Ladies, gentlemen and system administrators;
I am new and very late to this contest! I have been dealing with technical difficulties of the illness kind and so, I have some catching up to do.
I was planning to read up on the other entries first, to make sure I am not being redundant. But time is of the essence and so I am going to have to simply forge ahead. Mea culpa – and mea sorry – if I do end up repeating what others have written. Of course, I hope that is not the case; and now onward!
So, the theme for this blog is Why I Chose IT. I think before I can explain that I need to jump back a bit; quite a bit actually…
I was born early in 1960 at the beginning of an incredible period in human history.
Growing up in the ’60s included elements of Mad Men and like that show, there was always a feeling of vaguely suppressed neuroses in the air. Now we hear about how the 60s were a time of growth and optimism.
I remember fear.
Many feared the war (Vietnam), social change, the Communists, The Bomb and so much more, even as they embraced the economic benefits and consumer conveniences that developed.
But one broader, more general fear of the time was rooted in the growing presence of new technology – especially computers. People wondered what the “computer age” (which was only nascent at the time) would mean for humanity and for each of us as individuals.
Shows like Star Trek, Lost in Space, The Outer Limits and of course the Twilight Zone took this issue up with zeal and examined it from every angle. Frequently they showed computers as powerful, almost omniscient entities (rather than things) that would ultimately weaken or enslave mankind.
As a kid, I ate that stuff up. Two channels, one channel, no color…I didn’t get care. I watched it all (even when I wasn’t supposed to) and in between I devoured science fiction books, comics and magazines. Some of the greatest SF authors ever, showed me futures Utopian and incredibly dark, and in both there were computers – lots of computers
At the same time, there was a developing love for computers in the ’60s (which really blossomed a decade later). Scientists and mathematicians were frequently photographed for magazines like Life and Popular Mechanics. Standing in front of a huge data tape machine, or a bank of glowing status lights; they posed proudly alongside their new instrument of wonder, the computer.
For those folks, the computer was the future and it was glorious.
For example, throughout the Apollo program, the media (and especially Walter Cronkite) made it clear that the astronauts, while heroes, were supported by computers and the people that ran them. They were a key part of the new age of science and exploration.
For me though, the decade closed with 2001 a Space Odyssey and HAL 9000. I read the book, saw the movie and had more “proof” than ever that computers were a future danger and the bane of humanity. To this day I make sure my Webcam is off when I have to make changes to my PC.
Now, let’s jump forward a few more years, into the 1970s (my favorite decade bar none!).
My first direct experience with a computer came around 1973. I was off school for a few days and my father took me to work and then pawned me off on some lab technicians. Being unconvinced of the importance of babysitting, they decided to show me “the computer”. I was taken into a rather moribund looking computer room and told I would have to learn Octal to understand computers.
Learning Octal (the base 8 number system) was fun, in the way that having a tooth removed without anaesthetic is fun. But I smiled and said “ooh” and “wow” and “base what?” and “why would you not just count to 10?” I was, apparently, not yet old enough for induction into true nerdom and the techs were clearly unimpressed that I was unimpressed. But after an hour or so of this joy I was plunked down in front of a small, oval, black and white CRT screen and a keyboard to “use the computer”. I waited for something incredible, futuristic and slightly heroic (remember the Apollo program) to appear. I was not disappointed as – after a few minutes of loading up and compiling –the “simulation” (i.e. game) Lunar Lander appeared on the screen and the technicians left. This wasn’t exactly Tron but I was enthralled and played for hours.
Over the next couple of years, I went to high school, grew my hair and watched with some amazement as a few kids (5 or so) that I knew began something called a computer club. They would walk around with slide rules, talking in hushed tones stopping to pore over arcane looking papers. Once I asked one of these guys (who I had grown up with) what he was reading and he showed me a new magazine called Byte – a title which I completely and utterly misconstrued as something kinky.
Every day at lunch and after school these guys went downstairs to the computer room to spend hours doing something called programming. It was mysterious and definitely nerdly, but I was sure it was more Octal. So, I didn’t get too close.
Then one day, after many weeks of mystery, one of these guys invited me down to see what they had accomplished. I had vague thoughts of a talking computer or robots with laser eyes and I was a bit wary (one of my friend’s later projects was to build a replica of the bridge from the Enterprise). But when we got to the room I was shown, with great pride, a long strip of white paper on the wall. On it, made up of thousands of alpha-numeric characters was a picture of Snoopy and everyone absolutely loved Snoopy. So, with a computer (and many, many hours of work) those guys had created something fun, with the help of a computer. I was amazed!
Jump ahead again; now into the early 80s. I went to University and took psychology and a couple of computer courses. Fortran was boring and a little scary. But then so was Freud. So, I went off to theater school to become an actor and all thoughts of computers vanished.
Still, while acting was fun and easy; starving was not and I was under pressure to go back to school and get a “real job”; I chose computer science. I was still afraid of the machine but I decided that it was time to know the enemy and see if I could be part of the future I had so often read about. I told myself I would quit in a couple of years.
And so, in the end I chose IT because of fear, but also because of promise; of fun and exploration and participation in a brave new age.
I entered the IT work force in ’83. I never did quit.
In my next entry I will talk about why I stayed in IT over the years along with some of what I learned and then, I think it will be time to talk about what I see in the future – as it is still out there.