“Arthur: If I asked you where the hell we were, would I regret it?
Ford: We’re safe.
Arthur: Oh good.
Ford: We’re in a small galley cabin in one of the spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet.
Arthur: Ah, this is obviously some strange use of the word safe that I wasn’t previously aware of.”
This is one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite books, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It states beautifully a feeling I often have when someone is using words in English, which is a language I know well, and yet when I interpret each of those words in the usual way, I came to a conclusion that makes no sense at all.
For example, I have been repeatedly told that all of the innovations in tech fields happen with young people. I even read an article recently in which an IT manager from a company in India was quoted as saying that they bring in people at age 20 and after 15 years, by age 35, they are of less value than the new 20-year-olds coming in. This caused me to ask myself,
What the fuck? In India, does “people” actually mean “cars”?
Because I can understand that if you got a 20-year-old car and used it for 15 years then it would probably be ready for the junk heap. (Note: I am by no means suggesting that saying stupid things is limited to managers in India. That just happened to be the article I was reading. I am fairly certain that saying stupid things and pretending they are correct is an international phenomena.)
Now, as Wendy said in Peter Pan, I am ever so much more than twenty. In looking back at what I knew when I was twenty, and at the students not much over twenty who I get the fun of interacting with on a regular basis, I am pretty darn certain that I, and the overwhelming majority of other technical people I know over 35 are one hell of a lot more qualified. All of us have worked with multiple operating systems and programmed in multiple languages, allowing us to see possibilities beyond the one language our young friends might know relatively well. All of us are very, very good in at least one aspect of a field, having 20+ years of experience in programming in objective C, statistical analysis, etc.
At age 19, I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with my BSBA, so I think it is fair to say that I was relatively intelligent. I knew a bit of Fortran, a bit of Basic, had a couple of courses in Calculus and statistics, a bunch of economics courses, a smattering of finance and other good stuff. What I know now dwarfs what I knew then. Of course, computers have changed dramatically as well. Back then, we started out with punched cards, which we fed through card readers. By the end of my undergraduate career we had progressed to dumb terminals. I worked with Vax mini-computers and IBM mainframes for years before DOS came out, and the Apple II. I won’t bore you with what a long strange trip it’s been.
My point, and I assure you that I really do have one, is that everything I have learned in educational psychology suggests that people learn MORE when they have a context within which to make it meaningful. This is why it is always easier to teach students multiple regression than to teach them the idea of a simple linear regression, because you can relate to and extrapolate from what they learned previously.
So why, when it comes to programming or developing new technology should everything that had been documented about how people learn go out the window? Now it is BETTER if you don’t have 20 or 30 years of related technical experience to connect to new knowledge?
Perhaps I need someone under 35 to explain to me how this works?