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Avoiding Oblivion in Your Tech Career

by Michael Havey, author of Essential Business Process Modeling
10/31/2005

Where are you headed in your technology career? If Shakespeare is correct in his renowned soliloquy on the seven phases of life in As You Like It, you stand to lose your sense of taste, your eyesight, and your teeth. Life moves quickly for the technologist: one day, you're a reticent rookie whose broken code generates core dumps; the next, you are the center of attention and the slickest talker in the design review session. But ultimately, you fade into old age and fall apart like some antiquated IT system: a curious relic with no value and in need of maintenance.

Let's walk though the Shakespeare passage to get a better idea of how all of this "shakes out." To begin:

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.

On the technology stage, indeed, people come and go, playing different roles at different times. Look around your office and ask yourself: who are those people, what do they do, and where are they going next?

The first two phases on this stage describe (in picturesque language familiar to every parent) the tentative, volatile nature of the junior techie (the "junior developer" or "associate consultant"), who requires a lot of babysitting:

At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms. And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school.

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By the third phase, the techie has grown up, but remains idealistic about technology and perhaps has fallen in love with it. This phase often begins about three to four years into a career, and describes the "intermediate developer" or "senior consultant."

And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress' eyebrow.

A combative, righteous edge forms after eight to ten years. Like a soldier, the "technical architect" or "principal consultant," well-versed and razor sharp on the latest technical doctrine, fights a holy war of ideas:

Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon's mouth.

Our actor, by about the fifteenth year (now an "enterprise architect" or a "senior principal"), mellows and becomes the voice of reason on a project: strong on fundamentals, a leader and an exemplar, respected even by the soldier:

And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part.

Sometime later, perhaps twenty years from "infancy" (now a "manager," or a "senior enterprise architect"), the technologist loses touch with the latest technological ideas and has little insight to offer. The respect evaporates; no one is listening:

The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side, His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound.

By the final phase, after twenty-five to thirty years perhaps (and who knows in what role), the actor has become as inconsequential as a second-rate rookie:

Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

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