Friday, April 2, 2010

My Word Man, you're Old!

I ran a technology boot camp in my company for a number of years. We'd bring in three to five recent college graduates at a time and put them through a sixteen week indoctrination program to arm them with the tools, knowledge, and perspective of how we wanted the technology organization to operate. Our CTO at the time wanted to infuse fresh new thinking into the organization so he put the training function inside the Advanced Technology Group.

At the conclusion of their training time, the participants, while not guaranteed a job, were offered up to the rest of the organization to fill open job requisitions. We were proud that we had 100% placement - everybody was picked up, and we had unusually high rates of women and diversity candidates in a field (Information Technology) that was then very homogeneous. Ten years later, many of these individuals are still with the company.

One day, one of the trainees, I think she was like 27, was told by one of the newer college graduates, "My word man, you're old." Twenty-seven is old? Then I must be ancient, antiquated, timeworn, of historical significance, and derived from primordial ooze. Why, if he'd have said that to me, I'd have taken the tennis balls off my walker at rolled them with haste in his general direction.

One of the things I loved about the boot camp was the interaction with fresh minds, new ideas, unbridled enthusiasm, youthful energy, and NAFOM (No Apparent Fear of Mistakes). Occasionally, one of the NOOBs would speak before fully engaging the brain - but hey, I'll take that if I also get unabashed honesty about a new solution for an old problem.

For me, the key to benefiting from new blood is to understand the balance between letting new minds explore, express, and exchange ideas in a venue that doesn't denigrate all of the legacy knowledge that created the very institution that had the intellect to hire them. I've seen too many new employees approach every project with an attitude that whatever and whomever came before them was broken.

Architects need to be able to examine problems and opportunities with the eyes of a newborn veteran. To be able to understand the value of iterative improvement that has occurred over time, yet still be willing to embrace new ideas and change. Architects have to be young at heart, enchanted with change, and comfortable with stability.

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