{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Own goal

Friday evening at Accident and Emergency.

Uncomfortable seats in crowded waiting rooms. The only place in society where equal rights are genuinely present for the living. Malady and mishap don’t discriminate.

Overworked nurse practitioners heroically triage their way through hordes of humanity. Their very presence in the waiting room suggesting each and every one of them has experienced better days.

A few genuinely need urgent medical care.

The rest are the attention-starved. Drug-seekers. Hypochondria suffers. Liability evaders. Lonely. Queue jumpers. Overprotective parents. Time wasters.

Or in some cases, simply have nothing better to do on a Friday evening than voyeuristically enjoy the misfortune of others.

A footballer who ruptured his Achilles stepping off the team bus early that morning. Bundled into an Uber to get a scan. Still waiting. His team long since returned home without him.

The teenager who initially appeared to be wearing an oddly coloured yarmulke. Partially scalped by his elder siblings, a reprisal for incomplete homework resulting in the wifi password being changed.

A young cancer patient, irate after discovering her purse had been stolen off her lap while she dozed in the waiting room.

There is a constant din of complaints, nervous chatter, and painful moans.

Over the clamour, I hear someone call out something approximating my name. I shoulder my way through the crowd towards an exhausted-looking man in scrubs. He couldn’t have been more than half my age.

Once the door closes, the examination room is eerily quiet.

The smell of bleach and disinfectant a sterile shock after the waiting room’s heady abattoir-like bouquet of blood, body odour, fear, infection, piss, shit, stale beer, and vomit.

Bring back vivid memories, mostly unpleasant, of past visits to similar rooms.

Probing and cleansing of wounds.

Resetting broken bones.

Surgeries, big and small.

Physio and rehab.

Lessons learned.

Pocket knives are not toys”.

Little bullies have big friends. Defeat isn’t the end, just the beginning of the revenge.”

Names may never hurt me, but the sticks and stones they result in will break bones”.

Don’t suit up for a fight you can’t win”.

“Hit first. Hit hard. Don’t hesitate. Don’t hold back. You may not get a second opportunity.”

Immediate decisions incur life long consequences. Play the long game. Especially when it hurts.”

The treatment may kill you. The illness certainly will”.

“The side effects will feel worse than the disease, but only the living experience them”.

“Sometimes there are only bad choices.”

The nurse practitioner quickly and efficiently worked his magic.

I was fortunate. A flesh wound that stopped when it hit bone. Missing artery, tendon, and nerve.

Another scar for the collection. A road map charting a lifetime of trips, falls, and misadventure.

Superglue had at some point replaced staples and stitches as the treatment of choice. Quicker to administer. Hurts less too.

Tetanus boosters still leave the same old dead arm and hangover though.

Bandaged up and sent home, with firm instructions to avoid scoring another own goal.

Own goal

A few days later I commenced my annual winter working hibernation.

The weather matched my mood. Grey. Wet. Miserable.

Overcrowded trains. Hot desks. Daylight hours spent on a laptop instead of walking by the river. Evenings choosing between administrivia, chores, exercise and kids. Broken sleep. Waking up tired. Repeat.

Every year the return to the fray is harder than the last. The realities of working life conveniently forgotten over my summer semi-retirements.

Sitting down all day.

Making the mental transition back to work mode.

The abrupt dislocation of my relaxed daily routine.

Dancing to a client’s playlist, priorities, resourcing allocations, and timescales.

Challenges all. Of the self-inflicted and self-indulgent variety.

Own goals that I consciously choose to subject myself to. Many people simply have no other option, making acceptance and surrendering to the inevitable an easier pill to swallow.

Some will pass. Fade the background, as the “new normal” time-poor routine reestablishes itself.

Others will continue to chafe. The very fact that I now have to pick and choose, rather than being able to do pretty much everything at a time of my own volition.

Can the last dinosaur turn out the lights?

One of my first tasks was to procure tooling for the client to perform a common everyday task. It was surprising they did not already have some.

