I’m sure this isn’t a new analogy (but because I want to write it I won’t Google it to see exactly how unoriginal it is), but when talking to my wife about my career as a software developer, the day job, I described myself as a Google developer and not a Wikipedia one.
A large percentage of the people I’ve worked with in IT (be they in development, or system administration, or whatever) have had a degree in IT and are what I’m referring to as Wikipedia developers. They are people who have a set of knowledge and apply it to their problem (generally quite effectively).
I described myself as a Google developer because I don’t have the degree, and while I have a fair bit of knowledge, I don’t have a set of any given language which I “speak” fluently to solve a problem. What I have is enough knowledge of the various ways a problem might be solved, and a baseline understanding of how to find out how to utilize a given technology to solve the problem. I’m also a pretty good problem solver.
Wikipedia is a large pile of knowledge which can be used. Google is access to a much larger pile of knowledge, but you’ve got to work a bit harder to use it, and it’s a different skill set being able to find it. I think I’m Google (though I’ve also answered to “vast repository of useless knowledge” as well… so maybe the analogy breaks down… they all do don’t they?)
I think this means two things for me professionally.
A) my resume doesn’t look as good as I’d like it. I can’t say “I’m an X developer” and get a job doing that. Once I’m in a job (as I am now, and have done in the past) I tend to be able to prove myself useful because even though I’m not the star player on a team, I can be the super-sub utility guy who can help solve a lot of different problems.
B) I’m not as fast in solving any given problem because each time I’m faced with an issue I have to work out some random syntax issue to get a given technology to do what I want. But in the end I can usually solve the problem.
Ideally I’d like to be both; fluent in a language or three, without losing the ability to search out information as needed. I’ve known a few of those IT people as well.
After reading this article I sent it off to a couple of my friends, a brief back and forth ensued and I wanted to flesh out some of the thoughts I had re: this piece. Here’s what I posted to my tumblr (tumblog, whatever that thing is called).
I have a, I’m sure fairly standard, case of middle-class angst over my career. I don’t hate what I do, but it’s not really what I want to do (though I’ll admit that seems to be a moving target. I’m unsure if that’s because I’m simply wishy-washy, or because I haven’t stepped out of the rat race and really followed a dream full force, or because some dreams don’t take up an entire lifetime, or something else)… and I don’t want to get caught in that trap of working so hard to advance a career I don’t care about, but I don’t want to stagnate where I am. And, with kids/wife/mortgages it’s not like I’m currently in a position of reasonably quitting the day job and pursuing something I’m “passionate” about.
So, what to do? It’s not like this isn’t a question millions of other people ask themselves. I’m fairly certain it’s a question a high-percentage of those people never really answer though (not that I’m answering it either, so not casting judgement). Once our society moved past the “oh crap I’m starving to death/oh look lions want to eat me” stage it seems we let ourselves vacillate between mindless entertainments to fill our time, or foolish hopes in a nebulous “paradise” to reward ourselves after death. There’s no great here-after where I’ll get to spend days making puppets, writing novels, baking cakes, acting, talking about science/philosophy/art, or making music, so if I’m going to do the things I love it has to be here and now. But the family does have to eat, so ya know… fairly standard pre-middle-age middle-class angst
PS: I’m also well aware that it’s a luxurious question to get to ask. I realize I’m unspeakably lucky to have been born as a white male (with all the advantages that alone provides), and in this century (OK technically I was born last century, but you know what I mean), in a first world country with a piles of technology, in a middle-class family with reasonable education opportunities, passable intelligence, and decent health. So don’t take this as misunderstanding how lucky I really am. I think there is a certain responsibility to not waste the lucky opportunities afforded me by where and when I was born, while not living in such a way as to take away some of those opportunities from others less fortunate.