On Being a Gen Xer in Digital

Original post on Medium

I knew life without the Web. I tinkered on IBM PCs and Apple IIe’s. I got dysentery on the trail.

I’m at that stage in my career in digital where I’m not young anymore.

Not young if you work in tech. Not old if you work for a bank.

I have to believe that a lot of Gen Xers feel the same way I do. A sort of existential crisis where we’re sandwiched between our successful late Baby Boomer parents and our Millennial brethren.

I knew life without the Web. I tinkered on IBM PCs and Apple IIe’s. I got dysentery on the trail.

If we were lucky, some nerd we knew in school (me) tinkered with 14.4 baud modem boards, and you (I) convinced your (my) dad to head to Circuit City to buy one, just to see if your (my) family’s poor Win95 land shark had enough juice to dial up a bulletin board.

We had to tinker with the Web to get value out of it. Today I watch my Post Millennial children (all 5 and under) interact with my phone and iPad. They’ll never need to tinker, not like we did. It’s there, it’s on, it always works, it always serves something up.

And then I look at the people I work with, and I see young designers and developers and see how freaking smart and eager they are. How digital technology works for them. They use it to construct new things, and they’re not hamstrung by the basics of how to stand up a server, or lay out a web page, or secure a domain. The barrier of entry has been lowered to the point where they simply hop over it in a single stride. They begin with the end in mind, and they’re less worried about the process that will (or won’t) get them there.

I might be considered a grandpa in the Bay, in the Valley. I felt it having worked for several months with Airbnb and Google. The age separation is palpable and a bit unnerving.

But in a lot of ways I still feel young, more Millennial than Gen Xer. So much to learn, see, touch, do, create in this economy that only my bald head and photo gallery full of my three young kids give me away.

Which leads me back to my own professional existence: how do I fit in?

Maybe all that tinkering was worthwhile. It taught me how fragile technology can be, but it also gave me the confidence to break it, rebuild it, start over, to keep trying and trying and trying until Hello World! finally popped up.

I experienced the waterfall years of massive technology shifts post dot com recession, and now I’m experiencing the lean, just-get-it-done, test-fail-learn-test-deploy years of start-up culture. My ability to adapt is what keeps me relevant I think. To never be complacent or believe that my experience alone makes me marketable. Rather, it’s my ability to try new things, to level-up my utility belt, to apply my background and experiences that keep me going. Along the way, I might impart a little knowledge too.

Back in my day, we built wireframes. In Visio. And if something changed after you wrote all your annotations, God help you. — Eric Ellis, Old Man

Copyright Eric E. Ellis. All Rights Reserved.