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Handling Discrimination in the IT Workplace? 918

RJ asks: "I would like to get some advice from others that may be going through the same situation I am. I am currently 19 and will be turning 20 in 1 week. I have held my current job, as Systems-Network Administrator, for almost a year now in very good standing according to my direct boss, the IT Manager. I have 5 years industry experience and a few certifications, yet I am more then qualified for my current position according to previous employers (and my work history/experience). It has recently come to my attention that our IT Director is trying to either find a way to get rid of me or transfer me into a miserable job position, all because of my age. My Boss explained to me he thinks it has to do with a bit of jealousy. Everyone I work with is over the age of 30 and the IT director is in his mid 40's." Either your too old, or your too young, or it's racial issues, sexual preference, and sometimes it can even be religion. Despite the fact that it's the 21st century discrimination still exists and many of us have had to face it in our careers. For most, it basically amounts to a career roadblock, while for others, it can also turn into an extremely humiliating and terrible experience. What options exist for those who experience it in any of the many forms it can take in the workplace?

"The IT Director has never approached me about any of this and treats me fine to my face, but seems to talk bad about me around my Boss, though my boss does his best to defend me. I have had no work problems (documented or not) and have a clean HR record. It's to the point I can't trust anyone at work anymore. Everywhere I work people like me but as soon as they learn my age they automatically hate me, become jealous, or try to find ways to get rid of me. I have learned to deal with this problem as I figured it went with the territory. However, I also have a new baby daughter and a new wife to support and I can't lose my job, especially in this economy. Needless to say I am polishing up the resume and starting to look for a new job, but can anyone offer any sound advice, or legal actions which I can take if I do get fired, or even suggest employers in the industry that are friendly to my age bracket?"

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Handling Discrimination in the IT Workplace?

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  • by Sk3lt ( 464645 ) <[pete] [at] []> on Sunday December 30, 2001 @11:45AM (#2764688)
    I always have this and I am the same age as you, Well I turn 20 mid December next year but anyway... I found that if you confront them and show them how much you know and how confident you are at your job then they will learn to respect your level of knowledge. Remember in the business world it all comes down to trying to run a succesful company and if they feel that your age will interupt this trend then that's why they might get offended.

    I don't see a problem if you are doing your job and as you said your direct boss doesn't have a problem with you.

    I am currently still studying at college but I always do jobs fixing computers on my time off and when the people see me (I look young) they get offended a bit until I show them how confident I am with what I do and then they change there mind.

    The Older generation feel that they are more advanced with computers and forget to realise that alot of kids are growing up with computers too.
  • by MrAndrews ( 456547 ) <mcm@ 1 8 8> on Sunday December 30, 2001 @11:54AM (#2764723) Homepage
    I had the same problems starting out as an 18-year-old in IT. Luckily for me I look a little older than my age, so I had some time to spare before anyone caught on.

    One particularly nasty moment I had was when I went in for a job interview, then a second, then a third at this company, and at the end of the third they brought me around to meet the people I was going to be working with, get to know people, see my desk etc. And one of the people I met said, "Hey, didn't you go to high school with my brother?"
    Sure enough, I got the call the next day that they'd given the job to someone else (who they'd already told me wasn't qualified).

    But it's how it goes. You get pressured out of jobs because of your age, or get quietly underpaid for the same work, or have managers explain to you "in the workplace, we do not always get full lunch hours like in school".

    The thing to look for could be companies that were started by younger people (harder to find these days, admittedly), because they tended to do their thing as a result of being underappreciated at their old jobs.

    I myself went into freelance and contract work, because you are sold on your reputation before they meet you. I also find that starting your own company (get lots of credit cards and disconnect your fear mechanism) is a good thing to do, ESPECIALLY when you have a wife and daughter (my situation exactly... it makes you work harder).

    A few years from now you'll look back at this time, a second kid on the way, and think "wow, I can't believe almost every one of the companies I worked for that treated me like crap have gone out of business!", and it will all be okay.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:13PM (#2764796) rince.html []

    I must admit that as a younger manager I did my fair share of crushing.

    The core problem is that in a corporate (and government) environment there's always a fair bit of lying and backstabbing going on, usually at the same time.

