For the last week I’ve been posting on how you could do your own geek job guru work and help your career and how it’s a good part of geek citizenry. It is my true hope that you, my fellow geek, will seek to help others in their careers and indeed in their lives. I’d like you to coach, speak, and be a role model.
I want you to be the kind of person you could look up to if you were younger than . . . er . . . you.
There is, however a problem.
Also at some point you’re going to have to realize you’re going to have to change what kind of geek job guru you are. This is because no matter how good you are, smart you are, and helpful you are, the inevitable march of time is going to alter the value of what you know, how you communicate, and how relevant you are. When this change happens you need to catch it, or you’re going to end up giving the wrong advice and setting the wrong examples.
It’s part of being a good geek citizen . . . as well as not being out of touch and annoying (you can be annoying without being out of touch).
It may have happened to you already. You want to explain to someone about a job you once had, but that was so long ago your experience might not be relevant. You’d advise people on trying a career at a company – but that company has turned into corrupt black hole of lost dreams. You might not “get” everyone who comes to you for advice – when once it seems you understood everyone.
You realize, in short, that there’s these huge gaps, created by the march of time, that affect how you can help people. You can’t always get your guru on.
This doesn’t mean your past writings, previous witty sayings, or other brilliant examples are to be ignored by them. I’m sure that now and in the future you’ll leave many artifacts and writings people should pay attention to (hopefully not as a bad example). But at some point you’ll find that you’re not quite in touch with everything people need to know and everyone who comes to you, and you’re going to have to decide what to do.
Here’s the changes to expect.
You’re Out Of Date:
Some of your experiences, knowledge, and so forth may just end up no longer relevant. How you went to school, what you experienced, your career arc may simply be different from what anyone experiences anymore. You’re not so much outdated as the world is just different – and you can’t speak to some of the things your hopeful students and followersneed.
This is most likely to happen to some, not all of your good advice and your role-model-ness. I’m sure a lot of your life will still be relevant – but some of it won’t. You have to determine where this is and where the cutoff point is.
I think there’s little chance you’ll be “totally out of date” – you may always be good for general advice and as a good example. But you can’t confuse that with specific knowledge.
Personal Experience: My High School experience, from the 80’s, isn’t exactly relevant now. I’ve managed to pick up how things have changed, but I can’t speak of it from the gut.
Suggested Solution: Keep very aware of the “expiration date” of the important knowledge you “guru” on and do your best to keep up – and know when you just can’t speak and should point people at other resources.
You’re Ahead Of The Game:
The twin brother of being out of date is that your career may place you so far ahead of many people who come to you for advice. If you’ve been in a field for 20 years, how much can you do to speak to someone who’s just entering it? Can you relate – and can they?
As the ability to relate and connect is part of being a good coach and role model, you have to know when you just can’t bridge some gaps. The ability to bridge these gaps differs from person to person and situation to situation, but they are there. You, as the supposedly responsible one, have to know when you just can’t grok what other people experience – and/or vice versa.
Or if there’s a mutual grok lack.
This is just going to happen because you’re going to change and grow. It’s a very individual phenomena, and I’ve seen some people be able to avoid getting out of touch for considerable time, but also I think it’s inevitable – at some point you just can’t relate.
Personal Experience: This has snuck up on me, but I find as my professional life goes on, there’s gaps between how I connect with people professionally. I’ve managed to patch this up by keeping informed and connected, but I can see the gaps in my ability to understand say, being an entry level programmer on a gut level.
Suggested Solutions: This is one reason I’m glad I write is I leave records of things I can pass to people (and wish I did it earlier), so if you’re playing the guru game, write your heart out. Also staying informed and actively trying to connect with people will help mitigate this problem.
Some people can bridge the gap of years or decades, of multiple generations. Others try to talk to people a few years younger than them and worry they’ll suddenly accuse them of having the wrong music, dressing funny, having too many Pokemon, and ask them to get off their lawn. Sometimes we find we just can’t talk to people beyond a certain age bracket. This may happen to you.
