This month marks four years since I finally stopped renewing consulting contracts, which made me officially retired. Since then, I have continued to maintain my pro bono client lists, and took some time to learn enough Python coding to put up a custom webcam at home, but have let my professional organization memberships lapse and do less coding than ever. I have continued to create bad videos of our too-infrequent bicycle rides, but the technical skills are gradually eroding without some stimulus to keep up.
Recently, that stimulus came with signing up for the Quora social media site, in which participants can ask questions about random subjects, which get directed to members who have listed some level of expertise in those particular subjects. So, I get asked questions about software engineering, Linux, operating systems in general, and other related fields which are fading from memory, forcing me to do a bit of research to verify facts I think I know for sure, but which invariably turn out to be not true [or at least, any more].
As a result, my rambling and sometimes oblique discourses on things about which I know very little, but about which I have strong opinions yet, get thrust upon the world, or at least the segment of the Quora community interested in such things. Some questions are inane, badly formed, or prompt me to ask myself, “People do that now?” At any rate, a lot of questions get multiple answers, and the answers are ranked by how many members (which may or may not include the original member who posed the question) “upvote” a particular answer. Quora tends to encourage continued participation by announcing who has upvoted your answer, but that is tempered by statistics showing how many people have seen your answer. Which, if you weigh that against the paucity of upvotes, means most users glanced at it and moved on. At least I haven’t seen any “downvotes,” yet.
The social engineering model is fueled by advertising: if users bother to read your post past the opening paragraph, they are greeted by an advertisement before getting to see the rest of the response. So, Quora has a vested interest in getting lots of responses to questions, and generating lots of questions to be answered. A large percentage of the questions I get fed are apparently generated by an AI algorithm rather than a real person. The majority of questions submitted by real people are ones that come from those interested in how to advance in the field, or aspiring programmers curious about pay scales. Students wonder about the downside of struggling to become a code monkey: how to advance without a formal education or survive in the industry long enough to pay off student loans. Some, I assume, are looking for answers to class problems without doing their own research.
There are the usual Linux versus Windows arguments, and some loaded questions, possibly posed by ringers to justify promoting a point of view. A number of the respondents to questions have impressive résumés, and are much better qualified to answer the questions authoritatively than I or many of the others that offer what are clearly biased opinions not grounded in fact. Many of the questions appear to come from practitioners and aspirants who are in the global marketplace, not many with down-home American monikers like Joe and Charlie, which leads me to fear that the U.S. heartland just isn’t growing a lot of technologists these days, but have relinquished progress to ambitious immigrants and the growing tech sector in the developing world.
So it goes. Besides keeping my personal technical knowledge base current, and maybe passing on some historical lore to the new generation of coders and admins, I’m preserving a tenuous connection with the community, albeit virtual rather than face-to-face. However, after a long career of being either the lone “factory rep” at a customer site or the lone Unix guy at a Windows shop, dependent on USENET or other on-line forums for community, it isn’t much different. It’s as close as I can get to being part of a “Senior Net,” offering advice and guidance as a community service. And, I get to learn new things, or at least remember the old ones better.