Anyone remember 2001?


Being honest, writing software is hardly at all similar to firefighting, stuntsmanship, deep-sea diving, or steeplejackery. Aside from the lack of uniforms (and basic standards of fitness, natch) there’s relatively few times at which we’re called to question our own mortality.This week, alas, was one such time for me – it’s been exactly 10 years since I started working here.

10 years seems an awfully long time to stick with the same job in IT. That’s a decade – nearly a third of my life. In my first decade I went from a useless, crying, vomiting ball to a walking, talking human being with an aptitude for maths. (Ignore the cruel souls who say I’ve since reverted somewhat.)

What’s changed since 2001? The biggest change, from a work perspective, was definitely the takeover of my original employer four years ago. This marked quite a shift in many aspects – the two companies had quite different approaches to software, business, and working practices. It wasn’t easy to make this shift (and I could write more than one blog post on that subject alone), but a lot has changed both here and in the wider corporate environment. Most fundamentally, I still find myself working in a dynamic, risk-taking, fast-moving office, keen to innovate and push our software as far as it can go.

Sycophancy aside, lots more has changed – most importantly, surely, the fact that my desk is now roughly 150% larger than it was when I started. I also have 300% more monitors, and 500% more processor cores.

For the list-oriented amongst my readers, here are some stats. Since 2001 I have:

  • changed desk 4 times;
  • had 8-ish new computers;
  • worked on 10 different operating systems;
  • worked almost entirely on 1 product;
  • dabbled in 4 others;
  • seen 5 major releases;
  • seen dozens of minor ones;
  • been key in implementing Agile development in our team;
  • learned more about microbiology than I ever did in education;
  • published one paper;
  • changed operating system loyalty exactly once.

Personally, I have:

  • got married once;
  • had two kids;
  • learned to drive;
  • owned 4 cars, which I have driven roughly 80,000 miles;
  • bought a house;
  • spent about 3.5% of nights in a tent;
  • dressed up as a giant wasp-demon in Trafalgar square;
  • drunk about 4000 cups of coffee at work;
  • learned the Programmer Dvorak keyboard layout;
  • still not figured out how to use the phones at work.

Conversely, I have not:

  • changed my principal programming language (still good old C++);
  • used PowerPoint except under extreme duress;
  • started wearing a tie.

The world, of course, has seen:

  • three Prime Ministers;
  • two American Presidents;
  • too many wars;
  • the explosion of social media, wikipedia, twitter, and facebook;
  • nine series of Big Brother UK.

What keeps a programmer in the same job for so long? Whatever it is, it clearly exists in this office. Of the eight people in the room when I started, five of us have lasted a decade here.

For me, it’s the combination of a genuinely interesting subject matter, combined with the levels of respect, investment and enthusiasm which allows us to innovate. We don’t blandly follow Waterfall-model style specifications, but are encouraged to have an opinion and interfere at every stage of the product lifecycle. I think that’s vital both for a research-oriented product, and for a motivated team of programmers.

Plus there’s the not-wearing-a-tie thing.

What excitement does the next ten years hold? Will we have flying cars, personal jetpacks and space hotels? Anti-ageing pills, a complete understanding of the human genome, and a definitive mass for the Higgs boson? A cure for cancer? An end to war, hunger and suffering?

Well, I have a phone that can stream films from the internet, an eBook which holds the complete works of both Shakespeare and JK Rowling, and a twitter account that tells me when my favourite celebrities are having lunch … so I guess anything’s possible. See you then.

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About north5

Software developer, larper, father.
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