Working at a large technology company I’m familiar with the “graying” of IT. While often public perspective on “technology” is skewed by the Kevin Rose‘s of the world in enterprise situations it’s often much different.
It’s not uncommon to start a job as the only “new hire” around, surrounded by people who’ve been working in their respective fields for 20-30 years. It’s an intimidating position to be in, necessitating a certain type of individual, and I’ve seen many people make that transition (or transition out).
I’ve heard that you can live a thousand lifetimes through books, but I’ve lived at least that many years through the stories of my colleagues. My first officemate could disassemble HEX in his head faster then I could look up mnemonics and I’ve learned about life, as well as IT, from him and many since.
The phrase “There’s a lot of history here” has a particular place in my field and those who don’t learn from the history of others are doomed to repeat it.
However, I have felt at times that the “oldsters” could afford to let some of us “young’ens” have a chance. I don’t mean to imply they should “step aside”, simply provide better opportunities for “us” to learn and try. Learning involves making mistakes but often there’s not enough of a “penalty free” environment in day to day office politics. Slate has a business perspective on this situation though their view of age-ism is the inverse of mine.
I sometimes worry we’re creating a void, where those “too young” won’t be qualified (i.e. have the same opportunities and experience of their predecessors) to take over from those who will be retired in 5-10 years. I think the rise of the “still going” businessperson is probably one of the factors driving the shifts in innovation and entrepreneurship we’re seeing today.
A few weeks ago, during dinner, I expressed this feeling to a colleague who’s been in the business a long time, predominantly on the sales side. What I got was one of those tidbits of history and insight that makes me appreciate the wisdom of the years. He looked at me and in effect said “you’ll be fine” but what convinced me the most was what he said next;
We’ve had some rough years and back when it got really rough and all the talent had left, they threw us green guys out in the field. And you know what? You learn, you learn real fast.
Sink or swim, trial by fire… sometimes I wish life didn’t have to be so binary, but the reminder that no true opportunity can every really be cushioned is priceless.