Friday, October 29, 2010

The Parable of the Beach

My reaction: 

I remember playing outside my home one bright summer morning, a very young child surrounded by all of my happy little friends, when my parents approached me with a proposition.

“We’re going to the Beach today!” they pronounced through broad smiles.

I was only five years old, had no idea what “the Beach” was, and, besides, I was having a grand time with my friends in our yard. So, I politely passed on the opportunity and kept playing.

That’s when my parents pulled out their PowerPoint slides and started their pitch.

The Beach

  • Water!
    • As far as the eye can see
    • You can walk or swim in it
    • You’ll be completely safe
      • We’ll hold your hand
      • We won’t let go
  • Sand!
    • As much as you want
    • You can dig holes in it as deep as you like
    • We’ll even let you bury us in it
  • Candy and Ice Cream!
  • Amusement Rides!

OK, ok. I still wasn’t sure why, but I was sold. I sent my friends home, climbed into the car with my parents, and off we went.


And went, and went, and went. As we drove, my five-year-old brain struggled with the idea of being stuck for so long in the car. Hours! When you’re only five years old, a couple of hours is a very significant percentage of your life to date.

Looking ahead through the windshield, straining to see as far up the road as I could, I tried to spot this Beach I’d been sold. I’d see a house in the dim distance, or a tall tree, and, being a child ignorant of things like the horizon and the curvature of the earth, I’d figure, surely, that house or tree way up ahead along the road must be the Beach.

A few minutes later, though, we’d motor right past that house or tree and keep driving, so I’d ask, “Are we there yet?”

At first, my parents would smile and explain that the Beach was farther away, but that we’d be there soon.

So, I looked ahead again as far as I could see, and spotted a telephone pole, or an office building, and figured, “well, then that thing surely must be the Beach.” But we’d drive past it a few minutes later, I’d ask again if we were there yet, and my parents would repeat, through thinner smiles this time, that the beach was farther away and we’d be there soon.


Our collective patience waned pretty quickly as I asked over and over, until finally they ordered me to stop asking, suggested I take a nap, and told me they’d wake me up when we got there. I wasn’t one bit happy about it, but I got the point and fidgeted myself to sleep.

Eventually, of course, we made it to the Beach, which was very hot, and very crowded, with impossibly long lines of sunburned tourists trailing up to every amusement ride. Yes, there was plenty of water, but it was dirty and rough and full of strange people and very, very cold. And, as promised, there was plenty of sand everywhere, including in my ice cream, on my candy, and especially in my bathing suit and sneakers.

We packed up after a few hours and headed silently back home in our car, and I put the whole miserable experience out of my mind, until I began work as an IT consultant.

Information Technology often feels like my childhood trip to the Beach. Various vendors and consultants sell us, as IT professionals, on their particularly wonderful destination products and services, each offering a marvelous future wherein everything works and everyone’s happy: “the Beach!” And, off we go.

Along the way, we spy up ahead the oncoming virtual future of promised technology – Cloud Computing, Virtualization, SOAP, Open Source, whatever – and, like children, we naturally confuse each with the Beach. These milestones come and go, though, and, as our real future unfolds, it seems to offer new experiences of the same old frustrations. Things still don’t work perfectly, and our users still aren’t totally happy. The “Beaches” we buy never quite materialize, and our ride just seems to go on and on.

We work in a profession that reveres closure, one that pressures us to provide decisive technical answers quickly. How can we possibly find peace in the inevitable conclusion that Information Technology has no destination?

Information Technology, like everything else in our human experience of life, is all about the ride. As we drive along, past one imperfect technical solution after another, the key to getting along with everyone else in this car we share lies in our individual search for honest answers to three basic human questions:

  • Who am I?
  • Who are you? And, how can I help you?
  • What practical situations are we facing right now? And, how can I work with you to deal with them?

Awareness is the key to long-term success in Information Technology: awareness of self, of the others who surround us, and of the endless passage of practical situations in which we, as IT professionals, find ourselves. Finding the freedom to answer these questions for ourselves, then setting others free and helping them to do the same, are all a part of growing up along our way.


The POInT Organizational Transformation Program smooths the journey for IT professionals and organizations, and Al Cini is the POInT Program’s tour guide. Learn more at:


  1. Al, I sit here reading your parable from Holden Beach, NC, where I do feel I've reached a lovely destination. But soon 'twill be ski season, and I'll be off to the next one, much like the IT experience. Great story. I love the analogy. Maybe that explains why every new thing that comes along makes me say "That's like back when we used to...." ...or maybe I'm getting more like my mother every day.

    Thanks for a sweet little tale with a lot of meaning for the ages.


  2. The moral: When your computer won't work like it should- take a nap.