Tuesday, September 18, 2001

les vieux sont plus anciens que jeune

I discovered today that if the equation of pi is taken to the one millionth decimal place, that my birthday, 62973, appears seven times. Is it a coincidence that seven is the number best known for being God's favorite number? It's worth considering.
Something else that is somewhat worth considering, because I have been so doing these past few days, is the computer industry. Specifically, is the complexity of the work going on and my place in it.

Technology has many niches now - a "computer guy" is no longer a valid term because it could represent so many desperately distinct facets of the industry. In my case, I am a software developer.

The time is approaching when even that description will be unclear, and I will need to say something that implies I am a developer of internet software intended for the Microsoft platform. I suppose that "Microsoft web developer" will have to do for now.

Eventually, we may have to tune our labels to the specific technology, maybe the language - perhaps eve the protocols. Until then, I, as my mother would say, am a "computer guy."

Let's get to the point, though. What I have been considering is how complex everything is. As the technologies that would eventually define the internet came to bear, so, in parallel, did my own knowledge of them.

Let me give you an example. I enjoy Star Trek. The best series so far has been The Next Generation - people who argue that point are mental dwarfs. Here's the point - if there is an average of 26 episodes per season, and it ran for 7 seasons, we can assume that there are some 182 episodes to watch.

Each episode being an hour, assuming you could watch for around 8 hours a day (and taking Sunday off) it would take you just shy of four weeks to watch every episode.

If you were a working man, as I am, and you could spare an hour a day - it would take more like 30 weeks, or 8 months to watch them all. Daunting - how would you ever have a chance to see them all? Not to mention the Original Series, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

Because I watched each episode as it was released (once a week) during the seven years on the air, it was easy for me to watch them all. If a youth wanted to catch up to where I was with The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, it would take years.

The first advantage is that when I started getting into computers (like ten years ago) as about the time that the microcomputer was beginning to take shape.

This is important, because I learned along the way. As the industry made achievements, I could appreciate those achievements in light of the current state, and absorb those changes as a slow evolution of an exhaustive knowledge of the industry.

This speed has increased now to such a speed that his would no longer be possible. I can no longer keep up with the advances in chips and monitors and software and video cards, but the cursory knowledge I gained from being raised WITH the microcomputer industry set me up to understand today's advances at least on a surface level.

The same could be said with software development. I began developing software as the internet was coming of age. As the HTTP spec was being tweaked, I was starting to need the new features. I sat and admired as HTML became something useable and XML, even now, develops as a viable tool for the net.

The second primary advantage my generation has over the younger is the level of experience with mistakes that can be too costly today. The number of times I fried my hard drive, my mother board, my chipset, my monitor, my modem - all of it, is embarrassingly high.

Many nights, I spent more hours rebooting, reformatting and re-seating cards and chips than I did sleeping. That fix-knowledge is the source of much that I know now.

Because I know the difference between DOS version 5 and 6, HTML version 3.2 and 4, HTTP version 1 and 1.1, IE version 2 and 3.01, Windows 3 and 3.11, and MSXML 2.6 and 3 may sound trivial at first, but it has built an overall picture of the industry and technology in general that allows me to cope with the near exponential rate of change today.

Tomorrows generation will know the difference between Nintendo 64 and the X-Box, the Legend of Zelda 4 and 5, and all sorts of things with which I no longer trivial myself.

I no longer stay up late rebuilding my computer - though I still have problems; shoot, I call tech support! I don't even know the model of modem in my current computer. I am not even sure what dot pitch my monitors are. I could even admit I don't know what the latest version of Quake is out.

But since college, computers have played a different role. See, now it's a job. The time I spend with the no longer just takes away from my liberal arts education. Now, it takes away from my family, my house, my car, my friends, my church, my sleep - things that I have come to think are more important.

Now, understand, I still have a late night on the computer now and again - I still have the juice in my veins, but for the most part - nada. Nada, that is, except for work - consider this, I spend 8 hours a day (at least) in front of my monitor, picking away at code, surfing reference sites, and dissecting applications. It's not like I have gone cold turkey.

I know what I know. Now, the things in my head are: which version of ADODB is installed, which version of MSXML is installed, which Scripting Engine is installed, what service pack is applied - and so on, these are things I never meddled with before, but are vital to my profession, so I pay attention to them now.

But, I still hold the ace. I went to college while internet technologies were just being reared. Sure the internet was around before then, but all those old technologies - except ftp are mostly gone. HTTP, HTML - they have all been extended so far they bear little resemblance to their embryonic brethren.

This unexpected advantage of dealing with things on a rudimentary scale has given me an advantage that I have been able to employ and fall back to again and again. Onto what will the next generation fall back? Scary - I guess they might fall back to a historical perspective of my own experience, but to what avail, into what big picture will they be able to apply their trade?

Lately, I have been thinking. Man, I am lucky. Just the right age, in the fullness of time.

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