Sunday, November 23, 2008

Q: What is the shelf life of my head?

A: Two years

I jumped ship back in July and went from coding in a hardcore .NET enterprise to tech writing in a hardcore J2EE shop. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the technical implications of this move, it’s sort of like a baseball player moving from the American League to the National League—the rules are fundamentally the same, but because there is no designated hitter, pitchers have to hit. Thus, the dynamic of the game is different. You’ve got to make adjustments and learn a new way to play the game.

(For those of you that are tech savvy, the reason for the switch is that the Redmondians embracing MVC in ASP.NET five years too late was the last straw!)

Needless to say I’ve been in heavy duty learning mode about all things OpenSource: Maven, Spring, FreeMarker, SiteMesh, Jetty, Derby, the whole unified theory of programming under POM.XML. The list goes on.

At the end of every week I have to press both hands to my ears to stop my head from spinning. This stuff is hard! You’ve really got to like leaning new things, which I do.

And then I get to thinking to myself, “I wonder, will this be another set of technologies that I’ll employ for a few years and then never have call or need to use again?”

The first time I ever wrote a line of code and gave it to a machine to execute was back in 1975. It was a line of PL/1 code written on a remote terminal and was transmitted directly by telephone wire to a mainframe located at a place unknown. There was no monitor of any sort. All display was handled by a typewriting printer hooked up to the terminal. The paper wasn’t ever perforated to separate neatly. You simply tore it off of the printer.

The purpose of the program was to have the computer solicit the operator to do lewd and lascivious acts. I guess that I was acting out my anger about Watergate.

Since that time I’ve learned a lot of applications and done a lot of programming. Most of what I have learned is useless today. The more I think about it, of all the technologies that I have mastered, the only one that I have used consistently throughout my lifetime has been English. All the others are a crapshoot.

Here is a partial list of all the applications and programming languages that I spent days, some times years of my life learning and which I have not used in the last two years.

Visual Basic/VBA 1.0-6.0
VisualAge for Java
Visual Cafe for Java
Visual C++
Delphi 1.0-4.0
Windows 3.1/95/98/NT 4.0/
MAC System 5-9
Novell NetWare
LAN Manager
O’Reilly’s WebSite
FrameMaker SDK
Adobe InCopy/InDesign SDK
Lotus 1-2-3 (with macros)
Lotus Symphony
Freelance Graphics
Quattro Pro
Ashton Tate DB3
Quark Xpress
Harvard Graphics
Storyboard Live!
DOS 3-6 (with memory configuration)

My father told me a joke once. It goes like this:

An automobile mechanic sends a bill to a customer for $500. The customer complains, “you had my car for 1 hour and you charge me this? I pay my doctor less for an office visit.”

The mechanic responds, “Well your doctor only needs to know how to work on two models, and they don’t change from year to year.”

I can relate. When it comes to coding, there are some days when Medical School looks really, really good.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bob,

I don't see Fortran or COBOL on this list. Those are the first two programming languages I had the pleasure to learn! Ahh the memories.


4:43 AM  

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