I fired up Google and entered the name of the default tool. The industry-standard tool. The tool everyone who could afford it applies to this particular use case.

Google returned one of those featured snippet boxes as the first search result. It contained a table detailing the release history of the product.

It hadn’t been updated for four years.

What? That can’t be right. Everybody uses this product!

A quick check of the vendor release documentation confirmed it.

Next, I googled the main competing product. It hadn’t been updated for five years.

Even worse, it appeared to have been end-of-lifed.

Abandoned by the vendor, who not so long ago marketed it so aggressively.

I sat back with a puzzled expression on my face for a minute, wondering what had happened?

Then I mentally worked it through.

In ancient times, each firm would build and support their own set of applications. Even when purchasing software, they would often pay additional extortionate amounts to customise or enhance it. The custom built software required in-house technical talent to keep it working.

This was the software equivalent of every firm commissioning their own mechanic to independently invent the internal combustion engine from scratch, just so the CEO could visit the local coffee shop.

A decade ago, firms were starting to wake up to the advantages of software on “the cloud”.

Early on this consisted of “lifting and shifting” applications that had been developed on-premise into data centres hosted by Amazon or Microsoft. This allowed a small measure of cost savings, the hairy smelly techies who used to hang out in server rooms found themselves redundant.

Then vendors started offering Software-as-a-Service.

A ready-made solution for a common problem.

Developed, administered, hosted, maintained, and supported by a vendor.

It was fast.

It was cheap.

It (mostly) worked, to a “good enough” standard.

Suddenly firms didn’t need their own in-house application architects, developers, testers, administrators or support staff.

Simply input a credit card, sign up for a subscription, and be up and running immediately.

The cost savings, standardisation and resulting reliability overcome the vanity and “but we’re special” fallacy that had powered the in-house software development industry for generations.

Firms accepted the constraints and limitations of a Software-as-a-Service product. Sometimes tweaking it slightly via predefined configuration choices, but generally lived with the defaults in return for the promised cost savings.

If firms no longer built their own applications, then vendors producing tooling used to design those applications found themselves selling a solution to a problem their customers no longer had.

Intellectually, this is something that I had observed and been involved in for years. Decommissioning in-house applications. Hollowing out legacy IT estates. Migrating to the cloud. Moving jobs to less expensive locales, or automating them out of existence altogether.

However, I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t felt like I’d been kicked in the nuts to suddenly realise that what had once been a core skill several years ago, and career fallback option until now, no longer existed in any meaningful sense.

I had been caught napping. Dozed off an in-demand white-collar professional. Woken up a dinosaur.

An own goal.

Oh dear. It’s happened again

Later that night I changed the dressing on my latest injury. As I compared the new scar to those that had gone before it, I reflected on the discovery that I was now unemployable in yet another niche.

Possessing strong experience in a skillset that had lost relevance.

No longer commanding a premium.

No longer in demand.

Some jobs remained for now. A dwindling pool, occupied by an increasing ageing workforce with limited options. Unlikely to be replaced when they too become extinct.

It had happened before. With monotonous regularity.

It would undoubtedly happen again.

As a student, I worked in a one-hour photo lab. The theory had been that no matter what else may happen, people would always want to get their photos printed.

Then digital cameras happened!

Over the years I have learned to code in a dozen different computer programming languages.

Some marketable. Some niche.

Before long each of them had been superseded by a newer, shinier language.

Solving the same old problems in a brand new way. Rarely better. Mostly just different.

Each evolution rendering another generation of programmers technically redundant. Consigned to thankless legacy support roles, or pensioned off in favour of younger coders who were fluent in the next big thing.

Change is constant. Inevitable. Relentless. Unyielding.

Providing we are paying attention, and playing the long game, change is also predictable.

However, when we get complacent. Take our eye off the ball. Sleepwalk, even just for a little while. Then we get blindsided.

Our careers unexpectedly t-boned, like a motorist hit by a drunk driver running a red light.

Most times we will be able to recover. Regroup. Re-skill.

