The Real Question
One of the biggest lessons that my father and my two grandfathers gave me was:
“The real question is not ‘What do I know?’ but rather ‘How do I discover the answer?'”
I have fond memories of playing with my dad as a young boy. Sure, Dad and I did the traditional stuff like play P-I-G at the hoop in our driveway, or mow the lawn together. However, one of my reference memories was something I called “the dictionary game.”
Can you imagine playing a game with a dictionary?
Here’s how the dictionary game worked: Dad and I would sit in my bedroom with a dictionary between us, and we would take turns thinking up a word and challenging the other to find that word in the dictionary as quickly as possible. Our goal was to beat each other’s high score, as governed by a stopwatch. How much fun we had!
Years later, if you can believe it, my dorm mates at college lovingly ridiculed me for occasionally reading an unabridged dictionary for leisure (I went to Cornell University, so in my mind this behavior should not have been too unusual).
My paternal grandfather taught me the importance of research in two ways. One of grandpa’s favorite activities was to complete the local newspaper’s crossword puzzle each morning. He and I would oftentimes work on the puzzle together, consulting grandpa’s reference shelf whenever we needed some inspiration or to confirm a suspicion.
I suppose a crossword puzzle from the 1970s would be considered “vintage.”
My maternal grandfather was just as much of a reader and a research wonk as my paternal grandpa. However, Grandpa Cook put his theoretical knowledge into practice every single day. Whether he was broadcasting on his ham radio or building grandfather (haha) clocks in his shop, one fact remained the same: Grandpa was a dyed-in-the-wool autodidact. In other words, he taught himself as much, as he learned from other people in his life.
Okay, What’s Your Point?
My aim in sharing this personal information with you is that the intellectual curiosity that was instilled in my throughout my life (rooted not in pressure, but in love) has enabled me to have an immensely satisfying professional and personal life.
In my experience, when intellectual curiosity is channeled into a particular career endeavor, then you’ve got a recipe for great success.
I’m not saying that your genetics and childhood environment have to line up a certain way in order to succeed in IT — not at all. What I am saying is that unless information technology inspires you to become a perpetual student, then you might want to consider another career field.
Some people in my life who work outside of IT tell me, “I couldn’t stand working in your field, Tim. Technology moves so swiftly, and you always have to scramble to stay current. I guess I’m just not that interested.”
Thus, reading and research are central to a happy experience as a working IT professional.
Another nugget of wisdom my Grandpa Cook gave me was:
“You know you’re in the right line of work if you would do it even if you weren’t getting paid for it.”
As strange as it might sound, this is how I feel about information technology. Over the years I’ve known people who entered IT solely for the high income potential. A disappointingly large number of these people washed out of the industry shortly thereafter because they realized that unless you are “on fire” for tech, you will flounder in the work.
In my experience, IT is not a “punch the clock” type of career. You actually have to enjoy doing IT.
Students and other acquaintances sometimes ask me, “Tim, what is your IT specialization?” My response is that I am an IT generalist. I’m not devoted to, say, Microsoft OSs at the expense of OS X and Linux. In fact, I use all three operating system families on a daily basis. The same goes for mobile tech: I use an iPad, a Microsoft Surface RT tablet, and a Google Nexus 7 Android device.
In my humble opinion, prejudice against certain technologies reveals more about my fears and unwillingness to embrace change than it does any inherent wisdom or product knowledge.
The notion of “survival of the fittest” is directly applicable to all aspects of information technology.
If it’s technology, I’m in. Sure, I may have preferences one way or the other, but I believe that there is room for everyone and everything in the industry. If the tech works, then it will stick around. If it doesn’t work, then it will remove itself from the equation.
Tomorrow: Part 2