Throughout my life, I have been fascinated with science and technology. As a child, I began to notice computers in cartoons, movies and of course, Star Trek. The computers of the 60′s and 70′s were clunky things. They were big boxes with lots of flashing lights and were usually located in their own special air-conditioned rooms. Portrayed as having artificial intelligence, some could speak while others spat out little pieces of paper holding the answers to complex problems. My interest was piqued even further when my sister became a programmer. I had visions of her talking to computers just as Mr. Spock did. Hey, I was young and had a vivid imagination!
In the early 80′s, I wanted to get into the computer industry but no one would consider hiring me. While I had sales expertise, I had no direct experience with computers. I felt computers would help the human condition by providing efficiencies that would save us time thus allowing us to pursue other more important interests. I envisioned that they would eventually give us new ways to communicate, help us to better manage our businesses, provide analytical tools to scientists and powerful new tools for musicians and artists.
Short of going back to school, opening a shop of my own was the only way I was going to get into this exciting new market. Having already owned a music studio, starting a new business was not a scary proposition to me. It was the VIC-20 days. The Commodore 64 and the first Kaypro CPM luggable computers followed it. Then came the first MS DOS computers. Over a few years, I developed some expertise and was eventually hired by a large multinational company. I kept the store open, hired someone to run it and dove into my new career.
As my career progressed, I worked for several other large companies, developed a good reputation and moved from sales roles into management positions. I was having a great time and realizing many successes but a small voice inside began to speak to me. It was very quiet at first and I wasn’t sure what that little voice was saying. The best I can do to describe it is to say that my career was starting to lose its gleam. Slowly but surely, I was becoming disenchanted with corporations, but more so, with the industry itself. I was beginning to feel out of sync with my core beliefs. I just wasn’t sure why exactly.
Towards the end of the 90′s, we were chosen as one of three companies approved to provide computers and servers to a client with thirty three thousand employees. In order to pitch our value propositions, all three companies were given the opportunity to make a one-hour presentation to senior levels of management. These presentations were to be filmed and sent out to the client’s regional managers so they could also watch them. I was selected to be the first presenter.
I had two weeks to prepare. This was not new to me. Presenting was a part of my job and I was very comfortable with it. I had always felt passionate about the subject matter and had developed a deep understanding of the industry. However, this time, I was really nervous. As the date approached, I had a hard time sleeping and found myself worrying about the presentation. It was so intense that I could not even touch my keyboard to finish my presentation materials. Three days before the event, I went to see my doctor and explained to him how I was feeling. He told me I was having severe anxiety attacks and gave me some little pills to take. I never did take them but went home and forced myself to prepare.
Filled with trepidation, I arrived to a large room packed with IT managers and purchasing agents. With a lapel microphone clipped to my jacket, I stepped on the stage. Within a few minutes, I was feeling fine and delivering one of the best presentations I had ever given. Right in the middle of it, a realization hit me and I knew at once the source of all my feelings leading up to this event.
I no longer believed that what I was doing had value. I was having a crisis of conscience.
When I entered the industry, the standard desk tools for most people were calculators, typewriters and a telephone. The structure to support these tools was minimal. All it required was someone to order a new calculator when one broke or make an occasional call to a repair technician to service the typewriters. Our industry promised to drive new efficiencies by migrating clients from calculators and typewriters to computers. At first, it worked. Standalone computers provided new levels of efficiencies to typists in the form of templates, spell checking and the ability to create complicated documents with ease. Complex calculations could be performed using spreadsheets providing a huge improvement over the standalone calculator. We had in fact provided a huge benefit in the form of efficiencies and cost savings. Support costs were not that much higher at this point.
Then came networks and with them, the need for IT departments. More complex operating systems hit the scene driving the need for additional in house expertise. Over a few short years, technology support costs sky rocketed and any cost savings we may have promised evaporated. IT departments grew so large that they themselves needed new tools to handle their own business requirements. Consultants were brought in to help and application developers were contracted to write new programs. Then, a new class of processor would hit the market and millions of new computers were deemed necessary to purchase. This would often come along with the introduction of a new operating system and new applications. All of this drives the need for more consulting, training and expertise. Every few years, the cycle repeats itself to the delight of the industry and its shareholders.
It does not need to be this way. I have discussed my thoughts with other professionals in the industry. Some agree, others don’t and view me as an idealist. In fact, I am a bit of an idealist. Whether they agree or not is hardly the point. The point is; it is what I had come to believe and it is how I felt.
I finished the presentation. I really had no choice. Allowing my immediate feelings to affect the company I represented would have been the wrong thing to do. I was told afterwards that it was the best presentation of the three given that day. That afternoon, I played a round of golf with a few peers. The next morning, I resigned.
I am still in the tech sector and still working with computers but I am doing it from a very different angle. I am not selling technology anymore, at least, not in that sense. I still passionately believe that technology deployed properly represents a huge benefit to our species. If I didn’t, I would not be using a computer or leveraging the power of the internet. I walked away from a career that had a huge upside for me. I was quickly moving up the ladder and the money was great. I make less today, but I am a happier person and do not have a little voice nagging at me constantly. I once again feel that I am doing something that has value, something that will empower others to achieve their goals.
If what you do compromises your core beliefs, you will never feel fulfilled. You may be successful, but your successes will be void of what your heart is calling for. I contend that you will also be missing out on your calling. If we all did what we are best at while staying true to our core beliefs, we would all be better for it and this would be a far better world. So, listen to those instructive little voices. They are very wise indeed!
Originally posted at synaptici.com April 1, 2009
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