I volunteer as a community mentor at the Vernon Community School which is an experimental stength-based education program run through our local public school system.
My gifted son will be going to the school and entering grade 7 this Fall. I’ve been supporting the program for him, but also since I believe the method is more human that the institutionalized approach currently serving children.
We currently are deconstructing minecraft in order to help the boys understand how the data is structured and how it is coded. Something more important is happening however and it has to do with identity.
I let men’s groups in the 90’s where we sat around in circles talking about our lives, feelings and identity. I did a lot of reading on masculinity and how we develop our identities as males. It might seem flaky to some, but that was the 90’s. It was the decade when nerds started to become cool since there were role models and archetypes for boys to model.
Spock (and Leonard Nimoy himself) were archetypes from which young nerds since the 1960’s drew courage and purpose in dealing with life.
Being smart and loving smart things in a system which is often focused on meeting a common core (for the system) or becoming popular (for typical kids), can be a real challenge. Without mentors showing kids that a future as a smart nerdy person is possible and even delightful is what Star Trek was all about.
The group I mentor are all boys, and that is no surprise. There are some nerdy girls too and they gravitate to the female tech mentor. Why? They are seeking out a positive expression and validation of their intelligence. They are seeing in the mentors that an affirming life is possible for them as future smart women.
I would encourage more older geeks to look into mentoring type programs and I sincerely hope that the Hackschooling method used at the Vernon Community School is adopted in every school system in North America. It’s not for everyone but it certainly is for geeks. What a gift these young geeks have in avoiding much of the angst that our generations experienced and instead be able to focus their energies on their dreams … and the futures that geeks are building for society.
Much is being written about the need to quickly deal with the shortage of skilled workers in North American society, yet the solution is right in front of us, if we choose to implement it. Over 80% of older skilled workers will mentor if given a chance. This is why I was surprised to read in this article that we need to encourage older workers to mentor.
Older workers will mentor if companies and institutions make the time and space for them to do it. It’s as simple as that. Within the IT sector, creative companies wanted creativity, so they said, “For one day a weeks you can work on whatever you want.” People did and lots of cool ideas at Google and other organizations developed.
Governments can’t train enough instructors to catch up with the shortage of skilled workers industry, government and academia need. Only an army of mentors can do that, however in the next decade, tens of millions of older skilled workers are going to retire, hit the golf course, and never look back. If given the chance to pass on their knowledge and wisdom, they will. As I’ve said before, “Only about 20% of what you need to know is in the manuals, the other 80% you either learn from someone else or by yourself.
I volunteer mentor 12-14 year olds at an innovative learning program called Vernon Community School. I think its the future of education in the Middle and Highschool setting, since it encourages people to learn how to learn. Last week, I was going to teach the kids how a computer boots up … we did that but mostly ended up with a wonderful conversation about server farms, raid setups, and the concept of “failing gracefully”; whereby systems should fail in such a way as to not create a crisis for the end user. At 12, many of them got it. We also talked about the cost of not spending money when it comes to buying hardware for a company. A couple of them got that idea … at 12. It was great sharing my experience with them and afterwards we played with a gyro powerball.
I ran into this story since it talks about the labour shortage in the trades. The penny dropped on a trend that I’ve seen over the past decade. I can count on both hands the number of people whom I’ve heard of dropping out of IT work in their 30’s and going into the trades. Some are making the shift in their 40’s.
It’s been well known for a long time that people often leave coding for various reasons but I suspect many are kind of dropping out. Not to imply that the trades are a step down. Far from it. What I mean is that they are effectively saying “to hell with IT” and moving into something totally different. Something concrete. Something that does not involve technology. Something where you can be old and accepted.
Anyone else see this trend? Within the IT industry, I have previously warned that our industry does not consider retention of its most experienced and skilled persons. When shortages come, our industry tends to think of getting more new young people, rather than retention. That is an expensive mistake since the acquired skills of tens of thousands of IT workers leaving the industry must be in the hundreds of millions in lost opportunity costs.
I applaud people courageous enough to make a significant career changes as moving to the trades, but I wonder why its happening.
I run into articles like this one often. “The struggle today to embrace older workers is a continuation of that journey.” The journey is towards inclusion and diversity, which I’m fine with, however often older workers are seen as pity-cases, rather than the sagely-uber-experienced worker which generally is closer to the truth.
Society is changing, and if young IT workers are uncomfortable with the 40 year old who’s got 20 years under his belt, I can’t imagine what they will think of working with ol’ grandpa-Jimbo when I’m 70 and still coding. I like coding and I love the joy I create when client experience systems with good UX which and don’t break. As long as the neurons are still firing, I’ll be creating “beautiful” as will many other Gen-X Geezer Geeks … and some Boomers who may code into their 80’s.
Aside from the annoying, pity-the-old-farts-so-include-them tone of the article, it highlight that companies are starting to get the mentoring issue. Geezer Geeks and other older professionals are the bearers of knowledge which can not be written down, codified (pun intended), or acquired quickly. Wisdom is knowledge put into action and that can only come with time. To make a real Samurai sword take 20 years of working with a master before you can attempt it. Coding may not take 20 years to master (although some of you might indeed make that argument), but its not something you do really well after a few years of college and a couple years being in the trenches. It takes a decade to make a solid coder … and then you continue learning … and reapplying wisdom/skill/experience … to evolving technology.
Coding is a way of life. A weird one. And a wonderful one. As I often say, “its about making beautiful”. Good code is beautiful.
Tell me dear HR types who are hiring kids out of college … when have you heard them talk about the beauty of code and the joy of mastery (ooops … Uber-Grocking … .
And now a clip from the 1983 movie “Wargames” … 1983 was about the year I first used the Internet. Long before the WWW was implemented by Tim Berners-Lee. The Cold War was still a reality, and personal computers had only been on the market for a few years. I’m glad Seattle didn’t get nuked … watch the clip and you’ll get it.