Monday, July 24, 2017

Are we looking at the Death of the I.T. Jack of All Trades

"Jack of all Trades, Master of None" is an old idiom used to describe those amongst us who can turn their hand to any task and get it done.

As a 57 year old I.T. "Jack of all Trades", I have seen it all from Punch Cards, backups on Mag Tapes, Pascal, Fortran, Cobol, Dibol, RPG, PDP-11's, Mumps and so on.

I joined the I.T. ranks in the very early 80's, when the IBM Pc and Microsoft did not exist. I was employed at the tender age of 21 as an Office Manager in a Surveying company .. and when I started, there was this really weird "thing" with a green monitor and beige colored case sitting on a desk. Another weird device sat next to it with paper appearing to be eaten by it, the paper had really weird holes along the sides.

Even worse, there was a stack of 4 boxes with horizontal slits on the front .. OMG, no way I was even going near that thing.

I subsequently found out that it was an Apple II Computer, with Epson Dot Matrix Printer and 4 x 128Kb 51/4" Floppy Drives .. Geeze, no way now I was even going near it for sure, ever ..

Apparently, a guy named Peter Bloomfield had written some form of Time Costing and Billing program (I knew what a program was from my TI Calculator Days and HP RPN programs) but it did not work and he had disappeared. So there it sat, dead as a doornail.

One day, on a weekend, whilst catching up on work, I cautiously opened the top drawer in the desk and lo and behold, here was a white spiral bound called User Manual and Apple Basic. It showed how to turn on the computer, so I did, then I found "List", "Run" and "Print", oops, the printer started making awful noises and all this paper with reams of gobbledegook started pouring out .. OMG!!

To cut a long story short, I read the manual, figured out what Subroutines were, Goto's and so on and fell in love, a program really matched my thought processes. I eventually finished the program and it was in use for many, many years.

What' the point of this story? Well, it is, that back in the infancy of I.T. pretty much the only way to learn anything was to do it yourself, read the manuals (yes, RTFM) and experiment. After leaving the surveyor, I went back to Brisbane and decided to start a Computer Consultancy called Australian Computer Endeavours (ACE, because in those days the phone book was the best source of leads and you wanted to be at the top in the Yellow Page Listings)

I was very successful, everything was new, it was a constant learning process and it was absolutely wonderful.

I would bet that a large proportion people my age grew up in a similar environment with similar experiences in I.T.

Later, after many years of management in a wide range of industries and countries, I decided I wanted to go back into I.T full time. I had always maintained my skills by developing in-house apps, or apps in evenings for friends or associates, so I was able to keep abreast of the massive expansion of technology .. WOW, it was and still is amazing ..

I found initially that not having a degree was my first issue .. I could never get past the pre-screening "tick the box" exercise that most junior recruiters use as their primary tool on deciding who is worth while a second look. The automated systems are even worse .. Strike 1.

Then comes the age .. OMG, one could be excused if one thought that all recruiters felt that anyone over 30 had zero ability and was simply not worth considering ... Strike 2.

Strike 3 (you are out) arrives in the fact that you have too much experience. The very fact that you were a Project Manager, Manager, Supervisor means that you are now considered incapable of writing programs any more. Obviously being elevated to a Manager status is considered equivalent to having a Frontal Lobotomy to remove any ability you may have had to write a program.

I simply fail to understand why company's, recruiters and hiring managers have this massive mental block against getting someone who is self educated, able to learn and pick up any project you may throw at them and has a huge wealth (read lifetime) of experience and knowledge at their disposal to share with younger team members.

People our age learnt from OTHER people, manuals etc .. we did not often go to University and fall asleep during lectures and come out with a useless piece of paper that was simply a license to begin learning. We started learning 4-5 years earlier than all the people with the fancy diplomas. So who actually has the better education??

Have a read of this article, Ernst & Young figured¯ it out, degrees do not matter as much and will not stop you being considered .. it is the way of the future

¯A relevant quote from the article:

“It found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.”

Come on all recruiters, hiring managers, I.T. companies, don't let the old habits hide a very valuable resource, consider the huge pool of experience available to you in people like us. We are not as expensive as you may think and many of us are happy to leave the management and stresses to the younger folks and just cut code. We can learn what we need .. have done all our lives, and, we can pass on a lot of excellent work ethics and experience to your younger team members.In my humble opinion, companies should have a hiring policy that includes at least 20% of people over 45 to capitalize on the wealth experience available .. after all, it cannot be learn't in a school, it takes a lifetime!


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