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Friday Philosophy – Database Dinosaurs January 22, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, working.
Tags: , ,

I’m guessing many of you reading this are over 40. I know some of you are actually beyond the half century and a couple of you are….older! If you are younger than 40, just print out this and put it in an envelope marked “read a decade later than {current date}”. It will have become relevant for you by then…

beware the network admin

Beware the network admin – creative commons, Elvinds

So wind back your memories to those glorious days in your first role working with IT. For most of us it was half our lives back or more, when we were in our early 20’s or even in our teens. One of you was 18, I know, and I knew one guy who started as a salaried, paid programmer at 16. Do you remember those old guys (and occasional gals) you met back then? Often with beards, an odd sense of “style” and a constant grumbling murmur that, if you listened closely, was a constant diatribe about the youngsters “not getting it” and this UNIX thing not being a “proper OS” {fill in whatever was appropriate for the upstart OS back when back where for you}.

Don't annoy the DBA

Don’t annoy the DBA

You are now that person. I know, you don’t feel like it – you can still do all this technology stuff, you program better now than ever, you know how to get the job done and you have kept up with the tech as it moves forward. And you sure as hell do not look as weird as those oldsters did! Well I have bad news. You do look as weird as those old guys/gals to any youth about {and is that not a good thing, as most of them look a right state} and you have probably not kept quite so up with the tech as you think. You have to keep partly up-to-date as the versions of Oracle or whatever roll on, else the career becomes tricky. But as I’ve realised this last few weeks, you probably use old coding techniques and ways of doing things. This is maybe not a bad thing in you day-to-day job as these older ways *work* and doing it that way is quicker for you than spending time checking up the latest “time saving” shortcuts in the code you write. I’ve had that brought home to me recently as I’m working in PL/SQL at the moment and I am using some code I initially wrote back in the last century {I love saying that} as the basis of an example. It works just fine but I decided I should re-work it to remove now-redundant constructs and use features that are current. It is taking me a lot of time, a lot more than I expected, and if I was writing something to Just-Do-The-Job with slightly rusty ways, I’d have it done now. That is what I mean about it not being such a bad thing to use what you know. So long as you eventually move forward!

Of course it does not help that you work on a legacy system, namely Oracle. I am not the first to say this by a long, long shot, Mogens Norgaard started saying this back in 2004 (I can’t find the source articles/document yet, just references to them} and he was right even then. If you think back to those more mature work colleagues when we started, they were experts in legacy software, OS’s and hardware that did in fact die off. VMS went, OS/2 died, Ingress, Informix, Sybase and DB2 are gone or niche. And don’t even mention the various network architectures that we had then and are no more. Their tech had often not been around as long as Oracle has now. And I know of places that have refreshed their whole application implementation 3 or 4 times – and have done so with each one based on a later version of Oracle (I do not mean a migration, I mean a re-build).

Or the Sys Admin

Or the Sys Admin

The difference is, Oracle has had a very, very long shelf life. It has continued to improve, become more capable and the oracle sales & marketing engines, though at times the bane of the technologist’s lives (like making companies think RAC will solve all your problems when in fact it solves specific problems at other costs), have done a fantastic job for the company. Oracle is still one of the top skills to have and is at the moment claiming to be the fastest growing database. I’m not sure how they justify the claim, it’s a sales thing and I’ve ignored that sort of things for years, but it cannot be argued that there is a lot of Oracle tech about still.

So, all you Oracle technologists, you are IT Dinosaurs working on legacy systems.

But you know what? Dinosaurs ruled the earth for a very, very, very long time. 185 million years or so during the Mesozoic period. And they only died out 65 million years ago, so they ruled for three times as long as they have been “retired”. We IT Dinosaurs could well be around for a good while yet.

We better be as there is another difference between when we started and now. Back then, we youth were like the small mammals scurrying in numbers around the dinosaurs(*). Now we are the dinosaurs, there does not seem to be that many youth scurrying about. Now that I DO worry about.

(*) the whole big-dinos/small scurrying mammals is a bit of a myth/miss-perception but this is not a lesson on histozoology…



1. oraclebase - January 22, 2016

RE: “Do you remember those old guys (and occasional gals) you met back then? Often with beards..”

Yes. I often think back to those fine memories of old gals with beards…

Resisting urge to talk about small mammals… πŸ™‚



mwidlake - January 22, 2016

Oddly I did work with a lady who had a better mustache than I could muster – she could also programme better than me and solved problems with other people’s code that stumped most of the team.