Wounded, but not mortally so.

Until the time comes that we can’t.

Too ancient. Dated. Out of touch. Scared. Slow. Stubborn.

Too much a dinosaur. Employment prospects extinct. Roaming through a world that has moved on.

That we no longer care to understand.

Making the conscious choice to join the ranks of the bewildered and confuddled old timers who are scared of change.

Preferring to dig in rather than adapt.

To complain rather than evolve.

An own goal. Everyone scores them occasionally. Sometimes they cost us the game.


References

  • Miller, R. (2016), ‘How AWS came to be’, TechCrunch
  • Sanders, J. (2019), ‘Microsoft Azure: A cheat sheet’, TechRepublic
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6 Comments

  1. Nick @ TotalBalance.blog 19 September 2019

    I know where you’re going with this, but since this struck a chord with me, in that I work in the same industry as you (but obviously in a different position), I thought I would offer my take on this subject! (take it or leave it) 😛

    The days of running your own datacenters and “in-house” specialized development are for sure numbered. However, while I understand your troubles in jumping in an out of the workforce, when Azure/AWS/GCP spit out new features on a daily basis (not even to mention Office 365, which features seems to change on an hourly basis almost) your perspective is clouding (pun intended) your judgement (with all due respect).

    What many (if not most) companies fail to realize is that while software-as-a-service might solve some of their problems, in terms of maintenance, it opens up a whole new can of worms, which is often overlooked; Compliance, Governance, Security, Risk. – These disciplines will never go out of style, and they are needed now more than ever!

    I started my IT career on the floor (in the engine room in the datacenters), and I enjoyed it very much. There is something greatly satisfying in seeing the results of physical labour (racks upon racks of hardware/cables/infrastructure). I like to challenge myself though (much like yourself), so eventually I had to move on with my career, and started looking towards the clouds.

    We used to have guys doing network, storage, servers and security (some organizations more siloed than others). The network is still very much a required discipline, even in the clouds (we need ACCESS to it, in order to utilize its resources, right?).
    Storage is now centered more around backup & disaster recovery – and what about that whole data classification and GDPR issue?!
    Servers are (slowly) being replaced by PaaS services (and/or containers), but there are still vast “on-prem” installations to deal with, since data cannot travel faster than the speed of light, and certain applications require < 2ms latency (like high-frequency trading applications), you need a cloud datacenter in your backyard, otherwise you're not going to achieve < 2ms latency.

    So now the infrastructure guys has to handle all the "legacy stuff" (the stuff they used to do) ONTOP of all the new stuff in the clouds. Take a wild guess: Are companies hiring more resources, due to the added workload of "multiple datacenters"? No…

    The IT landscape is becoming increasingly more complex, and for sure there are disciplines that will eventually fade into oblivion (Mainframe, anyone? – Oh yes that's right, the banks still use them), but just as I grew up without Internet, cellphones and Netflix, I will adapt to the new norm!
    And so will you, I'm sure 😉 Unless you choose to FIRE first, of course 😉

    Cheer up, buddy! There will always be a need for tech-savvy "I'm done with this bullshit"-type guys, like you and me. Who else is going to train (and fix) the robots?! 😉

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 19 September 2019

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Nick.

      In many respects you are eloquently making my argument for me here.

      I’m not saying there are no jobs working in infrastructure, or in IT in general for that matter. What I’m saying is the specific roles, and the nature of what they do, changes. Rapidly.

      How many Exchange administrators do you know who are still working today? HTML developers? Mainframe programmers? Chances are not very many. These were once common jobs, in reasonably high demand. Then fashions and technologies changed, rendering them surplus to requirements.

      Infrastructure technicians who used to rack servers have been replaced by infrastructure and integration architects who need to figure out how to plumb all those SaaS and PaaS platforms together.

      Performance tuning experts have been replaced by procurement managers and SLA enforcement folks.

      The capabilities provided to the business are largely unchanged, but the skillsets retained on staff (or directly procured from outsourcers) have evolved over time.

