(This originally appeared on THWACK.com)
I was a sucker for Windows CE (or WinCE, as we mobile enthusiasts called it). I spent hours with my WinCE devices. I owned 3 of them (1 purchased on ebay long after the sun had set on that tragically short-lived OS). I sang their praises. I showed them off to friends.
Looking back, I can write those hours off as a complete loss.
Recently, Seth Godin made a comment in this blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/11/the-end-of-the-future.html) which caught my attention:
“it turns out that this thing, the thing we have now, is worth working with, because it offers so many opportunities compared with merely waiting for the next thing.”
This is a very important idea for IT pros to come to terms with. As Berkely Brethed noted back in 1984: “Hackers, as a rule, do not handle obsolescence well.”
To extend Seth’s idea, learning “it” may be the wasted time that leads to an actual measurable skill.
Or to quote another famous artist (Randall Munroe of XKCD), that one weekend you spend messing with Perl may turn out to be far more useful than you imagine, years later:
However, that’s not my point. We spend time learning skills today with the express intent (or at least hope) that they will end up being more useful (or at least measurably useful) down the road. What happens when they don’t? And what happens when you have several skills, hard-won with hours of dedication, which turn out to be utterly, completely useless?
More to the point, how do we – those who dedicate our time learning complex skills in the hope it will help us succeed – how do we reconcile the fact that all that time we took actually pulled us AWAY from learning some other skill that might have turned out to be more useful?
Spend a few years in IT and dozen or so false starts, and one may be inclined to look at every new trend and think “I’ll wait and see if this pans out to anything. Let some other guy do all the heavy lifting.”
Why bother learning python. I spent all that time learning Perl, and now it’s good for not much. Ditto Turbo Pascal. And WordPerfect. And CorelDraw. And Token Ring. And dBase III, and FoxPro, and Paradox.
But I think that’s a mistake. Not the idea of letting some trends pass go on without us being on the bleeding edge. We all have to budget our time. But in the attitude that the reason we’re letting it pass by is because it will ultimately either:
A) Fail, or
B) be replaced by version NEXT-dot-zero which will be so much better that we may as well wait for THAT to get here.
The truth is that learning “it” may take away from time better spent learning but the simple act of getting into something, being excited about it, falling in love with it (warts and all) is what feeds the soul of many a lifelong IT enthusiast. It keeps us ready for the next generation (which will undoubtedly be better and of course we will LOVE it even more than we love this).
Perl and Pascal and WordPerfect and Token Ring and all the rest? They were all worth it. Not just because it taught me stuff that makes me better at using today’s stuff (which it does) but because it was worth it in its own right. It had value. It was worth the investment even though I can see now how temporary it was.
There’s a phrase in Hebrew: “Gam ze ya’avo” – “This, too, shall pass”. It is a double-edged sword of a phrase which can give hope (this bad situation won’t last forever) and at the same be a sobering reminder (this good thing won’t be around forever, either).
When you are wrestling with technology fatigue, it’s important to remember “this, too, shall pass.”. Dive in and bask in it if you want. Or sit this one out, but do it not out of fear of obsolescence, but rather so that you are ready for the next one.