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Tales from a 40 something Nashville IT guy: The Good and Bad of Technical Change

Written by JJ Rosen for The Tennessean…

Everything I’ve learned is now obsolete.

At least that’s what I concluded after completing my once-a-decade spring cleaning last weekend.

Having skipped the last couple of these epic declutter efforts, I knew I was in for a challenge.  Computer geeks like myself tend to struggle with what I call “never know when I might need it again” syndrome.  That, along with a sentimental attachment to technologies of the past, leads many of us to hang on to many cool things that most non-techies simply refer to as “junk.”

So, I dug into spring cleaning with a mix of curiosity and dread.  I was excited to take a walk down my geeky memory lane yet a bit sad to face the prospect of throwing things out that once were so valuable to me.

The first treasures I found in the corners of our attic included some old-school tech like:

  • My first PC (running DOS)
  • An old dot matrix printer
  • A copy of Lotus 1-2-3
  • Disks 1 and 3 of WordPerfect
  • An AOL CD
  • My first programming book – “dBase III Plus for Beginners”

I figured it was time for all of those to go.  None had been very expensive even 20-something years ago, but their sentimental value had faded since the 90s.

I found a few boxes of serial port adapters, parallel printer cables, and old modems. I’m not sure how these survived, so the decision to trash them was an easy one.

But things got more complicated as I made my way toward the center of the pile.

Nearly 30 years ago I zeroed out my savings account to buy a $2,000 copy of Novell NetWare 3.12.  This industry standard software for setting up servers and computer networks arrived in a big red box with 20 diskettes and five books.   I spent two years learning all there was to know about NetWare, only to see it totally fall out of favor a year later when Microsoft Windows Server came along.

How could I throw something away that was once so valuable? Heaving $2,000 and two years of work into the garbage just seemed wrong.

This can be tough to deal with for technology professionals.  No matter what we master today, there is good chance that within two to five years it will be completely obsolete.   It’s a never-ending learning curve.

Of course, tech isn’t the only profession that require ongoing education to remain relevant. All kinds of jobs face this – doctors, lawyers, CPAs, teachers, just to name a few.

I remember early on in my career, the prospect of starting over with a new technology every few years sounded like a negative thing.  I figured burnout would be the inevitable result of this cycle of learning the latest programming language then watching it become a relic only a short time later, and then repeating this pattern for years on end.

But, as I sat in my attic staring at my expensive but obsolete box of NetWare 3.12 diskettes, I began to think about the alternative of forced obsolescence—boredom.

Surrounded by boxes of old technology made me appreciate the upside of choosing a career that forces you to learn new things.  As much as I enjoyed learning NetWare, dbase III Plus, and Lotus 1-2-3, their demise forced me to move on to the next challenge.  This cycle keeps a job interesting.

So, after a bit more debate, I decided that along with my other old tech, my Netware box must go.  All that I had learned from it was now obsolete.  And that’s a good thing.

 

 

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville software development and IT consulting firmVisit www.atiba.com or www.cabedge.com for more info.

 

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