FWD50 Extras: Technology Crash Course with Alistair Croll

If you were to step back and look at human history, the transition from analog to digital happened almost instantaneously. How we learn, communicate, and work happens atop a complex stack of technologies we often take for granted. Understanding this stack—and its consequences on government and society—is vital for everyone in the public service. But many of us are caught up in the next new tool or looming deadline that we’re unable to build a solid, foundational understanding of what tech is.

In this FWD50 Extras workshop, Alistair Croll lays out how today’s technology works as a set of building blocks, then dives into the implications and tradeoffs of those blocks. As an author, teacher, and public speaker, Alistair’s takes a unique, entertaining approach that makes often opaque topics clear and compelling. He solicited a list of the most vital subjects to address (the initial outreach for topics reached over 40,000 people on Twitter, yielding dozens of fundamentals to tackle.)

In this wide-ranging overview, participants will learn the basics of concepts such as:

Technology fundamentals:
-How innovation happens, from early adopter to mass market, throughout history.
-The difference between analog and digital.
-How the Internet and the web works.
-Open source models.
-Databases, data lakes, and why data is hard.
-Cloud computing, and the pendulum of centralization and distribution.
-What AI and machine learning really mean.
-Authentication, identity, and digital rights management.
-Products and platforms, front-ends and back-ends.
-Monoliths, microservices, and how machines talk to each other.
-Performance, availability, and latency.

Consequences of digital on delivery:
-Linear and exponential scaling.
-The teams that deliver digital platforms.
-Waterfall, agile, and lean project management.
-Research, engineering, and operations.
-Accessibility, design, marginalization, and inclusion.
-Network effects, lock-in, and data portability.

Broader impacts on society:
-How digital affects experimentation and personalization.
-Dependencies, and the fragility of untended tech.
-Troubleshooting, recovery, and resilience.
-Deepfakes, fake news, anycast, and the death of absolute truth.
-Bad incentives, outrage, engagement, and platform regulation.
-The compression of invention and adoption now that we’re all connected.
The environmental and societal footprint of 24/7 tech in our lives.
Automation, robotics, and UBI.
How analytics makes everything a race for optimization.

This session isn’t intended to teach such a broad set of topics, but rather, to give participants a way to think about technology upon which they can build a complete understanding of how the modern world works.
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