    You know the mix, two truths and one lie.

    If there's some know-it-all who starts correcting me when I'm feeding this mixture to someone I have to placate/bribe to get, for example, the budget to rehire the selfsame wiseass next year, I'm going to smile, nod, and thank that person there and then, then turn around and fire his ass next day.

    It would be so much nicer if the world were a better place but as it is, I have to live in it. I'm trying to change it all right but that change'll take more than my lifetime to push through.

    Remember kids: even if you know how the stuff is done, you probably don't know, at 20, the reason your manager (or salesperson) is lying.

  • by wayn3 ( 147985 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:18PM (#2764810)
    My feelings exactly. Your boss should be the one handling this, perhaps with Personnel.

    If your boss won't support you, then try to get a letter of recommendation from him and work on getting another job. As the poster of the parent note implies, once a Director has a mind to do things, like canning someone, they usually find a way to do it.

    Good luck in your next job (and there will always be a next job).
  • How I handled this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by firewort ( 180062 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:31PM (#2764860)

    I went and scheduled a meeting with the manager, and then the second line manager (higher-up.) As a performance review.

    I said I simply wanted to get some feedback on how they thought I was doing and how I could continue to meet their expectations.

    I said I felt I was doing well at meeting my goals, but I wanted to make sure that I was doing all that I could, and wanted their opinions on my performance.

    The first job I ever did this at, it was wonderful. I heard better things about myself than I could have guessed. This was at a small company.

    The next time I did this, it was at a large multinational corporation. The manager brought my team leader into the meeting even though I hadn't wanted it. The team leader was a micromanager who changed my priorities daily, took away whatever I was working on and finished it himself, without giving feedback about what I was or wasn't doing, even when asked. So, he lit into a speech about how I managed to contribute no value to the team. (Despite other team members sending notes praising me to the manager. I was copied on those.)

    I was given a chance to respond, and I fell for it- I showed clearly how every point was an unfair assessment. I won the battle, but lost the war. I've not been fired, but I do have weekly meetings with my manager now.

    He gets good feedback via notes from my new team leader, and other members of the team. I tell him how I've met my deadlines, and what I'm working on next and when the deadline is for it. He nods and smiles and comes up with something esoteric to criticise, like, did I improve customer satisfaction this past week? To which I say, yes, I met my deadline and excelled at providing the customer with a better 'X'. ...

    So, be careful, learn from my experiences. However, it does look good to be proactive and seek out ways- just be careful to not get ambushed as I did, and in doing so, don't get sucked into winning the battle...
  • by snookerdoodle ( 123851 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:37PM (#2764879)
    This is so true - I hope you read it again before disagreeing with it...

    Personally, I'm 44 with an engineering degree. 5 years ago, I began to transition from purely s/w dev (started professionally in 1982) to IT management. I now do very little development - Java stuff under Domino - and am responsible for several sites.

    I personally LOVE younger guys and have tried unsuccessfully to put some into network management positions. In retrospect, the lack of success really was due to lack of maturity. I know that had I been onsite personally, I could have shielded them from interpersonal dealings with Users. But I couldn't be there. Our next folks will be a little older with at least the fortitude to get a BS and/or MSCE-type certifications.

    Why? Because the job is more about managing and educating users (to make them Good Users) than about setting up networks, adding accounts, installing updates, etc.

    Here's what I think is my Big Quote:

    Until we see that our jobs are about relationships, not machines, we will always be perceived as immature.

    And rightly so.

  • by Bowie J. Poag ( 16898 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:39PM (#2764888) Homepage

    If you've approached your manager with the same pile of BS that you approached Slashdot:

    "I'm 19 years old with 5 years industry experience"

    You shouldn't be surprised that he's trying to get rid of you. That statement alone sort of underscores your ignorance. Incase you missed it, it implies that you've been working at a 6-to-5 job that actually _matters_ since the age of 14.

    Warezing != "industry experience".
    Upgrading AOL on your dad's computer != "industry experience".
    Having a personal webpage != "industry experience".