This ability varies widely among people. I myself make an effort to be pop-culture and culture aware because of what I do and because I like to keep up on things. Not everyone else has the time and inclination, and I’m not going to blame you if you don’t. We all have limited time.
I find this isn’t as big a problem in the geek spheres, but it still happens – and I don’t know how many times I hear subtle grumblings across a twenty year gap of how “they don’t get us.” It’s also one that you can solve by keeping up.
Personal Experience: Bloody well all of it in the last ten years. I’m always encountering various generation and communication gaps, mostly as I seem to be one of the people who naturally bridges them. It’s like being a translator.
Suggested Solutions: You have to make a decision (usually conscious but some people do it automatically or by accident) to keep up on communications and cultural differences among different age groups. I also find that this helps bridge other gaps because you’re more aware.
I’m technical support. A lot. You probably know how that feels when your friends and family ask for help and you get a mixture of frustrated because it’s so simple to use a command line, and feeling good you can help.
Then of course, professionally, you realize these young folks know far more than you do about various things and you’re hosed if your family ever meets one of them as you’ll look like an idiot.
The Technology Gap can sneak up on you in a lot of ways. Popular tools fade, or evolve into giant software colossi that you can barely understand. Cars have their own computers, cell phones are really tablets with self-esteem issues, Kickstarted films can get on Netflix. Now imagine what this means career-wise . . .
If you were a programmer, a chip designer, or something technical a decade ago and moved on to something else, there’s a very good chance some of your career advice for your previous career should not be a of a technical nature. It’s a different world, different skills, different issues, and gods knows what else that you’ve missed.
You’ll need to know when you can’t talk technology – and when you can. Sometimes you’re out of touch – sometimes you just have accumulated wisdom. But if you think you’re frustrated with your family’s technical ignorance, imagine how you look to some younger folks coming to you for advice . . .
Personal Experience: Don’t even ask me for technology-level programming career advice. Just don’t. Except everyone should know Github and Jira.
Suggested Solutions: Know what you do and don’t know as it were. You may also want to “hobbyize” past careers to keep your skills up. I’ve known software managers who still stay technical – I do myself.
I’d love to put this in poetic language, but the economy right now isn’t anything like we thought it’d be twenty years ago. Come to think of it the economy twenty years ago may not be what we thought it was, which is why we’re in the mess now. It’s hard to encompass how much has changed or gone wrong the last two decades without resorting to obscenities.
Economics is a truly dismal science, made all the more dismal by the fact that a lot of supposed experts are ignorant idealists, and so much has changed so fast it’s hard to keep up. When you want to be a geek job guru, there’s a good chance – almost inevitable these days – that the economy you developed your career in isn’t around anymore, or is a smoldering ruin.
This is a constant thorn in my own side in giving career advice because I have to keep a mental catalogue of economic changes and issues. Fortunately I’m an econogeek, but it’s really sad to have to explain to people why approach “A” that I experienced should be replaced with approach “B”, and never let me to tell you to use approach “A” everb.
This is an area of change that can make it so frustrating you might give up the guru gig. Don’t – people need all the advice they can get and all the help you can provide. But you have to stay aware and either learn and adapt, or know when your advice on economic issues has hit its sell-by-date.
Just look at how crazy the economy has been to realize the deadly implications of bad advice . . .
Personal Experiences: All the time. As my speaking involves younger age demographics in many cases – especially when I speak at anime conventions – I always encounter vastly different economic pictures than I’ve experienced. I come prepared, but now and then that sense of gap is just unsettling.
Suggested Solutions: Staying informed helps, but you have to know how much you want to dedicate to understanding economic issues. It may help to specialize so you’re not overwhelmed. If you get into this? Knock yourself out and write me, we can talk housing market and technology mini-bubbles.
At some point if you decide being a geek job guru is part of your geek citizenship, you’ll have to acknowledge change is going to affect how useful your advice is. Realizing this, admitting it, and adapting to it is necessary if you want to keep it up.
Besides, it just makes you better at understanding yourself and keeping aware and informed. You’ll be a better job guru and a better citizen – even when you say “yeah, I don’t know anymore.”
– Steven Savage