Digital cowboy: part 2

And then there was that snowboarder I met on the gondola on the way up to the Sunshine ski area just after Christmas a couple of years back…but I’m diving into the middle of the story, aren’t I?

Last issue I started into an examination of what the explosive growth and change in technology has meant to those of us in the industry – both good and bad. Blame it on a run-on writer, or an overly indulgent editor, but we only got half way into it (see “I wanna be a digital cowboy,” May 3, page 17).

So back to the guy in the gondola: Since we really couldn’t talk about boarding vs. skiing (If skiing was easy, they’d call it snowboarding), we talked work a little, as people sometimes do when they meet for the first time. As we talked, this guy described a typical day in his life as a medical researcher (OK, so the guy had the moral high ground on me, doing something really important, but I know that these guys live on less-than extravagant grant money), and, after acknowledging that his work must be “extremely satisfying” and “interesting every day,” I in turn described a typical day in the life of an IT consultant.

I was just back from a business trip, so that’s what I talked about. A high power client, I said, a sort of a cool project, I said (that was a bit of a lie – ERP projects are many things, but usually not “cool”), and I’d been lucky enough in the process to have stayed in some really cool hotels, to have had some amazing meals, and to have met some of the most powerful and influential people in the tech business. How about them apples?

His reply? “Man, I feel for you – that must have been awful – all that travel and all those uppity hotels and hanging out with all those suits – I’d really hate to have to do that.” And he meant every word of it!

Hate that? Hate that? It never occurred to me that there might be people out there who would hate my life and work style…isn’t what I’m doing supposed to be what everyone in the tech community ultimately wants to do? Obviously not. Hmmm…

And then last week flying back from Denver: I sat down beside a chiselled, good-looking athletic guy with a dark tan. Turns out he’s a ski instructor at Vail – you’ll understand why I was tempted to hate him from the get go. And his name is Gunnar and he’s Swedish (as if that wasn’t a stereotype) and he’s a nice guy. Turns out he skis and teaches all winter (he used to compete in the moguls) and runs a couple of restaurants back in Sweden during the summer. And he was on his way up to Calgary and then west to spend a week helicopter skiing in the high powder.

And the matter-of-fact way we talked about it suggested to me that here was a person who, for the world, could never understand why you’d do anything you didn’t love for a living a.k.a. why would you do anything else?

I swear these people were put on the earth to torment me – I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if next week I see a Lone Rider in the sky, warning me that “I’ll be chasing that elusive bug across the open sky for eternity unless I mend my wicked ways…”

So I’m beginning to see that like nuclear fission, tequila and Tabasco sauce, IT is something that can be used for good or evil.

My conversion to cowboy is starting slowly, but it is starting: took surfing lessons with my oldest daughter out at Long Beach on Vancouver Island last summer, and I didn’t check e-mail or voice mail at all (OK, I checked voice mail twice, but this getting a life back from the tech monster is a gradual thing, you know).

Little by little, just like the technology we work with, just like the world we work in, my world is changing.

I’m skipping work to go skiing once in while (did I say skipping? I meant to say “booking off a few holiday days mid-week well in advance and only when it is convenient for clients and staff”) writing more goofy columns that have less to do with technology and more to do with people, working from home when I can (“Sorry, the roads are impassable today…guess I’ll have to dial in from here”) and assuming I don’t get killed, boxing a couple of times a week when I’m in town.

And this year, I’m actually going to take all the holiday days that are due to me – when you think about it, wasn’t I really an idiot for not doing taking them all before?

I’ve been accused by people I care about of turning into something of a hypocrite here (You still drive the nice Jeep, don’t you?), and yes, everybody in our business has to earn a living, but not, I’ll argue, if it kills them in the process, or worse yet, lulls them to sleep for years and years.

Nothing the matter with taking work you don’t really want to do when the alternative is unemployment – much wrong when you take on more work just so that you can trade in your two-year-old BMW on a newer one. Even worse if you end up doing work you hate to pay for it.

Maybe I’m gonna sell some stuff and get me one of those funky new iMacs that looks like a big screen stuck into half a golf ball on steroids. Maybe I’m gonna work more for people and organizations I like, and maybe even start turning down some other stuff.

I think my boots look pretty cool. I’m gonna be a digital cowboy when I grow up – wish me luck.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected].

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