It was 20 years ago today I started work. Proper work, not summer jobs – the start of professional life. The 40 odd year journey that fills the gap between youthful exuberance and death.

My keen eyed reader will have noticed that I started work precisely 5 days after my graduation. Not exactly a relaxing summer of sun and exploration. Thing was, I had to start work. Couldn’t afford to do anything else, we didn’t have the money for me to go a-wandering or ponce about doing a PhD.

It wasn’t all bad news. I got precisely the job I wanted. Working BT’s software centre in Glasgow that was, at the time, called GSSEC. And the news got better. I arrived on my first day, thin, gorgeous with luxuriant hair and piercing blue eyes and, I suspect, a fairly horrible tie, and was sent immediately on a UNIX course. Unlike the girl in Jurassic Park, it was UNIX and I didn’t know it. If I remember correctly, if was HP-UX. And I loved it. You never really forget the first time you pipe something into grep.

My first desktop was a DECStation 2100 that connected to a VAX. It took about 10 minutes to start up – much like the Windows machines of today. I could do lots on it. I could email other people in the company (no one else I knew had email), I could edit documents using LaTeX (look it up kids, it rocks) and I could write C code and, wait for it, connect to an Oracle 5 database.

Kernighan and Ritchie

Tell kids toay to dealloc their own memory and they simply won't believe you

It was a great place to start work. People did things right and there was a lot of talent. Many, many of the people I worked with then have gone on to great things. Some of them are still stuck working with me now. I have a lot to thank that individual for but he wouldn’t thank me for naming him, despite the fact that the chances of him reading this are precisely zip.

Again, I’m not going to meander through 20 years of self-indulgent, uninteresting career ‘highlights’. Instead I’ll be equally boring about something else.

You’d think after 20 years in IT I’d have some sagely advice about something or other; “always do this”, “never do that”, “don’t employ him”. Well, afraid not – instead I’ll go with two very simple things.

There is nothing new

Or to put it another way, I could achieve just as good results with the tech I had available 20 years ago as I could today. Doing it well isn’t related to what you use – it is always how you use it. Be very careful of anyone who is an evangelist for a single technology. They almost never matter. After all, the two most important steps in any development work are 1) knowing what it is you are supposed to do and 2) making sure it does that. What comes between can pretty much be done any way you like.

Oh, and, XML is a bloated waste of space…

People are the most important thing

Sounds a little trite doesn’t it? Well, tough. Thing is, in whatever you are doing, your ability to interact with people will govern your success far more than how clever you are or what tech you are good at. The technology simply doesn’t matter as much as relationships between people. I am lucky enough to work with a lot of people who know me quite well. After observing me for a while at work, one of them bought be a T-Shirt that simply said “Chunter, chunter, chunter, charm, charm, charm”. There you go, that’s my advice after 20 years of professional life, learn to chunter and charm. Obviously, it’s not something that everyone is capable of learning, so, for some of you, you just need to get REALLY clever at something or other and hope that people can put up with you gently rocking in your chair muttering to yourself.

I’ve chuntered on about this kind of thing before so my insistence that people are the most important thing is at least consistent.

And, finally, in those 20 years – the people have been the most important thing to me. I’ve met some wonderful people to go with the hundreds of total idiots. But the wonderful ones have made it very enjoyable, have been a constant source of support and entertainment and this post is specifically to thank them. Thank you one and all. You know who you are.

No, not you. Idiot.

20 years. Bloody hell. Here’s to the next 20, looking forward to it, have a great job, work with some great people and, I think, haven’t lost too much of the enthusiasm I had on 16th July 1991.

cat mylife.txt | grep “good bits” > blog.txt