Today I wanted to make some yummy apple puff pastry, so I turned my laptop on to put up a recipe and.. the screen blipped and went off. This machine (an IBM x40) was so old that I wasn’t at all surprised. The laptop went with me through school (when I rode bicycles and buses and subways), several jobs (more subways and driving), came with me on planes and Sudbury trips, has been used by my mother for about a year, and for the last year or two has been sitting on my desk, with a monster work laptop squashing it (which was probably what killed the screen).
With little hope and mostly our of boredom I took the keyboard off. To do this I used the skills I acquired in my last career as a computer technician, when for some time I worked for IBM fixing up used laptops. Like many IBM laptops this was a wonderful machine. Not only is it solid like a rock but it’s easy to take apart, and inside, after years of beatings.. it looked like new!
I am telling you I have never seen a used laptop this clean – both literally and in terms of design and construction. I was going to look for loose or damaged cables or mechanical pieces – yeah right! Everything was shiny, orderly, and in its place. Unfortunately I saw the image was still being displayed, just not backlit. Yep, laptops like this we sent straight to the scrap pile because the screen cost more than the rest of the parts put together. I felt a little bad at this point (what a nice computer) but whatever, it lived a good long life.
As a sign of respect for the machine and the engineers who built it I put it back together in preparation for the scrap yard, then I thought of giving it a burial (which obviously wouldn’t work), then I thought of getting it some flowers (I’m not kidding), and then I realised why I had such trouble letting go and I almost cried..
The problem was not letting go of that laptop! The problem was that I wasn’t going to get a replacement laptop, the problem was that those days are over. I have an Android phone which does almost all that the laptop used to do. There is this concept of a laptop dock (check out the Atrix) which would serve for the rest. I’m not going to go buy a new laptop, hell I don’t even want one for free.
This reminded me of the end of my last career. About eight years ago I decided that a computer technician is not a career with a future and I took a leap of faith, going back to school to become a software engineer. It was a good decision and I think it paid off but it has not been long enough, I am not yet ready to switch careers again!
Yes, computers are as common as ever and there is a new world of mobile devices that promises a few more years of prosperity for software engineers like me, but I wonder if I’m already seeing signs that software is becoming a commodity by default.. and then what? Will I end up like one of those guys I was laughing at in school, “maintaining” (pretending to do work on) a Cobol program on an IBM mainframe, but with slightly newer technologies? How ghastly..
And even if there are still going to be new and exciting things to do for software engineers – what about me? Will I be able to learn the new tools, or is my brain over full with things that no longer matter?
Life is sad.. but I guess that’s the cost of progress, older farts like me have to get off their asses and relearn everything or let the next generation take their place. Well, I’m not the type to give up without a fight so bring it on kids :)