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Bob Covello
Bob Covello
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IT Generations: Communicating Across The Great Divide

At 25 years old, the World Wide Web today presents unique challenges for millennials and crusty curmudgeons alike. Here's how geeks of any age can learn to talk to each other.

The World Wide Web recently celebrated its 25th birthday. I am not referring to the original DARPAnet, or even the days of 2400-baud modems and bulletin-board services. I am referring to the era before the first computer virus was born, on the web that was created when Tim Berners-Lee typed the first HTML code that became the foundation of the web browsers that we all take for granted today.

We have come a long way from those early days of simple HTML code. In a way, we may have reached a new era in the world of information technology, an era that represents a true generation gap in the IT profession.

A dozen years ago, if a veteran technologist spoke about working with a modem, a younger employee fresh out of college or trade school may have remarked about the prehistoric times, but with an underlying sense of awe for the "dinosaur" of the computer age. It was as if the older worker had touched a part of the big bang that created everything that we know today.

One reason for this unspoken admiration is because the new employee of a dozen years ago was not too far removed to have forgotten the “early years.” Perhaps he or she had first-hand experience as a teenager struggling to configure a dial-up line while staring at a flashing “C:\ >” in glowing amber text on a monitor that weighed more than a couch. Or perhaps that young person sat and watched a parent try to decipher a poorly written manual with words like "default settings" while staring at a video screen with the magnificently unhelpful message "syntax error."

Source: Photobucket
Source: Photobucket

A dozen years later, people entering the job scene never had the early experiences of their predecessors. In fact, the new workforce is so far-removed from the old-world that the stories of the old-timers seem apocryphal. Not only do many younger workers not care about the ghost of technology past, many regard it as irrelevant. The immediate question that comes to mind is: Are the younger folks right?

I am not attempting to sound like a crusty curmudgeon; old-timers may be as much to blame for staying with the stories -- and sometimes the mindset -- of the past. The pace of information technology is so rapid that no one can rest on past accomplishments or the wishful thought that everything is perfect the way it is. That would be equivalent to a boxer taking it easy after the 6th round. So the question now becomes, how can the old-timers and the new-bloods come together to make real advancements in a collaborative spirit?

I would start with the old-timers. Let’s approach our broad knowledge and proud history as something we can use to advise our younger brothers and sisters about relevant modern topics. The challenge here is that we must keep learning in order to relate to the new audience. Conversely, we can learn from the younger crowd. The stories and experiences that we have can be presented in a way that rises above the anecdotal. We must not be threatened by the new workers. Sure, they are here to replace us, but our legacy is best served not by resisting the new, but by multiplying it with knowledge from the past.

The younger crowd should take the opportunity to seek out the old-timers who can point them to the future by guiding them through the past. The phrase about repeating history simply does not apply in technology, as I defy you to haul out that dusty Atari from the attic and get it to display anything in our world. Sometimes, however, history is not taught to prevent repetition, but to exemplify triumph in adversity. The early digital technology inventions were truly inspired. The early explorers in the digital world created something from nothing. This age of invention continues and shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

We have new challenges ahead, from areas such as protection of our privacy, all the way to the future of quantum computing. We can gaze forward, while looking backwards. No journey is ever successfully accomplished alone.

Bob Covello is a 20-year technology veteran. His passion is for security-related topics, and he is a strong supporter of education, collaboration, and mutual respect as tools for growth in the infosec community. View Full Bio

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Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Ninja
3/11/2014 | 2:54:45 PM
Sure we repeat
I'm not so certain that we don't repeat history - just in a different jacket. How different is a private cloud from a mainframe in theory (slicing a large volume of capacity into discrete services). Or DevOps. It seems like there was a time when developers weren't silo'd like they are now.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/11/2014 | 3:26:45 PM
Back when...
Back in my day, we had to carve nested tables in to stone tablets and FedEx them to the server.

Nothing tops the bitrate of a FedEx truck packed full of drives!
Bob Covello
Bob Covello,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/11/2014 | 3:40:32 PM
Re: Back when...
Back in my Early years, I drove a truck for Airborne Express, so you are correct!

We got that data to its destination before 10:30 AM Next Business Day.
User Rank: Ninja
3/12/2014 | 7:51:44 AM
Command line
The command line is as important as it ever was, just look at new tools like PowerShell. You cannot administer systems using a free app on your smartphone. Sadly, a lot of things are still incredibly complicated and bare bones. Just look at any code that needs to tell a system in tiny steps what to do. The only way to overcome this is through frameworks that make life a bit easier.
Bob Covello
Bob Covello,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/13/2014 | 9:19:18 AM
Remarkable coincidence!
Holy synchronicity, Batman!

A similar article to what I wrote is going to run in this Sunday's New York Times.

Now I know how the Beatles felt when The Rolling Stones showed up.

Now I know how Facebook felt when Twitter arrived!

Sadly, the author's outlook is not as positive as mine.
Marilyn Cohodas
Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
3/14/2014 | 10:49:55 AM
Re: Remarkable coincidence!
Thanks for sharing the NYTimes piece, Bob. There's a great quote in it from David Dalrymple, a technologist in the valley:

 "The most innovative and effective companies are old-guard companies that have managed to reach out to the new guard, like Apple, or vice versa, like Google."

Can anyone share their experiences across the gnerations that worked together to innovate and create great products?
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