I get the weirdest comments regarding my job and/or education sometimes. Let me give you an example.
“I don’t envy you Luke,” said my coworker “I mean technology! Man… It moves so fast these days. It’s crazy. I’d never make it in a field like that. By the time you get out of school everything you have learned is pretty much obsolete”
How do you respond to something like that? It is not only preposterous, but also a very ignorant assumption.
It is true that ours is a fast moving field. There are few other research areas that advance with such a clockwork regularity. In the last 50 years we saw nothing but exponential increase in the processing speed of our integrated circuits – and because of that in raw computational power. Every 18 months we release hardware that is at least twice as good as the one you have right now. This is something unprecedented.
But this does not mean that every two years we reinvent the wheel and start from scratch. Yes, we do get new technologies introduced to our stack, and the environment we work in becomes more complex. But the underlying body of knowledge does not become obsolete. Ever!
For example, every computer (from that big cluster in the server room, to your iPhone) is based on Von Neumann architecture – which was conceived in the early 40′s which was grounded in the theoretical work done by Turing in late 30′s. The very concept of programmable, all purpose computer dates back to 1800′s and can be attributed to Charles Babbage. These ideas are still at the core of information technology. They didn’t become obsolete.
Same goes for software which moves even faster than the hardware. It’s true that we made great leaps in the fields of software engineering, operating system design, compiler design and programming languages. Still, no matter where you are running your code and what language you are using – when you need to sort a list, you will probably want to use the quick sort algorithm. Why? Because it’s fast and we haven’t really come up with anything more efficient yet. Similarly, a 50 years from now computer science students will still be learning about the traveling salesmen, knapsacks, wonder if P=NP (or maybe not, who knows…).
No one makes similar assumption about other fast moving industries. No one thinks that chemists and pharmaceutical specialists must re-learn their science every couple of years. No one assumes that doctors must re-learn medicine each time we make some new discoveries. No one thinks that automotive industry reboots itself every once in a while.
But computers are magical and they defy logic and common sense.