Before moving on to the IT industry, let’s start with an example: a person who has grown up in the tropics is sent to one of the poles for a year. How does he survive? The answer is adaptation.
Innovation in the rest of the article does not necessarily mean software patents. We are discussing any idea which reasonably enhances a product and has direct impact on multiple customers (read revenue).
Innovation is just a way to adapt to the rapidly changing technology of today. With competitive solutions emerging every other day and new geographies showing up in the tech-map now and then, an individual living on an IT job has to adapt to this hostile environment. The solution is innovation… not just one, constant innovation and improvisation of the ways things work in your product today. That’s easier said than done. Majority of the IT population end up content with maintaining the product they developed or someone else has developed. However, just fixing bugs of a matured product won’t guarantee your salary. The impact of a static product falls within a year. Think of a software you absolutely loved once (it was the pioneer in its concept too!) and then there was no considerable change in a year. Competitive software came up with better features and goodies. Won’t you consider moving on? The harsh truth is – once a problem is solved, it doesn’t remain interesting anymore even if some minor problems linger around (and even if the fixes are quite challenging!). Developers and architects who realize this keep moving on to newer ideas to enhance the things they are working on or to fresh innovations in a different direction. Otherwise they are moved by management to areas which need attention or are weak. But how can a new maintainer fork something fresh on an existing product when no one is crying out loud? The answer is careful study of the existing product while you are fixing the bugs in it. It takes years sometimes! And it starts just when you realize you know the existing product!
At that stage there are some questions which may fire ideas:
- What are the product limitations customers complain about?
- What is THAT feature customers would adore?
- Which legacy things can be modernized?
- What in it can be extended?
- What is the competition? Where do they excel?
- What do my testers want extra from the product?
If you find an answer to any of these questions you have an idea ready. In some cases there is no competition around and developers feel safe. Well! You never know from which corner of the globe a formidable challenger may arrive one fine morning. It might be from Vatican City! 😉 With the current usage of the internet and the overwhelming success of open source, technology is no longer a confined property. In order to avoid surprises, you should always have some up your sleeves too! Different but intriguing features give new customers options to consider. And existing customers always love to rely on the familiar dependable products if they are getting excellent features and you promise them that given reasonable time you will bring in the other feature too.
Today survival in the IT industry is impossible without constant innovation. No matter how many bugs you fix or internal changes you do, the question is how many killer features you have added to the product? If you don’t have any in your portfolio in a year, your job is at risk. Your management may wisely think of replacing you with a B.Sc. guy with good knowledge in programming even if you hold a Masters or a Ph.D. in Engineering. And it’s justified.