    Its like this, spudboy.."industry experience" means sleeping on the floor of your office overnight because you need to babysit half a dozen mission-critical AIX, Solaris and IRIX boxes following a complete power-failure and network outage, because if you dont, the entire department's workload might grind to a halt, and the company will lose $30,000 per minute until its fixed. Many people here have seen and dealt with that sort of thing. No offense, but I doubt you have seen anything similar during your "5 years of industry experience".

    Here's another way to look at it --- I've been coding since about the age of 4. Yes, 4. And no, i'm not kidding. (Hell, my parents still have one of my "Apple ][ Operators License" picture IDs in a photo album from when I was in 2nd grade..) Now, do you think I would put "I'm 27 years old and have 23 years industry experience" on my resume'?

    Nuff said.

  • by Preposterous Coward ( 211739 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:52PM (#2764920)
    Put aside your pride (and concerns about feeding your family) for a moment and try to take an objective look at the situation, the players, and what might be going on behind the scenes. Based on your description, it sounds like there's something very strange happening here.

    You say your boss likes you, but your boss also tells you that the IT director wants to get rid of you? That's weird -- the IT director is going to get rid of a valuable employee over his immediate boss's objections? What could be causing that? Maybe your boss is not being completely honest with you (could it be that he wants to get rid of you and shift the blame to someone else so he can save himself some guilt when it comes time to fire you?). I'm not saying that's the case, since I don't know the circumstances, but I think you need to consider what may really be happening vs. what people are telling you.

    You also say "everywhere I soon as they learn my age they automatically hate me." That's really odd. I can understand some level of jealousy, and even one or two companies that are full of bozos who dislike young whippersnappers like you, but if you are finding this in a variety of different work environments then there may be something else going on. If you are really performing and able to work with people, most companies wouldn't care about your age. Since you are basically saying that your age is ALWAYS a problem, I think you have to ask whether your age -- or more precisely your attitude, level of maturity, or other things that come with your age -- REALLY IS a problem. (I don't say this to be cruel; I was also a precocious kid, was managing six people by age 23, etc; this is my perspective as a now-30-something who knows he made plenty of stupid mistakes in his youth.)

    Two suggestions. First, start by making a really candid assessment of the situation, starting with your own behavior. What could you have been doing that would lose you points with your boss, your boss's boss, your coworkers, or other people in the company instead of winning points? Could it be that you make them feel dumb? (There's sometimes a fine line between helping people out and being an obnoxious know-it-all.) Could it be that you don't behave in a "professional" manner? Could you be really full of yourself? (There's a big difference between telling people your age and flaunting it.) Could it be that you actually made decisions, or advocate positions, that are bad for the company? (In my experience, this is a common one among young people who are very smart but lack business wisdom -- they may get all up in arms because they're convinced they have the Right Answer about some technical issue, but they fail to consider the larger business concerns.)

    Second, take pre-emptive action. If you think you might get fired, you need to be ready with an alternative. Polish up your resume, get in touch with old contacts who might know where you could find a new position (referrals are always much better than answering random want ads or Monster postings), etc. But be careful not to neglect your responsibilities in the meantime -- you want to be a model employee. And DO NOT talk about this with anyone other than your immediate boss! Being a chatterbox will only reinforce any image of you as immature.

    Personally I wouldn't suggest legal recourse, because I doubt you'll really get anywhere with it. There's not a whole lot of precedent I'm aware of (IANAL, of course) for "reverse" age discrimination, and furthermore, actually proving that's what led to your firing (should it come to that) might be really difficult. It certainly won't exactly be something you'll want to brag about to your next employer.

    Good luck.

  • by dhogaza ( 64507 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @01:58PM (#2765122) Homepage
    I'm 47 and have been working professionally since my mid-teens, over thirty years in other words.

    The fact that I was 16 didn't stop DEC from thanking my friends and I for what later because OS/8 Teco (text editor, and the "8" stands for PDP-8). Thanked us on the first page of the user manual, as a matter of fact, for the entire world to see.

    Nor did it stop customers from buying other software my friends and I wrote.

    Let's see ... I was being paid for my work, my work was being bought and used world-wide within the PDP-8 community (which was a tiny one by today's standards, of course). And you're saying I wasn't a professional because I happened to be in High School at the time?


