I have a fear…a fear that my methods of providing for my family and for myself will become irrelevant. I’m sure I’m not in the minority, especially during these difficult times…but it certainly doesn’t sway existence of my irrational fear.
My primary source of income and well-being for myself and my family is currently in the hands of a mid-size privately held company. I am the head of IT for said company with ~150 employees which has both risks and rewards. It is my responsibility to research and ultimately adopt new technologies to progress the company forward making it leaner and more efficient throughout.
I grew up in the 1980’s, and while technology advanced during the 80’s and 90’s, it did so at a fairly manageable pace. I started my career in the early 2000’s (I graduated high school in 2000) and decided to forego attending college and instead focus on building my career. That’s not to say that I didn’t have any sort of training. My senior year of high school was spent taking a condensed customized tract for the subjects I was most interested in at a vocational school. I took proctored tests at a local community college and obtained certifications from Novell (at the time, Novell was still a competitor) and CompTIA. Through the 2000’s however, technology seemed to blossom and offer completely new paths that took on all new fields of their own (the mobile industry for example such as the iPod and iPhone). In this new decade we’re already branching into what will eventually be huge fields of their own (e.g. 3D printing). It’s enough to make one person mad (read: crazy) trying to keep up with it all. This is especially true if it is your job to vet new technologies and deploy the ones that are found pertinent to your industry.
I believe that a college education isn’t required for everyone…it certainly wasn’t required on my part to be successful. The best a college education offers (my opinion…take it with a grain of salt since I never went) is to give one social skills and the tolerance to work and keep learning, eventually turning ideas into reality. Geeks like me could care less about social skills for the most part. That isn’t to say that I’m not social when I need to be, it’s just that I do perfectly fine confined to my computer for hours or days on end. It keeps me happy because this is my place.
My career choice (IT) also dictates that in order to keep my job, I must always be absorbing new content. That is, I need to always be evolving my brain to adapt to new technologies and how those may be applicable to my peers and ultimately the customer. This isn’t a big problem for me as I (generally) love what I do. Now that I’m in my 30’s however, I’m starting to gain fear that love simply will not be enough to maintain the status quo. My answer is currently to direct myself to getting a granular college education, but on my own time. I’m currently taking a HarvardX computer science course which should be complete in April (or before then if I can get it completed early). Upon completion (and a passing grade of course), I will receive a certificate from Harvard’s new HarvardX online education branch. It’s free for me to attend except for the time and work involved of course.
The problem with college is that almost all employers require it on paper. That piece of paper is more than likely the biggest stumbling block for landing on the desk of the person who could change your life forever. That isn’t to say that some companies look past this (luckily for me my two biggest employers after high school chose to disregard my lack of college credentials). Once you have a decade with a company in a certain position, this requirement should diminish but that’s not what requirement sections on job openings lead one to believe. My hope is that my self-taught and granular college courses taken online will be enough to stand-up against a younger me vying for my job.
My love is for pretty much anything in the computer and electronics industry. My problem is that because of the growth of those industries and the technologies within, it’s simply too much for one person to reasonably keep up with. I do not want to be a specialist, I want to be everything and I’m ultimately scared that it will lead me to irrelevancy. As more technologies advance and spread out, the less I know about all of them until I ultimately know almost nothing about anything. IT employees for large companies are accustomed to focusing on and mastering say MSSQL, Exchange, Objective-C, data center network hardware, etc. Unfortunately my job dictates that I need to not only keep email flowing to employees, but also man the network hardware and configuration within as well as develop and continually maintain in-house programs written in Objective-C, PHP with a MySQL database. There isn’t one piece of technology that comes into this company that I don’t vet before hand and configure and maintain for the long-haul.
My answer to coping with this expansion has simply been to offload some of what used to remain in-house to outside sources like Google (Google Apps for replacing MS Office/Exchange/Sharepoint) and even going with a managed firewall service rather than maintain it myself. I’m slowly coping with the fact that I simply can’t be an expert on our firewall model while also being an expert at something completely different. Most of this stuff is a configure and forget technology…except when its not. When it breaks months after you initially configured it and your enter organization is waiting for you to fix it, you quickly realize that being an expert at everything was probably not the best choice…but you traverse through it and ultimately prevail. My fear is that one day I simply won’t be able to prevail.
In it for the long-haul:
I can retire in 35-40 more years. Yep, 35-40 more years of technological advances. Just think of how far technology has advanced in the last 35-40 years and put that on a linear scale with exponential growth…now add the next 35-40 years. That curve (essentially a straight line on the Y-axis toward the right-side) scares the jeebers out of me! How is one supposed to prepare for such growth and expectation? Keeping up with this stuff in the 90’s was one thing, but keeping up with it in this decade is something completely different. Can I really uphold this until retirement? Can anyone?