Thank You, Steve Jobs, for Making us Geeks Cool

At 32 years of age I don’t consider myself old, but at times I feel like my father as I find myself telling my two young daughters stories like he told to me. Tall tales such as, “Back in my day we had to walk to school, uphill, both ways, while BAREFOOT…”

MY stories are naturally a little different based on my experiences….”Back in MY day we didn’t have smart phones, texting, or social media”.  Yet when I was 17 I was excited to study in a computer related field, mainly because it was the only course in high school where I didn’t drive my teachers crazy by not paying attention and being too talkative.  I remember realizing I enjoyed IT when people thought I had skills because I could write small programs to run on my TI-81 calculator.  

As the “dot.com” era exploded, I was entering college. While I quickly realized I wasn’t cut out to write computer code and had no interest in building my own computers, I was able to discover my niche in learning how to be friends with those that did. But at the same time I was also becoming extremely comfortable with running applications and burning CDs.

Yes kids, back in my day compact discs were the cool thing, not because we didn’t know what MP3′s were, but because Apple founder Steve Jobs had yet to provide us with the device that to this day I don’t leave my home without…..

“First was the mouse. The second was the click wheel. And now, we’re going to bring multi-touch to the market. And each of these revolutionary interfaces has made possible a revolutionary product – the Mac, the iPod and now the iPhone.”

-Steve Jobs

(Although the world lost Jobs way too early, the geek in me is excited to see the new biopic on his life. I believe the more people that understand his greatness, the more innovative thinkers we will have in the future. Hopefully that will also mean the continued transformation in making all of us software geeks COOL.)

I consider myself part of the Napster/AOL Instant Messenger generation (which happened to be 2 years before my brother’s iPod/MySpace generation, and 4 years before my youngest brother’s generation of iPhone/Facebook).  As someone who picked up new applications easily I started burning CDs for people that I knew, while also being proud that I could find the coolest skin for my Winamp player.  Although at the time I loved being the go to guy for burning mix CDs and IM questions, it was by no means what the “cool kids” were doing.

Some background: In college I was the president of my fraternity, played on the ice hockey team, and was blessed with a great girlfriend (now my wife).  I was always outspoken and very passionate for everything and anything I did (blame my competitive Pittsburgh blood).  I learned so much while there, yet I think I would have learned more if those classes didn’t get in my way from learning real world skills like networking, leadership and human interaction.

During my senior year I was 100% sure I wanted to work in IT, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I couldn’t sit still enough to write code and never really had the desire to become an engineer.

As I began working in IT at an entry-level help desk position, I began to realize that the same skills I used to pick up applications easily transitioned into my career. I was able to speak “geek” and interact with computer engineers, but at the same time I could translate the “geek-speak” into something both management AND customers could understand.   I still struggle to this day with the notion that I was able to advance my career rapidly simply by A) loving to talk and B) having a passion for IT.

For my career aspirations this was a huge realization. As a government contractor I was issued a BlackBerry, which I quickly became an expert on (I would type up full reports on it while traveling).  But BlackBerrys weren’t “cool”, and being a mouthpiece for computer geeks wasn’t cool either.

Guy Kawasaki was asked on a G+ Hangout

Guy Kawasaki was asked on a G+ Hangout “What was the worst advice he ever heard”….  

But boy did THAT change. Enter in Steve Jobs, who not only made smartphones cool, but he also gave the world a device that we never knew we couldn’t live without…UNTIL we couldn’t live without it.   An MP3 player, calculator, camera, phone….all on ONE device and, on top of that, he would introduce the “App Store” that would put application developers’ software in EVERYONE’S pocket.

While the releases of both the iPod and the iPhone were amazing, they didn’t flip the culture norm upside down. Geeks didn’t all-of-a-sudden become cool (that would take a couple of years), but what those products did was require every person wanting to use a smartphone to have some sort of IT knowledge, OR have a geek (like me) as your friend to help in times of need.

Now, iTunes and the App Store have evolved into an entire industry, and millions of people have some type of smartphone or tablet on their person at all times.  Along with the explosion of social media and the idea of being able to code an iPhone app or jailbreak a device, these are the platforms for us geeks to show off our skills and make the cool kids jealous.

As connected devices continue to grow and machines start to outnumber humans, the underlying foundation of our day-to-day lives will be the ability to stay connected to our devices while machines optimize and take over remedial tasks.  To manage this trend companies must have a scalable, sustainable and reliable IT model to manage the growth of data and automation.

And as my kids get older, and technology transitions from phones & applications to machines and the Internet of Things, I firmly believe my daughters will look at me as teenagers and say, “Dad, there is NO WAY those geeks who embraced technology and computers back in your day weren’t the coolest kids in school!”.