Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Tale of Two Techies

You've just finished learning MS SQL 4.2 and VB 5 in school. You get a job with a company that has just upgraded to those languages. You get to learn the ins and outs of the languages along with the rest of your co-workers.

Two years later you want to upgrade from your entry-level salary. You know that big raises only come from job hopping, and you see that most of the job ads are for VB6, so you start studying it on your own. You find some cool new things you think would help in your current job and start pushing people to upgrade.

Your tech lead, Bob -- who has been with the company for seven years -- says the current applications are stable and it's not worth the cost to upgrade. The boss listens to Bob instead of you. You say bad things about Bob on an internet forum.

You find a new contract gig working with VB6, and making almost as much as Bob does. Boy, Bob sure is dumb. If he had any balls he'd have jumped already. You start racking up frequent-flyer miles chasing the next gig. Bob evaluates and recommends a new third-party tool that uses VB6. He gets a VB6 class for his whole staff included in the project cost.

Five years later, you're a .NET hired gun and you know which airports have the best frequent-flyer clubs. You've got a fat bank account and all the best buzzwords on your resume.

Bob is still with the same company, but now he's the IT Director. He's not making as much as you, but he's vested and his 401 is looking pretty good. He hasn't touched any code in a couple of years, but has a few long-term employees working for him whose opinions he trusts. He also hasn't answered an after-hours page for a few years.

You meet Bob on a street corner one day and talk about old times, catch up on what's been happening. Suddenly a car jumps the curb and puts you both in the hospital. Oops.

You were smart enough to get good medical insurance, but your income stops since you're not billing hours any more. Bob goes on medical leave. His wife takes his two children out of junior high and comes in to visit. Your pregnant wife comes in to visit. (You spent your twenties traveling, so are just starting your family.)

Three months later, Bob goes back to work part-time while you sit at home, surfing the net, searching for a gig that will give you the flexibility you need to work around your physical therapy.

By the end of the year, your savings are gone. Microsoft has released the Next Big Thing after .NET, and you don't have any work experience with it on your resume. You're applying for maintenance gigs on "legacy" apps -- two-year-old .NET apps written by guys straight out of school, who just left for their first not-entry-level jobs. Maybe in another year or two you'll be able to climb back onto the leading edge.

Bob just accepted an internal transfer to run the division he's been supporting for the last decade. He recommends as his replacement the long-term employee who filled in for him during his absence. The last division head held the job for 15 years until his retirement. Bob could do the same, and retire with a decent pension when he's 60.

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