Friday, September 16, 2011, AM | 3 Comments
In the January/February 2009 issue of Base-Line magazine, there is an article By Skip Stein published 2009-01-12 about geeks in general and old geeks in particular. The main thrust of the article concerns “Older professionals could hold the key to creating more stable, durable software.” The name geek is mostly applied to people working in IT profession.
Some of the older geeks – those who created billions upon billions of COBOL and PL/1 code – are still working in mainframe computers – sometimes called Big Iron. They worked with behemoth machines that filled the basement rooms of financial institutions and industrial complexes.
Where are they now?
Though many are retired – or are close to retiring – most are still out there, managing their own companies or consulting. Many hold responsible senior positions in almost every industry, which means they no longer code.
These older geeks possess the business and systems knowledge developed and integrated into computer systems for the past 50 years. Granted there are still newer employees working in these areas, but the core of the profession is increasingly diminishing.
“Control, Alt, Delete” came with the advent of PC. It means when things go wrong, restart the computer. Sure, these systems are much easier to use, and they integrate with the World Wide Web.
However, they are prone to crashes – not only for the fact that they are connected to the rest of the world, but also because of the software they are running under. They are vulnerable to virus and hacker attacks because security is often not built into the basic design, but is considered an add-on – one that often fails.
So what can be done?
The article further states “Combine the old COBOL and PL/I and other older code sets with today’s Web-based and Java code – not to mention the firmware code that makes the computer processors function – and we may have two or three trillion lines of code in the world today.”
“This is where the old geeks are an essential resource. Their experience with systems – especially older systems – is critical to the worldwide infrastructure that they continue to maintain. As these old geeks retire, we must either train new geeks in the old code structures or replace trillions of lines of code – an almost impossible task for the near future.”
But at what cost?
“We must change our acceptance of the “Control, Alt, Delete” world. We need reliable, bulletproof systems to run the nation’s computer infrastructures and its financial and communications networks. It’s obvious that this must be done, but at what cost?”
This will make the Y2K software fix seem like a dime-store project. Plus, it will take time, and time is a luxury that many of our old geeks do not have in abundance.
Can the old geeks do it efficiently?
These old pros clearly understand how computer technology systems were, and are, developed. They have the background and knowledge that’s needed to develop stable, reliable computer architecture. And they can train and lead others.
Should we plan now to utilize the experienced resources that are still available and develop a road map to replace the older technology with a flexible, but stable and reliable technology that the old geeks understand and can deliver? Should we bring back some of them out of retirement who are willing to take up on this huge task?
In a Nutshell
When it comes to technology, experience counts. The old geeks have all the experience we can utilize. Bring them back. Business cannot afford to wait because more and more of these geeks are looking toward retirement.