Don’t go down the small mammal route, some US Mammalist lunatics might take offence…

2. patrickhurley - January 22, 2016

In the beginning I was a COBOL programmer, so I have been two different types of dinosaur.

mwidlake - January 22, 2016

Oh no no no! COBOL programmers come under Pterosaurs and they are quite different from dinosaurs!

3. jgarry - January 22, 2016

Young whippermammals these days, they think they’ve invented some new paradigm, roll out software every day and break stuff all over the planet.

When I started, we had 32 kilowords and we liked it!

I was a better programmer then, I could hold more things in my brain at once.

4. Doug - January 22, 2016

I have bad news for you: You should be worried about the fact that you don’t notice many youth scurrying about. There are more small mammals scurrying around than ever before. If you don’t notice them, it’s because they are busy building cities and armies so far from your current position you can’t even see them from here. Dinosaurs (I am one) beware!

mwidlake - January 23, 2016

Well I’m heartened to hear you have a healthy population of busy mammals where you are, ‘cos we need them! And I really want to see them storming the dinosaur cities (so long as they ask us before butchering us what mistakes to avoid!)

But you are simply wrong to suggest I just don’t notice them in my “lofty position” – I’ve been responsible for hiring junior developers & DBAs and youngsters are pretty rare. That could be because the younger lot do not see databases as “cool” but I’ve worked in a good few places across a lot of businesses in the last 10 years and usually my role involves helping out the developers and training people – so I go over to the teams and meet people. Most of them are closer to a free bus pass than being a student and most of the younger ones have been shipped in from India (or Eastern Europe). The age balance is simply nothing like it was in my first decade in the business – when did I last see a dozen sub-25 programmers in a single room? Once, in an academic institute. Which, it seems, would match your current environment. I’d assumed they would also be more numerous in gaming and apps development companies but I’ve heard tell that it’s an issue there too :-(. Some, but simply not enough.

I’d love to be wrong but, at least as far as corporate IT goes, the mammals need some help. It’s a recognised issue in the UK industry that we have very little home-grown talent and an aging workforce, which is why I now do more intro talks and I’ve been talking to people about the issue of getting younger talent. If I’ve missed them, they are hiding damned well!!!

5. Noons - January 23, 2016

Dinosaurs? Pah, you bunch of juvenile, budding, wet behind the ears nobodies!
And Moans knows NOTHING about old stuff! He’s just another newb!
Give me a punched card and I’ll show you how to punch your name in it, one hole at a time!
And I’ll burn the dropped confetti just in case someone else wants to reconstruct it.
(Don’t laugh, I knew a French colonel who insisted on all confetti being destroyed!!!)
COBOL? You, utter newbs! Try proper Assembler, on punched tape, with 16Kwords of memory to compile it!
Now, THOSE were the times! πŸ™‚
(Don’t get me started on metal plug-boards for Univac 1004 computers, I might drop one on your foot…)

mwidlake - January 23, 2016

Good rant Noons πŸ™‚ Now let me get you your slippers whilst you pop your teeth in this glass.

Noons - January 24, 2016

Hehehe! Love it!

6. Jakub Wartak - January 25, 2016

RE: “Of course it does not help that you work on a legacy system, namely Oracle. I am not the first to say this by a long, long shot, Mogens Norgaard started saying this back in 2004 (I can’t find the source articles/document yet, just references to them} and he was right even then.”

I think he wrote about it in one of the OakTable books describing how the mainframe lost the battle with the commodity stuff…

7. Peter Moore - January 27, 2016

But one day, we dinosaurs will evolve into beautiful birds.
Or pigeons.
And then we’ll be able to shit on the mammals’ heads, if we wanted to.

I’m not sure how this works with your overall metaphor…

mwidlake - January 27, 2016

Neither do I, but it made me smile πŸ™‚

The whole “birds are evolved from dinosaurs” was a big topic when I was at college (studying zoology and genetics), due to cladistics (the study of shared or similar anatomical features, in this case skeletal) so I was an early smart-arse going “oh, look at the pretty dinosaurs in that tree”.

8. NormanDunbar - February 3, 2016

16 KWords? Pah, who needed that amount!

I had 1Kb. Sinclair ZX-81 back in 1982. Taught myself Basic and wrote a database system to catalogue my record collection. Hey, I might have been smart enough to learn Basic by myself, but what did I know about memory? Nothing as it turned out.

The system was good enough to let me enter, save, load and search though. It just gave out of memory errors when I entered record number 4. I’ve been a database fan ever since.

Dinosaur? Me? Yup indeed. And also, being a Highlander, I’m immortal. Who wants to live forever? πŸ˜‰


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