Being a Tech Newbie: Insights into the Dark Arts by Paul Lindop

Some musings on entering a world where DNS and SEO are omnipresent TLAs, Ruby is your best friend and if myths are to be believed hipsters drive the new economy!

Background – I am in my mid-50s and have worked for 30+ years in the upstream oil & gas industry, starting out as a reservoir engineer/simulator – hard core big main frame stuff – and working my way through numerous departments into senior management positions – lots of reading pdf versions of other people’s work on my tablet and occasionally getting my hands dirty with a graph in a spreadsheet.

Latterly my work had gone from full time staff to independent consultant and non-exec portfolio career.  With the oil price crash I had decided to take my portfolio beyond oil & gas and pushed my network into new areas, which is how I find myself writing this article and being a sweat equity director in an IT/Tech B2B start-up, running a Tech Entrepreneurs Club and feeling like part of the new scene – sort of! 

Can I fit in – I am a lapsed coder after all?

The world I was entering was for me personified by one of my godsons, young, hipster and web based.  Just about my only overlaps are that I was once that young and I like coffee!  How could I possibly hope to break into this world?

Back in the day we called it programming and yes, I did a lot of mine using punch tape and cards in Fortran. As an engineering student in the late 70’s early 80’s we could often be seen with our stack of cards heading down to the computing department to offer up our hard work to the geek who would feed them to the mainframe, all the time hoping that we wouldn’t be the student who tripped and dropped their card stack on a windy day!  Never was a rubber band more critical in academia!

Mercifully things moved on and access to mainframes and terminals became the norm for engineers and we entered the digital card-free world of programming – but still resolutely in Fortran – none of this object oriented stuff that came later.  I still remember one of our tasks was to write a programme that given any date would give you the day of the week.  I enjoyed the logic of programming so I set about it that very night.  It worked, but because I hadn’t waited to learn about sub routines, it was about 10 times as long as it needed to be.  I was an engineer, as long as it worked it didn’t need to be elegant, especially in the digital world where you could have 100 extra lines of code and not think of the impact, whereas if you were having to carry an extra 100 cards there was a disaster in the making.  A theme that will be repeated.

By the mid 80’s I had used my first PC – an early Apple as I remember it – and used my first spreadsheet – Lotus 1-2-3.  The slippery slope from “coder” to app user had started.  As a Reservoir Engineer I still dabbled in the dark arts for a while, as reservoir simulators required a lot of pre and post processing before they yielded the results on the fan-fold green and white truth paper.  Computers never lied and that’s when Floppies Flopped!

PCs were great – they were personal, they freed you up from being linked to the mainframe and let you spend endless hours tweaking and reworking spread sheets and documents! Because they were just digital representations of what you previously had to think about and plan ahead for, you were drawn into the “what if” mentality and endless equally useless revisions of the same thing.  The ever expanding amount of memory and storage you could house under your desk further encouraged this – digital shelves didn’t groan under the weight, they just soaked it up.  As I now know, this isn’t even under your desk now – the Cloud has taken it away to the farm somewhere else.

Today I am in the Apple clan – iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air and home docking station with cloud storage – an easy life where I carry the minimum weight when I travel and 99% of the time it all synchronises without me worrying about it and gives me a good UX.  I still use spread sheets and word processors, but I am an App User not a coder.  Has this held me back in my new career?  I don’t think so.

Tech is all very well, but it has to be a business.  Because I have that distance from the Tech itself, my value add as a Non-Exec or Board Advisor is the same as any other sector I work in – I bring Objectivity and a focus on Strategic Delivery. 

So, back to that question:

Can I fit in – I am a lapsed coder after all?

Yes – it is perfectly possible to fit into the team and the IT/Tech culture.  Be clear on what you bring to the table, ask WTF? when they drop another TLA on the table and get stuck in!!

Next time I’ll take a look at the IT/Tech Ecosystem – random or what?

Contact Details

Paul’s Linkedin Profile: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/paullindop

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First published on Company Connecting August 2016

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