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."
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.