Absurd: The Confession of an Older Technologist


Updated 20210820

I know that every young hot head out there thinks himself/herself a genius. He/she thinks that the older people don't know anything. The older people are out of touch. The older people just don't like change. I know this because I once thought the exact same way. Every novice thinks this, because every novice has no idea how much he/she does not know. Novices do not understand how much there is out there to be known!

Whatever it is you think you know, take a moment right now to admit to yourself and to the universe that you know nothing. You are just another big dumb animal. You're not alone in being a big dumb animal. All living things on this big ball of wet dirt are really stupid living things.

Now that we are all just a little humbler, I will share some stuff that I had to learn the hard way, because I was an arrogant little shit just like you.

College is a waste. I spent the time and money to go to college. My colleagues didn't. We worked the same jobs for roughly equivalent pay. Why is college a waste? Any remotely competent hacker can look at college and see the problem. It wasn't designed to be resilient. Education in the modern world is formed around testing. In the best circumstances possible, a test is meant to prove that you've learned the assigned material. Instead, testing really checks your short term memory. You cram before the test and boom you get a good grade the next day. The only issue there is that you might actually remember something if you cram. A good test taker knows that you need only memorize a few key things. If the professor said it more than once, that shit is on the test. If the professor stressed something in a lecture, that shit is on the test. You want something easier than that? Great. Find someone with last year's test and memorize that. You'll easily get an 80% since only a handful of questions will be changed (if any at all). College and university do absolutely nothing but generate expensive pieces of paper. The more elite the college, the more true this is. If you want an education, you can learn just about anything just about anywhere; all that is required is that you truly want to learn.

So, if college is a waste, how does one distinguish himself/herself and get the promotions and the raises and the like? Know your shit and do your fucking job. Do not be the guy who takes half measures. Do not just silence an alert. Do not just band-aid the problem. Do not show up late. Do not leave early. Do not take time off. Do not fib. Do not lie. When a new technology comes out, learn it. If you have old systems still in production, learn those. Be the person with the answer every time. Be the person who does the most work. This sounds ridiculous, and it sounds like you need to have no life, but that is what is required. The tech industries are over-saturated with absolutely brilliant people, and if you wish to stand out amongst a bunch of brilliant people, you must be better than they are. If you do not believe me, that's fine. I was hired at several very large companies specifically because the people they hired before me were liars, or because those people were too damn lazy. The bosses I had admitted as much.

Your newfangled tech stack or framework or language? It fucking sucks. It's an over-complicated mess. It won't replace C. It won't even replace Java. It certainly won't replace Bash. I am telling you right now, I don't care what it is. In 20 years, it will be just another odd piece of shit that some poor schmuck has to support and he/she will hate doing so. Your newfangled garbage is tomorrow's COBOL. You know how I know? I've seen it happen over and over and over. Your great new idea that this new thing encapsulates so well? It isn't new. Hypertext was thought up in the 60s. Video conferencing, GUIs, real-time collaborative document creation, and an operating system based around hypertext and networking were created and shown working in a demo in the 60s. A safe, modular, and concurrent programming language (Ada) suitable to mission critical or systems programming as well as application programming has been available since the 80s. There's even a subset (SPARK) where the tooling has formal verification of written code as a builtin feature. Whatever your idea is, it's been done, and it was most likely done better before you thought of it by someone else who is now retired or dead. The tech industry is riddled with people remaking someone else's work poorly. It's not your fault that you didn't know that there was already a solution to the problem out there. You're a novice. The marketing and religious fervor of the new crap is why it is presently more successful. Because of this, we will always have more and worse languages, more and worse frameworks, more and worse technologies. Never underestimate the marketing.

You want to know something worse? All of our technology is unmaintainable and doomed to failure. Our entire technological civilization is about 15 minutes away from a total technological collapse at any given point in time. You don't believe me? All of our code is flawed. Just look at the number of known vulnerabilities in any database of them. Every project is terrible. Our software ecosystem is full of code projects so complex that no one person can possibly understand them, and therefore we can confirm neither that they do what they are supposed to nor that they aren't vulnerable to someone knocking on the right door. Imagine the implications of this! If that weren't bad enough, no one seems to care so they plod right along releasing new major versions of stuff every single year! With this rate of code generation, not only is it impossible to have sent the stuff through QA, it isn't even possible to know all of the changes made! All of our software is bad. All of our hardware is bad. All of it could fail any day, any time. The more complex a system, the higher the likelyhood of failure. We are one script kiddie away from a global tech collapse. Sleep easy.

Whatever your new UI is, it sucks. People don't do focus groups anymore. They don't ask the public anymore. They just make a new UI that "looks nice" and they shove it down everyone's throats. People are neither buying nor using the latest new thing because they like it. They use it due to the network effect. If they wish to interact with the world, they have to use this new and more awful technology. The old crap that was slightly less bad because it had been around long enough to be patched is now only used by mouth-breathing neckbeards in their parents' basement, and no one wishes to interact with them.

Your beloved tech project, I don't care what it is, will eventually be so expensive to maintain due to ever-growing complexity that it will be rewritten. It will be remade, and it will be less functional, and it will be worse than what came before. This, I can guarantee you.

This leads us to one thing that is always markedly different about the old experienced technologists and the young starry eyed technologists. Older people just want something that works. They beg for it. They would cry and plead and pray to God for it if only they thought that would help. They'll use Windows 7 as a workstation OS at a webhost that was filled with BSD and Linux machines because if something breaks in Windows, you just reboot. In Linux, it will take you half a damn workday of troubleshooting your workstation, and then you still have to do more work on all of those servers. They will use iPads to do their work if they have to, because the iPad is designed to be harder to fuck up. They will use old, stable, and boring Linux distributions like Debian or Slackware, because those feel no need to be hip and exciting. They will hate stuff like modern Windows 10/11, macOS whatever, Arch Linux, or that African word for cannot configure Debian because those operating systems feel a desperate need to change for the sake of change. The young love to hate stable, boring, tried and true systems with proven track records. The young love to hate locked-down consumer tech. The old hate to love those same things.

The industry is a massive and complex system with no master, and all of us in it are powerless to stop it. No agile development methodoloy will save it. No new language will save it. No new tech stack will save it. No new buzz word will save it. Containers will not save it. Serverless will not save it. All of these things will just be additional stuff to have break and fail and add to the snowball of a problem.

An important question might be, is it worth saving really? Your phone, your smart speakers, your doorbells and your security cameras, your smart TV, and your in-vehicle smart systems are all spying on you. All of your network communications are monitored by your government. All of your online accounts are collecting data on every single action you take and make them available as a data set for purchase. Is this an industry worth saving? Probably not. The issue is, anything that may compete with this system is purchased for sums so large very few people may ever resist.

A kind of permanent underclass is being created by these very same companies doing all of this spying and data harvesting and monitoring. Every person who is banned, canceled, or locked out of the payment networks... all of these people are effectively no longer people. The entire world is becoming one massive apartheid state, and the enforcement is not by governments directly but through the tech mega corporations. Should this industry be saved?

You want to know something worse? All those supposedly dumb, old, retired or dead people? They told us all about all of these issues. They warned all of us. They wrote books about how to avoid it all, and even gave us systems that avoided these issues. No one listened. Everyone thought that they knew better. Everyone was full of hubris. Many people think that technologists love computers and technology, but the older technologists hate computers and technology. We hate to hate it, but we hate it none the less.

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