    Next thing you'll say is that I'm no longer working professionally because I manage an Open Source project.

    As far as not being taken seriously due to age, it wasn't a serious problem back then. It was a smaller and less formal world of computers back in those days.

    I vastly prefer my gigabyte Linux boxes that cost less than an 8192 12-bit word PDP-8 did in the late 60s, but I kinda miss the informality and "small-town" feeling of the industry that I entered over 30 years ago.
  • Could be (Score:2, Interesting)

    by epseps ( 39675 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @02:05PM (#2765145)
    Yeah, discrimination exists. I taught myself Linux (with help from wonderful people on the net and books of course) at age 32. I wanted a career change from being a truck driver. You wanna talk about discrimination? Try jumping from blue collar work to white collar work at my age.

    But I figured I could either whine about it and try to change the whole IT industry or I could try to change myself, my approach to resumes, interviews, dress...whatever and hope to find a cool place to work where they viewed my ambition to change careers as a positive thing and not a weird thing.

    I found one after sending out 600+ resumes.

    This guy is young, experienced and has a whole wide world of careers and/or schooling ahead of him. Either his employers are ingrates and should be ditched as quickly as possible or he has some other flaws that ARE the real reason people want him out.

    Either way the solution is up to him alone and not 'society'.
  • by ratdesang ( 546973 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @02:39PM (#2765245)

    I've read alot of comments, people saying he's too young to have professional experience of 5 years. When I was a freshman in highschool, I was offered the chance to work part time as an assistant to a systems administrator at the local FAA. I took it. From that point on, I did part time sys-admin work all over the place. I was 14 at the time. Because of my age, I did need to file some paperwork at some government office in order to get around all those child labor laws, but still.

    Anyhow, on to the problem. Probably 4 years ago I worked a job where I was heavily descriminated against because of my age. I was able to keep them at bay by doing as someone else suggested from the Art of War, act weak when you are strong, act strong when you are weak. It's a nice quote but it only works so far.

    The problem was my age still kept poping up. I was passed up for promotions despite being the most qualified for a given position and my clean working record. The whole weak-strong thing only prevented me from being harassed about my age, or forced to work overtime simply beacuse they could.

    Really, you can do lots of things but removing all the grey areas you have three; Stay. Protest. Quit.

    You could just tough it out. Suffer with your boss, try to win his favor, etc. It's been my experience that this never works.

    You could file a complaint with the Dept. of Justice, or (if you're lucky) a union, or the Human Resources department if they have a grevience process. Still, this only rocks the boat. You'll find that the worst kind of descrimination is the one that you don't see happening. It seems like your boss has been fairly public about his dislike of you based on your age. If you file a complain it's likly this sort of descrimination will simply go underground. Most cases of harassment I've seen rocking the boat only makes matter worse, often times moving up the descrimination to the executive level. Corporates don't like people willing to rock the boat.

    Finally, and this one I strongly suggest; Quit. Leave. Don't look back. Don't sue, don't whine, don't talk about it unless asked. Find and new job and never worry about this shit again.

    Just my two cents. Oh, and good luck.

  • by lazurs ( 133101 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @03:04PM (#2765316) Homepage
    0. everyone has skeletons in their closet- FIND them.

    1. Every ORG I have ever been with has a problem with software licenseing. they need x # of copies on y # of computers, but don't have the licenses. Doucment EVERY time you are told to install software that you KNOW your company does not have a license for, record date, software, time, and WHO told you to do it.

    2. Does not hurt if you also send messages to your boss stating things like "what do we do if we are audited?"- basicly anything that you can do to cover your rear and show you tried to address the problem.

    3. They try to get rid of you, on your last week, have a meeting with your boss and his boss, and tell them you are calling the SPA, and sue for mental damage caused by your guilt feelings over having to perform illegal acts to keep your job.
  • by Derek S ( 19004 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @03:05PM (#2765318)
    I've spent most of my working years as a hiring manager, but I'm still young enough (28) to be partially biased towards the original poster's viewpoint. I did lots of small IT jobs as a teenager, but didn't think of it as a career path until I graduated from college.

