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A Look Back Five Years

Many of us are likely to remember vividly what we were doing on this day five years ago. I was a product manager at Compuware, in the NuMega Lab in Nashua, New Hampshire. Just before a 9:00 AM meeting, I happened to glance at the home page, where there was a photo of smoke coming from the one of the World Trade Center towers, along with a headline that said simply that a plane had struck. The damage didn't seem bad, so it looked like a simple accident, although in retrospect the cloudless sky over Manhattan should have tipped me off.

I went off to my meeting, and it was only afterwards that we realized the magnitude of the disaster. And there was still more. Perhaps an hour later, we came to realize that two of our colleagues, Graham and Myra, were on the two planes that had departed Logan for Los Angeles that morning, making an unscheduled and permanent stop in south Manhattan. Bob, who was Myra's boss and had the office next to Graham's, didn't move from his desk all day, and just stared into his computer screen in shock.

I went out to late lunch with a friend, and we each had a drink. Well, two drinks. There wasn't much to be said, so it was a quiet lunch. Both of us knew that the world had changed that day. This Compuware lab still has a remembrance ceremony.

I like to think of myself as a student of history. In 1992, Francis Fukuyama published a book entitled The End of History and the Last Man, an expansion of an essay he wrote in the international affairs journal The National Interest. In the book, Fukuyama argues the controversial thesis that the end of the Cold War signaled the end of the progression of human history.

History, it seems, goes on, although perhaps not in the sense that Fukuyama meant. He was referring to the inevitability of history, the progression from one stage to another, that Karl Marx had postulated as the social development of the human condition.

But stuff still happens. Some of it is important stuff, and will be remembered as history.

I suppose this has more to do with life than with IT, but there are lessons to both. We assume that we are in a safe career, yet we are a part of the world around us and face the same dangers and uncertainties. Sometimes you are simply in the wrong place, and get caught up with something that is completely out of your control.

Most of us also correlate this tragedy with the dotcom bust and the loss of the seemingly endless progression of exciting IT jobs. The two are approximately contiguous in time, but there is little or no causation. The dotcom era (or perhaps more accurately, the first dotcom era) had played itself out almost a year earlier, and it took that long to make its absence felt. Certainly the events of this day accelerated the process, but there is no denying the process itself.

The constant may be the cycles of IT activity and opportunity. It took some time, but the industry came back. While I am by nature an optimist, I have no doubt that the cycle will repeat.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 09/11/2006

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