Curves Ahead and You Have No Brakes. What Do You Do?

“One day I feel – I’m ahead of the wheel and the next it’s rolling over me. I can get back on. I can get back on.”
— Neil Peart, Far Cry, Snakes & Arrows, 2007

There comes a day, when decisions must be made with regards to what you need to abandon, and what you need to pursue. Back in 1988 when I started my professional IT career, it was a much simpler time. You were either a PC person or a mainframe person (Yes, I know about the midrange world and the UNIX world, but the former were essentially mainframe wannabees, and the latter was for scientific research). Within the realm of the PC, you had to know DOS, Lotus 123, & dBase at the base level. Then a language – probably C, Pascal, and/or Basic (more than likely all three if you were really good). Your topics of hot debate were MS Word (on its way up) vs. Wordstar (on it’s way down) vs. WordPerfect (the current leader). Again, it wasn’t too hard to be productive in all three – but all that would change quickly.

Nowadays, if you decided to go the tech route in the “tech vs. business vs. sales” decision you made a few years ago, and the developer/architect route in the “geek vs. suit” battle a few months ago – you know your road is still not set. You will have to make life-changing decisions every year for the rest of your career, as opposed to a only a handful of times in your entire career for the previous generation. Your ability to maintain value as your life moves forward, is dependent upon staying ahead of the demand curve for your skill-set.

But it’s actually not just the techies that have it difficult. Enterprise Architecture has the TOGAF vs. Zachman vs. a score of other frameworks. Project managers have the Agile vs. Waterfall (aka the “Never Deliver” model) – and within Agile you have the whole XP, Scrum, Crystal, et al. argument. Every camp has its volatile, religious debate – and in every camp, eventually, you have to make a decision. Knowing that just like the decision you made earlier today in switching lanes during bumper-to-bumper traffic led to that other lane leaving you behind – you have to make that leap of fate even though it always appears to leave you in the slow lane.

Part of the issue is that we live too long. Yes, that’s right, we live too long. There is a good portion of us that will be working well into our 60s and possibly longer. 30 years from now, I guarantee you, there won’t be the J2EE vs. .Net debate. With the rate of progression that we’re experiencing (estimated at about 2x), we’ll see 60 years of progress over the next 30 years. So the delta from today to 2037 is approximately the delta from 1947 to 2007, not 1977 to 2007 – and it won’t involve any of the things we know today.

Prognostication has to become one of your core skills. Knowing what comes next makes your transition from the last-big-thing, to the next-big-thing – much more seamless. I’m too late for the J2EE/.Net/SOA revolution. I was early for Java, but got side tracked onto other things. I was spot on for Ruby and Rails, and have a chance still capture that – but there’s another wave coming. There’s always another wave. That’s the one I’m gonna catch. Then, I’ll be ahead of the wheel – at at least until it rolls over me.

So what have I picked for my next knowledge investment? 🙂 We’ll talk about that soon.