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Want To Aquire A Bunch Of Useless Knowledge? Go Into IT

December 9, 2020

We are the modern-day wizards, right? The IT guys are the ones that can magically get you back onto the network, or get email installed on your cell phone, or sometimes just get the printer to work.

We know stuff that the average computer user has no clue about. It’s fair to say, we’ve forgotten more about networks and servers than most people will ever know. And the longer you are in IT the more you forget. Not because we have bad memories, but simply because most of what we know is useless garbage.

I’ve worked in IT for more than 30 years. I know a lot about computers. My first computer was a TI-99. I wrote code and literally recorded it on a tape recorder. It was before the days of floppy disks and hard drives.

Guess how valuable is that information today? I mean, am I better IT program manager than the guy who has never even heard of a TI-99? Not a chance. My first computer with a hard drive was a Zenith Z-100. It used a proprietary language for talking to the hardware that was later replaced in the marketplace by IBM BIOS. This effectively made the Z-100 obsolete only slightly after it was released. The 5MB hard drive cost $5000 in 1984.

Again, how useful is that information today? (I mean other than being able to tell stories about it later?) Not a bit. Nothing about that old Z-100 is useful today.

The first network I supported was Novell NetWare. It used a network driver protocol named IPX/SPX. IPX/SPX was a great network protocol. It was much better than TCP/IP. NetWare is long dead, as is Novell in all but name as a subsidiary of Micro Fusion. And yet, my understanding of IPX/SPX is equally useless.

It’s okay though, right? I understand TPC/IP. So, that knowledge is valuable and will continue to be useful.

Actually, no. Today’s IP addresses are based on what’s called IPv4. The address scheme is, where xxx is a number between 0 and 255. The world is running out of IPv4 addresses. The new protocol will be called IPv6. It’s a completely different addressing scheme and knowing IPv4 doesn’t help at all to understand IPv6.

There will come a point in the future where IPv4 will be a protocol as dead as IPX/SPX. At that point how valuable will my knowledge of IPv4 be? Not much.

It’s not all useless, of course. At a high level I understand the OSI stack, or how each level of protocols, talked to the level above and below it. That doesn’t change just because the network layer is using IPv6 instead of IPv4 addressing.

But, lots of it is useless. I am an expert at configuring old obsolete email systems. I can create binary files using command com. I can even still navigate my way through an FTP gateway manually so long as it didn’t enable encryption.

But, honestly, 90% of what I learned in my career is no longer relevant. I even wrote two technical books about computers back in the 1990’s. Those books are equally worthless and out-of-date.

So, if you want a career where your knowledge won’t quickly become hopelessly out-of-date, study something practical. . .like maybe history.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

One Comment
  1. a correction: it is Micro Focus, but Fusion does sound so good and I will have to use that for some fun.
    While NetWare is long dead as a shipping product, there is still an amazing amount of it running in various ‘corners’ of IT where to replace it requires a re-engineering of entire systems to handle the changes in the embedded assumptions and prejudgements that have evolved over the years. Those of us with those skills keep getting dragged back to keep them running, at least as a consultant I can say ‘pay me’ 😉
    Your knowledge of IPX/SPX and IPv4 will have a small value in IPv6 as they both contributed to the design to bring the best of both the IPv6 as well as a number of new things. pennies on the dollar value, not the tiny fractional pennies of old DOS high memory management and the like. (might earn some drinks regaling in time of old to the young ones 😉
    So few IT books get kept more than 10 years.

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