apt user might decide to build their own customized PC. They'd buy components that suited their usage patterns--motherboard, case, graphics card etc--and put it all together. Some would tweak a Linux distro for maximum customization. Of course this continues today, but when PCs were pricey and less powerful, the desire to maximize compute power for the desktop was stronger.

This DIY (Do It Yourself) spirit characterized tech for many years. At one time, having a personal computer was rare, and support even rarer. If something went wrong, you fixed it yourself.

Nowadays, some hardware manufacturers glue their cases together tightly and ensure no user-serviceable parts remain inside. Something breaks? Replace the unit with a new one, send nonfunctioning unit back to repair center, scrap if need be. It's like the plot of a bad science-fiction movie.

On an enterprise level, the demise of DIY tech culture also seems to have diminished the plot. A startup of ten years ago, for example, would use VC funding to build and maintain its own server-setup. They'd break stuff, they'd stay up late fixing it, they'd learn the hard way. Many tech long-timers did so, and they learned in the process.

Nowadays, a startup uses some of its funding to buy services from a large-scale cloud provider and while they bypass much of the aggro, they don't learn how to build and maintain their own systems. Essentially, they're denied an on-the-job education in complex tech systems.

And tech systems become ever more complicated--it's their nature. The net result? Fewer tech workers who can grasp the essential concepts of large-scale tech systems and are thus capable of learning the requisite maintenance and support skills.

Outsourcing is a best practice, and enterprises have the luxury of tech services from many capable sources. But tech education is a hot-button nowadays. Let's start early with programming classes and teach kids that technology isn't some type of magic that slaps applications on a phone or tablet. There's nuts and bolts that need to be organized and aligned. People who've been in the business a long time know this, but youngsters are used to simpler interfaces and high-speed connectivity--not building and maintaining the large-scale systems that provide those slick graphic interfaces.

Hong Kong has many capable programmers working in startups, enterprises, and SMEs. Let's involve them, and educators, in schemes that introduce younger students to the essential concepts of programming.

Like all students everywhere, some won't be interested. But those who are--the tinkerers, the DIY types, the "what if I try this?" girls and boys of Hong Kong--will get an early grasp of real tech, the gears that turn the machines. And some will find these skills useful in later life, as technology becomes an even bigger part of the business picture.

What's important is to present the opportunity. People intrigued by large complex systems should be given every chance to develop their skills as a vocation. This isn't the job of either the public sector or the private sector, but both sectors. Schools should take kids into facilities like datacenters on field trips. Companies needing workers of this type should offer professional training for interested parties.

The time to start is now. We must nurture those who see tech as more than just "fun-things-on-the-phone." We must encourage the DIY spirit in Hong Kong.

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