Aging in Tech

My birthday is coming up in November, and just today I was clicking through one of those web sites that says “45 discounts seniors can enjoy”.  I’ve been doing “computing” in one form or another since I was about 10 years old, and I’m about to be 53.  If I can do the math, that’s been a very long time.  Looking back on my earlier years, I recognize a cocky genius of a software engineering talent (if I do say so myself).  In more recent years, it hasn’t been about an ability to sling code hard and fast, but rather reflecting upon years of developing various kinds of systems to come up with non-obvious solutions faster than I would have otherwise.

Aging in tech typically means sliding slowly into a management position, slowly losing your tech chops, and mostly riding herd over the young guns that are coming up through the ranks.  I’ve taken a slightly different path over the past few years.  I did manage the cats who created some very interesting tech for Microsoft: XML, LINQ, ACS/Service Bus, Application Gateway, but more recently I found myself writing actual code myself, while inventing new ways to hire for diversity (http:/aka.ms/leapit).  It is this latter initiative that I find very fascinating and invigorating as I age in tech.

The premise of the LEAP program is that ‘tech’ broadly speaking, has advanced enough in terms of complexity, that some things are now easier to achieve than they might have been 10 – 15 years ago.  The kinds of “programming” that we’re doing is changing.  Whereas 15 years ago, having the skills to debug windows kernel was a great thing to look for, today, being able to do a mash up with they myriad web frameworks that are available is most interesting.  Knowing R or machine learning tools is increasingly important.  Those kernel debug skills, not so much.

But still, there’s need for old codgers to apply themselves in ever creative ways.  I look out onto the tech landscape, and I see myriad opportunities.  I see the continent of Africa sitting there, daring us to capture it and harvest the energy and greatness that awaits.  I see urban environments across the US, who are all consumers of tech, and can be turned into creators of tech just as easily.  I see AI applications that can be applied to our ever burgeoning populations of elder folks, robots, AI, automation of various forms.  As an older technologist, rather than going softly into that good night, lamenting the loss of my lightning quick programming skills, I see opportunity to leverage what I’ve learned over the years to identity opportunities, and marshal teams of engineers to go after them, adding guidance and experience where necessary, but otherwise just getting out of the way so the energetic engineers can do their thing.

I may or may not be able to pass a typical tech interview screen these days, but I’m more concerned with changing how we interview for tech roles in the first place.  I’m more likely to identify how to incorporate the views of youth, the elderly, the farmer, the street performer, into the evolution of tech offerings to make their lives better.  I’m more likely to, without fear, create a tech start up with a clear purpose, and the financial support necessary to see it through its early rounds.

Aging in tech can be a harrowing experience.  In some cases we age out of certain roles, but with some foresight and thoughtfulness, we leverage our years of experience to do ever greatly impacting things, while avoiding merely being surpassed by our up and coming peers.

So, as I age in tech, I’m looking forward to the discounts that are coming when I reach 55.  I’m looking forward to the seniors menu at Denny’s.  I’m looking forward to being able to think of anything I can imagine, and actually turn it into something that is helpful to society.

Aging in tech is something that happens to everyone, from the first line of code you write, to the last breath you take.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey thus far, and am looking forward to many more years to come.

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