Almost everyone recognizes the term ?geek.? It?s a generic?and not very flattering?name for just about anyone who loves and uses electronic gadgets and is fascinated?some might say obsessed?by new technologies.
At some point, this moniker began to be applied almost exclusively to those in the information technology field. These IT professionals soon began to wear this nickname as a badge of honor. Once derided as shy and retiring ?brainiacs,? geeks created an entire profession involved with all things related to computer chips.
But whatever happened to the geek pioneers, the men and women who created the computer and electronics industries? Where are those COBOL and PL/I programmers who worked with behemoth machines that filled the basement rooms of financial institutions and industrial complexes? Where are those number-crunching, disk-spinning console jockeys who spent years running the nation?s mainframe computer systems?
Though many are retired?or are close to retiring?most are still out there, managing their own companies or consulting. Many hold responsible senior positions in almost every industry. These older geeks possess the business and systems knowledge developed and integrated into computer systems for the past 50 years.
Today, we embrace a technology and development platform that fails so frequently that the term ?Control, Alt, Delete? is part of our everyday language. Sure, these systems are much easier to use, and they integrate with the World Wide Web. They are orders of magnitude more complex and contain multiples of what the old code base contains, but are they as stable? They are vulnerable to virus and hacker attacks because security is often not built into the basic design, but is considered an add-on?one that often fails.
Combine the old COBOL and PL/I and other older code sets with today?s Web-based and Java code?not to mention the firmware code that makes the computer processors function?and we may have two or three trillion lines of code in the world today.
This is where the old geeks are an essential resource. Their experience with systems?especially older systems?is critical to the worldwide infrastructure that they continue to maintain. As these old geeks retire, we must either train new geeks in the old code structures or replace trillions of lines of code.
Who will do this? Who will manage these massive combined hardware and software engineering projects? Who understands what these older systems do? The old geeks do, that?s who! These experienced technology professionals have the ability and understanding to help create new systems that are reliable and stable.
We must change our acceptance of the ?Control, Alt, Delete? world. We need reliable, bulletproof systems to run the nation?s computer infrastructures and its financial and communications networks. It?s obvious that this must be done, but at what cost?
This will make the Y2K software fix seem like a dime-store project. Plus, it will take time, and time is a luxury that many of our old geeks do not have in abundance.
These old pros clearly understand how computer technology systems were (and are) developed. They have the background and knowledge that?s needed to develop stable, reliable computer architecture. And they can train and lead others.
So, where does that leave us? Do we wait until these older systems fail due to the grow-ing demands of a business-process infrastructure that they were never designed to manage? Do we wait until they fail because of modifications that are not compatible with their basic design and structure? Do we wait until there is no one left to maintain them, and the cost of maintenance and infrastructure support forces a migration?
Or should we plan now to utilize the experienced resources that are still available and develop a road map to replace the older technology with a flexible, but stable and reliable technology that the old geeks understand and can deliver?
When it comes to technology, experience counts, so let it count for the old geeks who still have much to contribute. Business cannot afford to wait because more and more of these pros are looking toward retirement.
Skip Stein is president of Management Systems Consulting, a professional services firm based in Orlando, Fla.