The Human Side of High‐Tech: Lessons from the Technology Frontier

Sharon Loane (School of International Business, Magee Campus, University of Ulster, ukE‐mail:

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 1 August 2004



Loane, S. (2004), "The Human Side of High‐Tech: Lessons from the Technology Frontier", Personnel Review, Vol. 33 No. 4, pp. 488-490.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Kinsey Goman's starting point for this book is that high‐tech is unique, its near total reliance on individual brain power and technical ingenuity is mirrored no where else in the business world. Neither, in cultural terms, is its resemblance to a playground for gifted children. Work is not just meant to be fun in a high‐tech workplace, rather work and fun are seen as synonymous. For example, Goman examines the notion of fun in the workplace in an interview with Andrew McCarthy of PeopleSoft. In this interview McCarthy states that “PeopleSoft had three core values, happy customers, fun and profit” (Goman, 2000, p. 20) developing this idea further “Fun, as a PeopleSoft value has transcended the let's have a party – though we still love parties – to include the whole idea and ethos of teamwork” (Goman, 2000, p. 21).

This book is based upon research and interviews she conducted with high‐tech leaders and brain workers, input from a range of professional business experts, plus her 15 year experience as a corporate consultant in the area of “change‐management”. Her message in this book is that in the technology arena modern businesses are constantly changing and that successful businesses need to attract, nurture and retain the people who can ensure it will change in the right direction. This book is targeted at three main audiences:

  1. 1.

    any high‐tech company (seeking to sustain cutting‐edge competitiveness);

  2. 2.

    the IT departments (of organizations, seeking the best talent available, and competing for this talent with the above high‐tech organizations); and

  3. 3.

    leaders of all organizations (whose ongoing competitiveness is more and more dependent on having and retaining the best knowledge workers).

The book is divided into eight chapters, with the first dealing with the unique character of the high‐technology culture and how it got started in Silicon Valley. In Chapter 1, for example, Goman lists what she terms the eight commandments of high‐tech culture:
  1. 1.


  2. 2.


  3. 3.


  4. 4.


  5. 5.


  6. 6.


  7. 7.

    high performance;

  8. 8.


The challenge she posits, is to optimize all eight in the most appropriate balance. She concludes the chapter with the first of several lists of lessons that will inform efforts to meet that challenge. The remaining seven chapters emphasize the individual aspects of that culture as they apply to the three core audiences. One of the most interesting and effective chapters is Chapter 6: “Thriving on change, complexity, and chaos”. In this chapter, Goman (2000, p. 140) analyzes how and why several companies have succeeded amidst the “extreme volatility” of continuous restructuring by accepting “constant adaptation to new situations as a fundamental of survival and prosperity”. She argues that “change is basic … the only certainty you can rely on today is that nothing will stay the same for long”, further commenting that “stability is a thing of the past”. In response, she sets out a number of change management strategies, these include setting the stage, where management must get the employees ready well before change is to occur; delegation as a change management technique and communication as a change management tool and advises on linking the current change to the organizational objectives.

Key messages for management from this book include: commit to excellence, take responsibility, treat people fairly, insist on integrity, communicate honestly, openly and directly and last but not least: have fun! All these elements are essential: if one is missing, she posits then the organization may fall apart. For example, Hewlett Packard now asks employees to set annual goals for leisure as well as for productivity and they are expected to meet both. At companies such as PeopleSoft, having fun is even considered a business goal, intensity in the workplace is considered to be a good thing, but burnout is not.

Goman agrees with Debra Engel, the former head of HR at 3Com, that it took 400 years for business organizations to operate successfully in the Industrial Age commenting that (2000, p. 206): “We are only beginning to understand how to operate in the ‘Information Age’”. The book makes a start on this process of understanding high‐tech success and contains a clear and well considered perspective that obviously comes from many years working in the Valley. In the borderless world of high technology the lessons that Goman puts forward may well be relevant for knowledge‐based companies across the world.

This book is not only useful for managers and executives looking to employ and retain staff, but also for those people looking for work or constantly looking for something new will benefit from Goman's insights, as will practitioners, students and academics working in the human resource arena.

In conclusion, each of these three books provide insights into the high‐tech world and its people. Digerati Glitterati, through the interviews with 12 leaders of organizations gives the reader an intimate view of what motivated these leaders, how they built their companies and how they harnessed the intellectual power of employees successfully. The second book, Winning the Talent Wars, puts forward the free agent model as the basis for manage and compete in the high‐tech, high‐speed, knowledge‐based, superfluid economy. In this Tulgan presents six principles including the notion of staffing the work not the jobs. He sees human resources as a fluid mass which is on the move as the result of negotiation and renegotiation. The Human Side of High‐Tech acknowledges that in the new economy stability may well be a thing of the past, but in contrast to Winning the Talent Wars, the author advocates eight commandments of high‐tech culture, including fun at work. Each of these very different books illustrates elements of new economy firms and their people and are therefore valuable to practitioners, academics and students interested in people and personnel practices in such firms.

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