The Angry Old Technologist (AOT) has been around forever. They built the system that you are trying to change. They’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know about programming, hot shot. In short, you’re trying to change things, they’re yelling at you to get off their lawn.
Now, that’s not to say anyone with more then a few years of experience is a senior citizen. Nor that all criticism from people that share characteristics with this group.
Unlike last week’s character, the Angry Young Technologist (AYT), I don’t have experience being the AOT. At least I think I don’t. I’m fairly sure I’ve never been the one saying we absolutely shouldn’t change something. I may have argued against a particular change, or implementation, but not generalized change. Therefore, my thoughts here are more conjecture and inference than actual experience. Anyone who sees themselves in this description is welcome to set the record straight on anything I get wrong.
I was once at a conference where there was a Q&A with representatives from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and, of course Adobe. Someone got up and started talking about the current pace of change, and how every year all of us were coming out with more tools and technology. And he got angrier and angrier as he spoke, until he blurted out:
Why do you guys keep forcing me to learn new stuff?
And therein lies the key problem of the Angry Old Technologist: progress forces change; change forces them to learn; and they don’t want to.
Now, back when I was an AYT I never understood this. How can you hate to learn more things? As I get older, while I don’t resent learning new things, I can understand why you might.
I’m lucky, part of my job is to keep learning new things. Not all jobs build into them the need to learn new things. Most don’t. When you’re younger and have less responsibility, it’s not a huge deal, you can just spend your free time learning new things. As you get older, other concerns come in, like family, kids, housing, health care, retirement funds, school districts, PTAs ARRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH.
All that stuff, some of which people refer to as your real life, destroys your free time. When you’re young, and passionate about technology, that free time is where you spend long hours focusing and mastering new things. When you get older and attached, you don’t have that time. Learning goes from something you love to do and you can easily do because you have copious free time, to something you have to make time to do.
And that’s if you’re passionate about what you do. If not, you start as a young person having to spend time to play catchup. By the time your free time is gone, the idea of learning new things terrifies you because you don’t know when you’re going to do it, and you never know the worth as all technology has an expiration date.
Where does the anger come from? What do you get when you combine no time, with years of responsibility, the pressure to constantly learn new things, some of which may be “dead” before you even implement them, and fear of what happens when you fail? You get rage, pure and simple.
There is bad news here for the guy from the conference, and for all of the other AOTs: There is no stopping the change. We technology companies might impact, alter, or nudge the waves of changes. But ultimately we don’t control them; they are caused by too many disparate sources to be controlled, even if we wanted to.
So what do you do when you’re face to face with an AOT?
- Well they’re irrational, so you should ignore them. Didn’t you read my book?
- Learn from their knowledge of the current environment.
- Engage them and try to bring them onboard without patronizing them.
So what do you do when you’re face to face with an AOT… in the mirror?
- Accept that the future cannot be stopped.
- Accept that it’s okay you can’t grasp every new piece of technology.
- Be part of the change, which will eventually replace what exists now, instead of opposing it.
- But mostly stop being so angry.
So what do you do when you’re face to face with an AOT and they’re your employee?
- Build-in continuing education and skunkworks into employee goals.
This is a tough group, and they are some of the most resistant to change. They’re also tough because a lot of them end up in management. So avoid, if you can, defer if you can’t, and give them opportunities to save face along the way.