In praise of the Silver Surfer
Honouring the unsung IT heroes
By Mark Gibbs | Network World US | Published: 12:45, 03 October 2011
Well, much to my amusement I recently discovered that there's a new name for Internet users in my age group: We are now called "Silver Surfers" (with apparently no nod to Marvel and its superhero of the same name).
Yep, we of the SS... wait, that doesn't sound good... er, we SSers (nope, that's not much better)... um, we Online Baby Boomers (OBBs ... yeccch), that is to say, those of us born between 1946 and 1964 who use the Internet, are a huge cohort.
And those of us Silver Surfers who have, in particular, been in the Information Technology world, have also been through the mill: We were around to grapple with mainframes and we were there to wrestle with minicomputers. We know punched paper tape from punch cards. We know what green bar paper is. We've mounted mag tape and manhandled diskpacks the size of hat boxes (if any of that makes no sense to you, dear reader, you aren't a Silver Surfer).
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We Silver Surfers tamed PCs when they put in an appearance, and we built local area networks out of them with what today looks like baling wire, chewing gum and hope.
Even better, we made the Internet explosion happen and then we enjoyed the Internet Bubble and were dismayed when it burst. We have been around the block and we've been back again.
And from all that experience we have wound up with complex, rich skillsets derived from decades of hacking (the good kind) every piece of gear put in front of us, as well as from building every kind of systems and subsystems you can think of, along with coding, debugging, tracing, analysing, documenting and wrangling the barely wrangleable.
In short, we are IT heroes. Hell, we're business heroes... or rather we should be.
But the reality is that despite our unarguable chops and our glorious histories, the Silver Surfers are often looked at as "past it" (or maybe that should be "past IT"). The truth is that we are anything but.
Sure, you can bring in Young Turks with all sorts of qualifications. They can have an MCTS, MCITP, Oracle OCA/OCP, CCNA, RHCE, CISSP, CET, CWNA, LPI, SCJP, CIW, MOS, PM or an ABCDEFGHIJK but seriously what do they know?
On the other hand, what many Sliver Surfers have that the Young Turks don't have is "insight". That almost magical ability to see the architecture of systems and processes and how they relate to business along with their opportunities and flaws.
Most of the young 'uns take one look at an existing infrastructure and the first thing that occurs to them is to tear it all down and start again. The Sliver Surfers are different, they grok that there's a working machine to be dealt with and that when you interfere with something in the enterprise world that is functional, no matter what problems it may have, you risk business meltdown.
Nope, the Young Turks most often want to rebuild from the ground up rather than face the realities of business which are, essentially, that money has been invested and instituting wholesale change is equivalent to tearing the business apart. If they were dealing with a car this would be like replacing the engine when what you're trying to do is fill the tank.
One of the things I know from some of my Silver Surfer IT friends is that this economy hasn't been kind to them. These are guys who have incredible technical abilities and if they haven't architected it, they coded it, and if they didn't do that, they most likely project managed it.
But over the years they have become almost too knowledgeable. They can't work for some guy half or even two thirds their age who doesn't have a clue. They really do know the answers or, if they don't, they know how to do the analysis to find out.
And when the Young Turks pick the latest and, in the opinion of the salesman they dealt with, greatest solution and ignore that the Silver Surfers who actually know BS when they see it and smell it, it's a standoff. Age against energy, knowledge versus belief, warranted cynicism over reckless enthusiasm and ultimately, pearls before swine.
So, if you are a CxO who gets to deal with IT in any way, keep in mind that the Silver Surfers may be old and wrinkled, they may be unwilling to work 16 hours a day, they may (occasionally... well, maybe often) be cranky and even rude when they think you're talking crap but, you know what? If they think you are talking crap when it comes to IT, then you probably are and they are probably right.
The Silver Surfers have been there and back, around the block and up at the pointy end. And if you listen to them they'll save you money, waste far less time and make your life easier.