Ray Ozzie's Inspiring Talk Is Just As Applicable To You

Ozzie's Imagine Cup Talk Can Inspire More Than Just Young Programmers

On July 3rd, Ray Ozzie spoke to the 444 youthful competitors at the annual Imagine Cup competition held this year in Cairo, Egypt. Ozzie spoke about his own technology journey, the people who inspired him and the insight, the ah-ha, that set him on his mission to create collaboration software like Notes and Groove. It was when Ozzie finally met a co-worker while a system programmer working on PLATO, finding out this person who created the most insightful and elegant technical specs, worked at his home because he was a quadriplegic. Ozzie's co-worker typed out those specs one key press at a time, and he was able to collaborate with Ozzie and others because of the very technology they were working on, PLATO. It transcended physical limitations and geographic distances, enabling Ozzie to learn from and work with this gifted person.

Ozzie's words to this youthful audience were meant to inspire them, show them they had accomplished great things by making it to Cairo, and to inspire them to relentlessly pursue their dreams and change the world.

It might interest you to know that you have a very distinct advantage to solving today's problems relative to somebody like me, specifically because of your youth and your inexperience. You're untainted by the knowledge of the patterns and practices and approaches that have failed in the past or with past technologies. And you do have a chance to succeed and make an important during your careers and during your lifetimes beyond your wildest dreams.

Ozzie's message is quite simple, really. 1) Recognize and congratulate yourself for what you've accomplished, all that you have done to get to this point in your technology career. It's very likely you've worked really hard to achieve what you have. So many systems you've setup and managed, maybe even data centers you've built. Learning technologies like Windows Server, Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server, Microsoft Office products, SharePoint and Windows desktop OSs... technologies without which your company couldn't function. You may have immersed yourself in learning .NET, C#, ASP.NET or Visual Basic to be able to build the software and systems you've created. Whatever those accomplishments you achieved, it meant putting in months, years and maybe even a decade or two of hard work. As technologists we tend to see what went wrong so we can fix it or we always think that things could have been better, rather than focus on what went right, was done well, and the gains we've achieved. Be proud, feel good and recognize the really good things you've done.

relentless software
2) Be relentless and pursue what you care deeply about. Persevere. Work and jobs can be inspiring or they can become comfortable, or can even become that perpetual treadmill you're on. I've learned that it's only really about how you choose to view things. It's all in how you look at it. Work is a joy or work is a chore, either way it's a choice you make. Maybe there's something you're passionate about that you've set aside or been distracted from. Maybe your career has taken you away from what you do best. The easiest work to do is the work you love. That's when the time flies by and you can't wait to get back to it. Comedian Chris Rock says when you have a job it feels like there's always too much time (when's it going to be five o'clock), but when you have a career there's never enough time (I better go in Saturday to do some stuff). For me, Chris' idea about having a career is about having passion, bringing it with you every day, inspiring others along the way.

nerd dog
3) If you're different, that's good. When I started my career being a geek wasn't such a cool thing. Certainly not like it's become today. Geek is cool. Why? Look at all you can do as someone who can harness technology, shaping it, creating it, and using technology to achieve what you want to accomplish. That's cool. But even today technologists like ourselves can feel out of place, feeling different. If there's one lesson I've learned that I can share with you, it's that you are who gets to define you, not others. Their views a merely opinions, good or bad, on target or way off base. You can learn from them, but don't let them define you. You won't relentlessly pursue what you're passionate about if you allow yourself to be defined by how others think. Einstein was a little odd, wasn't he? Really odd actually. Bill Gates personified nerd. I have no doubt Ray Ozzie was just as big a nerd as Gates, maybe bigger. Whoever you are, whatever you do well, be proud of it and use it to do your best, even if you stick out in the process every once in a while or a lot.  

Let's look some more at what Ozzie had to say about software.

Software is the ultimate pliable medium. That's why I love software. And all of us got accustomed to knowing that we could make software do just about anything that we could imagine. And so we could step up and think more about for what purpose we're developing software, toward what end. We'd dream, and then we'd be able to suspend disbelief because we knew we had a tool with which we could realize those dreams.

I recently heard someone on one of the cable channels say that there is no more science fiction because science is proving we can achieve pretty much whatever we come up with. I say horse hockey. It's about dreaming, that's what inspires us. As long as we continue to dream, there will be new frontiers to explore, unsolvable problems to solve, software to be created, and... more science fiction. Software is science fiction. Some of it has only been thought of but hasn't yet been created. Some software is the science fiction of the past, that we're living out today. And there's an infinite amount of software we haven't yet dreamed of creating... but we will, we will. So don't stop dreaming.

I don't know where you are in your technology career. Maybe you are two or three years into your first job out of school. Maybe you've been going at this for a while, into your 6th, 10th, 15th or 20 plus year of your career. Maybe you're just entering the field of IT, making a career change because of the economy, or still studying in school.

No matter where you are in your career, I believe Ray Ozzie's words apply to you too. Ozzie's words can be just as inspiring. They can be... if we let them. What a powerful idea, that we can change the world through something as simple and adaptable as software. We can do this if we take our knowledge and experiences, and use them to propel us forward, rather than as filters or limitations we shackle new ideas with. The first step to achieving anything is believing you can do it. I think that's what Ozzie was trying to say.

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