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Do you pine for the good old days?

I was with two of my kids for “Take Your Child to Work Day” not long ago. We went to a bustling IBM location and, while there, I noticed something odd. I asked myself, “Why is there a Model 168 over there?” This was a computer that I worked on when I first joined IBM almost 30 years ago, and there it was sitting in the corner of the cafeteria. I immediately realized that it was on display as a museum piece—that’s how old I am. So, I told the kids exactly what had just happened to me (they were less surprised at how old I was than I) and I walked them over to explain how a 168 worked.


They are accustomed to hearing about how their mom and I had no computers in our homes when we grew up. (I am sure it sounds like my dad telling me about how they had to save a nickel to buy a movie ticket during the “Great Depression”—just what was so great about it, anyway?)
But I decided to go into more detail. I tried to explain how what they were looking at, which was the size of a walk-in closet, was but a small part of the computer–it was essentially the central processing unit that fits on a chip today. There was a roomful of huge printers and disk drives and networking equipment that made it work in real life.
The 168 was one of the first computers to have a screen instead of just a set of flashing lights and switches, although it had lots of those, still. And I explained how their cell phones probably have a faster CPU and how the memory stick inside has more storage than that whole room did back in the ’70s.
And it made me realize how different the technology industry is from most other industries. I mean, if I showed you a car from the ’70s, it would look old, but you’d recognize it as a car. And you could figure out how to drive it—in just a few minutes. In fact, you’d recognize and be able to use most products from that era. But not a computer.
In fact, I doubt whether many of the people, myself included, that knew how to run those computers back then would even remember how to work them now. Technology changes so rapidly that there’s no such thing as learning skills and just executing your job throughout your career.
I remember noticing in the 1980s that there were very few 50-year-old programmers. The few I met were very good, but most people that age who had been programmers had moved on to other fields. They had become managers or systems analysts or project managers or some other role that benefited from their technical knowledge, but did not require cutting-edge up-to-date techniques. They had gravitated to roles that changed more slowly.
At the time, I thought that it made sense, that as you get older, you might want to do a job that was pretty much the same as it was last year. I thought that as you get older, you might tire of constantly keeping up with the new thing. After all, an accountant has changes to keep up with, but not this many. Most jobs are reasonably similar to what they were when you started them 30 years ago, but not technology jobs.
And then it hit me. What’s happened since the dawn of the Web is that technological change has begun to inject itself into many jobs, not just ones that are ostensibly technical. And, yes, marketing is now buffeted about based on swings in technology, so that now marketers must deal with search and social media and podcasts and who knows what next.
And I would forgive you if you were pining for the good old days, when metrics consisted of counting the coupons turned in at the register. Or keeping track of how many people did what the print ad told them: “Call this number and ask for Alice.” Well, Alice doesn’t live here anymore.
We’re stuck living in the times we are. Frankly, if you’re not excited about the changes in marketing, you probably need to find another line of work. Just like those old programmers that became project managers or personnel managers, you might need to find something to do that doesn’t require you to keep up. Because as much as it’s true that you don’t need to keep up with everything that’s trendy, you do need to pay attention to enough of what’s going on that you try things to see if they work for you.
Pining for the good old days might be comforting, but it’s not successful.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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