(The following post originally appeared on the New Relic Blog)
Call to me, call to me, lands far away,
For I must now wander this wandering day.
Away I must wander this wandering day.
. – Poppy Proudfellow, “The Rings of Power”
It’s no secret that I derive a special kind of joy from finding lessons for my life and work in tech within pop culture – and specifically “geeky” movies, tv series, books, and more. With Amazon’s “The Rings of Power” season one reaching its conclusion, there was zero chance I wasn’t going to dig into it with zeal to see what this Tolkien (or at least Tolkien-inspired) work might hold.
While it should be obvious, it still ought to be stated explicitly: this post will contain direct references, quotes, and insights from the series. As such, there will be spoilers galore. If you haven’t seen “Rings of Power” yet and would prefer your viewing experience to remain unsullied, feel free to bookmark this blog and return to it later.
One of the bigger complaints about the series was the pacing. Despite the name, the titular rings didn’t even make an appearance until extremely late in the series. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with Tolkien’s written work, it nevertheless stands in contrast to other sweeping, world-building, epic narratives we’ve become used to seeing in other cinematic universes.
Despite dissimilarity to other movies or series, it definitely resembles life in IT. The hero (that would be you) doesn’t pop into the story like a Harfoot hiding from a couple of big folk, only to take on mysterious magical baddie two scenes and one training montage later. No matter how much you think life (and school) has prepared you, you will still discover there are moments or situations where you feel like you know nothing. There will be many, MANY characters that come in and out of the scene. You won’t remember all their names, or their roles. You will make mistakes—some of which you will be able to fix yourself, but many that will require help. If you are lucky, you will find a mentor. You will be shocked to discover that not only does this mentor NOT know everything, but they will learn as much from you as you do from them.
Like the Rings of Power, let your IT career take your time. Get to know the ever-widening cast of characters. Understand how you fit – not only in the epic story you’re the center of, but also the equally epic stories of the people around you. Let the plot line of your journey build slowly.
In the mythology of the Rings of Power, “far-seeing” implies the ability to predict what is coming far more than it means visual acuity, and is tightly bound up with Tolkien’s conceptualization of wisdom. It’s not hard to see (#SeeWhatIDidThere #OopsIDidItAgain) how this translates to tech. The ability to predict what may happen next—whether that’s in terms of how the current project will go or which tech trends will win out–is a function of experience and observation far more than it is a demonstration of raw intellect or technical prowess.
But a moment with Tar Palantir, the old kind of Numenor, highlights how far-sightedness (not to mention striving to be “a visionary”) can be as much a failing as anything. In speaking of his use of the Palantiri,the seeing stones that would show visions of far-away places, the king says, “I looked for too long, and now I cannot separate what is from what was; what was from what will be.”
It’s a fantastic reminder to IT practitioners about the necessity of remaining grounded, of spending time in the here-and-now. It’s a cautionary quote about how we can lose ourselves (and our careers, and our credibility) if we spend too much time trying to be a so-called “thought leader”.
That’s it. That’s the entire insight. If you don’t get this from watching Disa, Nori, and Bronwyn as well as Miriel and Galadriel, then you need to go back and watch again.
With eight episodes in the series, you had better believe I’ve got more thoughts to share. But this seems like enough of a meal for one sitting, even if you have a Hobbit-sized appetite. Until our paths cross again…