    When considering candidates, I do try to take all that early experience into account. However, I do not treat it the same way as full-time corporate experience. It's definitely a good thing to get your feet wet while you're a student. It tends to get you exposure to a wider variety of products and technologies than you'll see as an entry-level IT grunt at a big company. Also, the people who get an early start are often the ones who have a self-sustaining love for the technology. Later in life, they tend to need less encouragement to figure things out on their own.

    On the other hand, immersion in the real working world provides its own range of experiences. You learn how to fit your work into the company's "big picture" instead of focusing on whatever you think is cool at the moment. You also may get a chance to work with higher-end systems that are simply unavailable to a student doing part-time work. Most importantly, you learn that you're not quite as smart as you originally thought you were. That knowledge tends to make people a lot more cautious, and thus a lot less dangerous.

    My ideal candidate has had a few years of both types of experience. I recall that doing IT work as a teenager was very useful for developing my basic skills (particularly troubleshooting). But in those days I tended to be the local computer expert and my choices were rarely questioned. It was easy to get the impression that I was prepared to take on a more serious role at a real corporation. Looking back, there's no way I would have hired myself at the time for the sort of work I do now. In the past few years, I've learned to fear the wunderkind who works with a $500K mission-critical database server as if it were his personal Linux desktop.

    For the original poster, I suggest that he definitely mention his early work in his resume. But he should be very careful about claiming it as "work experience", because it's probably not what employers are talking about when they use the term.
  • by Giro d'Italia ( 124843 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @03:15PM (#2765342)
    The problem I've seen in the industry with the younger crowd is that a lot (not all) of them assume that their decent computer skills also mean they have elevated maturity and judgement. A 12 year old can kick ass at chess and programming, but that doesn't automatically make them valuable to a team of working people.

    I sat in a meeting with two other developers in our mid 30s, and one guy who was 22. We old farts worked the problem, the young guy went on an on about how the things we were working around should also be fixed and how the other applications we had to talk to were poorly designed. These were things we all knew, but we had the judgement, and to some extent the professional respect, not to harp on.

    My gut feeling is that the fellow asking the question has alienated more than just the director. But it's hard to fault him, since he was probably raised by parents too concerned with his "self-esteem" too convey any sense of humility to him, which is essential to surviving in the workplace.
  • Re:Proof is good. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cramer ( 69040 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @03:46PM (#2765437) Homepage
    ... or nothing at all. NC is a "no cause" state. You can be fired for no reason at all.

    In this case, it would be rather easy to claim age descrimination, but I'm not either party's legal council so I only have the ramblings of a 19yo "punk" to go on.

    That being said, his employer may have very legitimate reasons for wanting the can his ass. It has been my experience that such young people do not have the "years of experience" and the "wisdom that comes with age". The combination leads to cockiness and arrogance. It takes a number of years to come to terms with the stupidity in the world. Sorry kid, you haven't even seen the stupidity yet.

    For example, he is claiming 5 years of experience which would mean he started working -- full-time -- at the age of 15. (bull shit) There are federal laws limiting the working environment and hours of minors. He could not legally hold a full-time job as a sysadmin until his 18th birthday (which is two years ago.) Even then, very, very few places would hire him without a diploma -- which he did not likely have until some months after his 18th birthday unless he dropped out @ 16 and got a GED. At any rate, I doubt he has anything approaching a college degree, so the evil corporation has a very simple reason to boot him out.
  • by juno ( 70153 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @05:33PM (#2765726) Homepage
    There have been numerous comments made about how it isn't correct to count 5 years of work experience between ages 14-19 as "5 years of industry experience". I don't disagree with this at all-- work done in high school, especially part time and for internships, is not equivalent to coming in every day for 8+ hours for 5 years, as an adult.

    So, bearing that in mind, how are we supposed to talk about experience? I'm 20 and got my first job at 15, doing data entry and document layout for a startup, and had done some volunteer tech support for my high school before then. Since then I've done various (corporate and academic) sysadmin and programming work, and some work as a data analyst. I think all of this counts in some way as experience in the field-- even if it isn't equivalent to an adult's experience, neither am I talking about mowing lawns, flipping burgers, or fixing my grandparents' PC. This was real work for real companies, with problem solving, customer interaction, and exposure to office politics.

