A Reflection on Computers After 20 Years

The last few years have been unusual for me. This is because, ever since I was 12 or so years old, I’ve known what I wanted to do: computers. Yet I don’t view myself as being in the computer field these days.

My Start In Computers

In elementary school I reprogrammed the school computers to do fun things and showed my classmates what could be done. In 6th grade I tied with another student for having the top words per minute rate in my school.

I read every computer book I could get my hands on, taking full advantage of inter-library loans. I tinkered. I rushed home from school and I looked forward to my weekends. I charged for my first computer consulting gig when I was just 13 or 14.

It was painfully obvious to those who knew me that I had a future in computers. It was painfully obvious to me.

But I’m Not In Computers

It has been many years since I’ve told anyone simply: “I’m in computers.” I can’t recall exactly when, but at some point it started sounding trite, perhaps even naive, to use the word computers.

It wasn’t a lack of nostalgia. I found the word overly broad and – strange as it may sound – at the same time simply too limiting.

Ubiquitous Computing

Nearly every thing today contains computers. And I know nothing about most of these platforms, technologies, and devices. I know there is a computer in my car, but I have no idea how my car works and could not repair it – computer included – to save my life (well, as far as I know).

Among the major computing platforms, there are numerous variations and specialized ways of using them. ((True even if you were to exclude the more esoteric ones.)) There are vast dark depths among their millions upon millions of lines of code, and proportional ways of being configured. One individual cannot possibly be an expert in every relevant area prior to sitting down to tackle a new problem or opportunity. ((I haven’t even mentioned the myriad of applications that run on, and various use cases of, these numerous platforms yet. These vary more than the platforms themselves. Oh and there are those as of yet not invented applications.))

And that’s all okay.

Strategic and (Appropriately) Focused Problem Solving

One person can be quite effective when they sit down to work these new platforms. It does require a strategic mindset and organizing and focusing ones efforts in appropriate ways though. ((While most technologists are systems thinkers, not all of them are good systems thinkers. And not all systems thinkers learn how to focus on the right priorities, diminishing their real world effectiveness and value.))

I’ve always been ready to tackle new problems within the space of technology that fall at least somewhere within ((and sometimes outside of too!)) my bailiwick universe, even if the details would require some research and experimentation.

Even at the edges of my comfort zone, my intuition has served me well more often than not. And over time my technical bailiwick – my area/areas of expertise – have expanded. ((The natural result of taking on new challenges and interests and, hopefully, a widespread occurrence not unique to me.))

I’ve enjoyed nearly every minute of it. Almost nothing beats the feeling that kicks in when deep into that “zone” of a problem – just shy of that wall I see myself breaking through – and then coming out on the other side of with a desirable result.

This is the moment when – whether or not there actually is – I hear music playing in my ears. And I smile, inside and out, because I know I’ve just poked the world.

Computing Not Computers

There’s another reason though why I don’t say I’m in computers these days.

Computers have always really been about computing to me. I find the tech inside interesting, but I find the application and use of the tech in novel ways outright captivating. Even, well, breathtaking. As if that wasn’t enough, I find the people, problems, and stories behind these applications/use cases even more so.

What I most love is seeing technology applied in new ways and, similarly, seeing others cooperate to come up with ways to apply it that exceed what anyone has previously been able to pull off – whether in the world, within a particular organization, or for a specific individual. Or simply for themselves for the first time.

To me the most impressive technology is that which enables even more impressive things to be done or experienced. It isn’t relevant whether it’s about productivity, pleasure, or simply for the art of it. No doubt this is why I’m drawn to technology, high-tech start-ups, businesses in general (high-tech or not), software, and new “enabling” platforms. ((and philanthropy, investing, intriguing people and ideas, and new tools and techniques, etc.))

Why I Do What I Do

As a professional technologist for hire ((my primary vocation)), I am in the business of improving my client’s businesses. My aim is to leave them better off than they were before I came into the picture. In fact, that’s the only thing I’m paid for. ((You’d be surprised how many consultants haven’t really thought all that much about what they really do – well, if they’re effective – beyond the technical aspects of whatever their area of expertise happens to be.))

It just so happens that I often utilize technology, or work with technology, to achieve results for my clients.

What I’m on the look out for when I meet with a client is what the results are they intend to seek. Sometimes technology plays a starring role, while other times a supplementary role. It’s important to know which applies in a given situation.

I spend more time and energy clarifying a client’s business related objectives ((the why)) and the associated value they expect to derive from the work ((to help guide the parameters to engineer within)) then I do worrying about what technology they have already, are envisioning using, or I might use for the project. ((The idiom “putting the cart before the horse” comes to mind.))

While it has been an incremental evolution, this mindset has proven successful for myself and my clients, though the evolution of my approach has certainly not lacked a few twists and turns.

So Thanks

That seems like a good point to wrap this up with a big “thank you.”

Yes, you, dear reader.

I want to thank those who have been a part of this adventure with me, both those I’ve studied from afar as well as those directly in my life who have supported me, poked me, questioned me, recommended me, made suggestions, guided me, put their faith in and hired me, and encouraged their friends, customers, and clients to collaborate / work with me. And that includes those who will come in the future.

And you, reading this essay today, regardless of whether you fall into any of the above categories.

Whether we have (or will) work together… Whether you’re simply a reader of my ramblings… Whether you’re a supporter in some other way who has your own adventure to go on as well… Whatever.

Thank you.

The Next Step

If you enjoyed this essay, I encourage you to browse recent posts at http://joshrichards.org, subscribing (it’s free) to receive my new posts by email or in your RSS reader, and by making sure you are on my mailing list.

Thanks again.