Old Geeks Never Die, They Just …


In contrast to my previous column on ageism in Silicon Valley, I thought a change of pace to a somewhat more uplifting theme would definitely be in order. Besides, at least we’re still alive and kicking, right? Speaking of which, old geeks never die, they just …

Dress warmer. When I was young I was always hot (temperature-wise). I remember fighting over the thermostat with all the older guys in the office. Now I’m always cold so I thought a mea culpa would be nice, if not a bit late. Funny how my wife flipped the opposite way; now I freeze at night. That’s Karma for you.

Have astigmatisms. The eye doctors always said we’d develop astigmatisms from sitting too close to our computer displays for too long. Did we listen? Nah. I had perfect vision until I turned 40. Now I’m both nearsighted and farsighted and I have astigmatisms in both eyes. How is that even possible? At least I don’t have cataracts … yet.

Pray for a hardware bubble. Let’s face it folks, hardware ain’t what it used to be. All the venture funding is in software. Even Apple calls itself a software company. I keep wondering when Silicon Valley is going to officially change its name. What will they call it? Code Valley? Social Valley? Wait, I know. They’ll call it San Francisco.

Can’t party like they used to. As single chip designers back in the 80s, my coworkers and I used to go out partying just about every night. Sometimes we’d even go back to work afterwards. Not to mention the occasional pitchers of beer at lunch. I don’t know how – or why – we did it. Just young and dumb and having fun, I guess.

Become their bosses. As a brash young engineer I was always fighting with my bosses over one thing or another. If it wasn’t more flexible hours or dopey dress codes it was the idiotic annual review system (“rank and rate” this). Look at us now. Those of us who rose through the ranks know exactly what we’ve become. We’ve become them.

Drive way cooler cars. Considering that $20,000 in 1980 is like $57,000 now, you’ve got to admit, you get a lot more horsepower, gadgetry, and gas mileage for your money. Then again, they’ll never beat those classic muscle cars of the 60s and 70s. I’ll take a ’69 Chevy Camaro over a Tesla any day.

Recycle a lot of equipment. Printers, computers, notebooks, modems, workstations, tape drives … you name it; I’ve recycled it. The one thing I can’t bring myself to part with is my collection of classic microprocessors. I have samples of 386s, 486s … even a P5-60 from before Intel revealed the Pentium brand. That thing got so hot you could fry an egg on it. Still wish I had a 4004, though.

Drink better coffee. In the early days at Texas Instruments we used to buy coffee out of vending machines. They came in these little paper cups. It was so bad we called it battery acid. Now we have those funky automatic espresso machines, not to mention Starbucks and even Peet’s out here on the left coast. Woohoo.

Add zeros. In terms of processor memory and storage we went from kilobytes all the way to gigabytes and terabytes … or bits in the case of network bandwidth. Processor speeds went from megahertz to gigahertz. Semiconductor design rules went the other way, from micrometers to nanometers. Isn’t the metric system great?

Reserve their expletives. You know it’s true: we sure don’t curse like we used to. It’s just not cool anymore, at least not at work. You can’t even joke around anymore; not like in the old days. Everyone’s all concerned about being politically correct and not offending anyone. What’s the world coming to? Sheesh.

Now that I think about it, I know what really happens to old geeks: They get upgraded to a better version.

Related: 10 Signs You’re an Old Geek