      I agree with your assessment of the risk/compliance/governance space as being in demand and growing. I’d add to that anything that is directly customer facing and doesn’t lend itself to being outsourced or offshored. Indeed, these are some of the areas that my firm specialises.

      My own goal was subconsciously believing the skills I once was able to command a premium for would retain their value and still be marketable. It has been a few years since I worked in the particular niche, and when I wasn’t looking that niche closed.

      It is a natural part of evolutionary progress, as it should be.

      However, it also provides an excellent case study for anyone naïve enough to believe they can retire for an extended period of time and then reasonably expect to return to the workforce earning a comparable income utilising their very rusty and dated skills.

  2. Phil Mongoose 20 September 2019

    “However, it also provides an excellent case study for anyone naïve enough to believe they can retire for an extended period of time and then reasonably expect to return to the workforce earning a comparable income utilising their very rusty and dated skills.”

    An important emphasis here. I toy with the idea of early retirement, but just too chicken at the moment.

    Even in my current job, I realise how quickly it is changing and how you are forced to continually adapt and evolve. Two years out could make it very difficult to come back…

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 20 September 2019

      Thanks Phil.

      I think there will always be work for those who want it, but the more dated the network and rusty the skills, the more flexible and accommodating the returning retiree needs to be about exactly what they will do for a living and how lucrative (or not) that may be.

  3. [HCF] 20 September 2019

    It seems we all have these kinds of own goals. I had a very similar epiphany a couple of days earlier. It does not need to fell into this illusion to be out of the market for a couple of years it only takes not keeping up with the trends. In my field (web development) this can happen in a year or less. When your company does not adopt the new trends and technologies into the tech-stack and especially when they don’t force, require, inspire or simply don’t let you evolve with the technologies you use you will get outdated.

    I am in the market for eight years now. When I started I knew only the basics (general html+css+js+php) on a low level. Working in my first job made me learn these technologies in more depth and required getting one level up in them (html5+sass+jquery+php framework). While I was picking up this knowledge our preferred framework released a new version which we adapted with a couple of months delay. I was good in this and former coworkers reached out to me with an offer. After two years I jumped ships and went on working with mostly the same stack however with a couple of improvements and more freedom on smaller parts of the code to use other, more up to date technologies. Another four years passed without much change, there were trials to turn to new directions then an acquisition halted everything.

    Now I am supposed to choose from a couple of different routes, all of them totally unknown to me. For the start, I do debug work on their codebase built with their preferred tech-stack. It feels like if I would be a house builder. The current job is still building houses. Just this time from a different material, the blueprints are randomly generated and the notes were written in Latin 🙂 Doing this for a couple of months now and I think I started to understand what imposter syndrome could be. I feel so incompetent that in my free time I started to check out my old skillset. Meanwhile, trends changed, javascript flooded everything and even on the PHP field, the leader is a shiny new framework. Even my preferred one had two new versions released which makes it equally challenging to catch up with than learning the other one.

    Don’t get me wrong I am not complaining. I cannot even say that this constant change is unexpected, it is far from it. What you described in this post was not unknown to me. My own goal here is the illusion that I could keep up with the evolution without much effort and it will be easy to catch up at any given point. I was wrong and while the mission is not impossible it is far from effortless. Anyways, this is still a better situation to be in than someone who has nothing to go back to so I think I should be grateful. However, I don’t know how many years do we have before the robots take over the wheel… In that case, we have to evolve to the persons Nick mentioned, the ones who can train and fix them. Sounds challenging but let it be 🙂

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 20 September 2019

      Thanks HCF. You provide another good case study here.

      What you’re demonstrating is how easy (and how much it is down to luck) to be “left behind”. Back the wrong horse, tread water, get stuck firefighting, or simple focus elsewhere and the world changes while you are being paid on the job.

      For our career management it is important to keep a watchful eye on the horizon to observe approaching storms early on, so that we can position ourselves to best weather them.

What say you?

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