    So far, when people ask me how many years of experience I have, I tend to say that "I've been working in IT since I was 15" (demonstrably true), rather than "I have 5 years of experience" (shaky ground). My resume makes it clear that much of this work was part time while attending school. Is that acceptable?

    Please understand that I'm not trying to pull a "But, but, I'm 20 years old and even though I'm /so/ much smarter than everyone else my old fogey managers don't listen to me!" kind of thing. I've had the good fortune to work for and around some stunningly bright people (enough to know when I'm sometimes outgunned), and in some ways have learned more about what I /don't/ know that what I do. But I have worked hard and made a real effort to build up experience that will make me an attractive candidate for employment when I graduate next term. Many of my classmates don't have as much work experience as I do any way you look at it, and in this tight economy I obviously want to get that across, as well as the general notion that while I'm not exactly a seasoned professional, I have a reasonable understanding of my strengths and weaknesses in the workplace, at least enough not to make a complete ass of myself politically (and technically).

    I find it offensive when people discount my experience as worthless out of hand, probably like someone with 30 years in the industry gets annoyed when a 25 year old tries to play games of one-upmanship.

    How can I talk about what I view as valuable time and experience in the workplace without coming off as a cocky know-it-all?
  • Reverse Situation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @09:00PM (#2766195) Homepage
    Hey, it could be worse -- my company's busily removing all of the (attentive) parents. You'll get older, but they're stuck.

    The excuse being used is that the people who occassionally see their kids aren't working the same number of hours as we 24-year old single folks. This is being enforced by our VP, who has two kids but typically spends 80+ hours at work a week (no problem with priotiries there, eh?).

    Hell, just last week the person in the cube next to me got a talking-to because she "left early" (went to see her son's orchestra concert -- at 7 PM). My veep told 'er if she does it again she'll be "in a bad position for future layoffs".

    Of course, if you read my past comments about my company, this shouldn't be too shocking. I can't wait for the economy to recover so I can escape that shithole.

  • How do they know? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @11:24PM (#2766418) do they know you're 19? It's not like it's really any of their business. What would they really do if you told them you were, say, 22? Call your mother for verification? There is no law that says that you have to give them your real age (or name, or whatever). It isn't a government job is it? (in which case there *may* be laws). It's really none of their damn business how old you are and AFAIK you are not obligated give this sort of information.
  • by waimate ( 147056 ) on Monday December 31, 2001 @12:23AM (#2766520) Homepage
    From your description, it sounds like the problem is with your precocious immaturity, but it's very hard to say that to someone you know, which is probably why everyone at work is just behaving like they wished you worked somewhere else.

    You've got to be very, very good to get away with being precocious and immature. Usually that means you're so bright that you also modify your behaviour accordingly. It becomes more of a problem at the fringe, for those people who are easily impressed by themselves.

  • Or perhaps ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The AtomicPunk ( 450829 ) on Monday December 31, 2001 @12:32AM (#2766540)
    a) You're not as good as you think you are (who says your previous employers were worth a damn?)

    b) At your age, you don't realize that many of the things you think are "stupid reasons" aren't.

    c) You could just be an immature brat that they hate working with.

    Nothing personal, and I'm not over 30 - but everything isn't some conspiracy based on discrimination. I've worked with enough dipshits of ALL ages ...
  • The distorted world (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2001 @02:33AM (#2766729)
    Within my organization, I've risen to a somewhat senior position, and have chosen to remain (for now) a project leader rather than to persue higher management. I am fortunate that monetary compensation in my organization is not constrained if you choose to remain in a technical position.

    I'm 37 years old. I've hired a number of 19-23 year-olds who thought they knew everything. The more they "knew," the more likely it was that they would self destruct, or get fired. With a few exceptions. most people that age require a good deal of supervision, oversight, and guidance.

    Information technology is a strange field. In few other fields is knowledge, youth and enthusiasm so often misaken for wisdom or brilliance.

    Using existing tools to accomplish well-defined tasks with nothing at stake is not experiece.

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost