Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business


So, it has finally happened. I just turned 50 and I can’t say it was something I was looking forward to. First the good news: today seems to be a day like any other so if you’re younger than I am, from the far side of the great divide, I’m happy to inform you that there is nothing that feels abruptly different. The bad news is that even though nothing feels abruptly different plenty of things feel as if they’ve been changing subtly over time and not all are for the better.

Health-wise I fortunately have nothing to complain about. Other than some spare parts that were stolen from me during a visit to some medical institution and the usual assortment of dental and vision issues that are for now an almost un-avoidable part of aging I have been really lucky so far. Wounds take a bit longer to heal too so I have to be more careful. Not smoking, not drinking and not doing any drugs probably helped but there is no way of being 100% sure of that. I believe even absent proof that those choices contributed strongly to my present state of health and that those decisions factor in heavily whenever I’m working or playing along side people substantially younger and I don’t slow them down too much (well, that’s what I hope anyway).

Even so it’s a bit like the Sesame Street banana in your ear skit, it isn’t quite proof but the statistics seem to be on my side, it’s just that statistics don’t say much about any individual to begin with so what looks like good decision making could easily be luck.

When I’m in a group of people my own age I feel as though I’m around old people, I can’t help it. On a first encounter I instinctively use the formal form of address in Dutch and that’s really strange because I’m really going to have to admit that I’m one of them, and yet, I don’t feel like I’m old at all though I have to work a bit harder than in the past to stay fit and I find that pulling all nighters is no longer without a price. Other than that, from a physical point of view it’s business as usual.

What has really changed most over the years is my head.

My patience for bull-shit has definitely worn thin over the years, ditto patience for people that are hurting others for no particular reason, accidentally or maliciously. This always was a pet-peeve but I have to admit that I’m a bit shocked at how forceful I can position myself if I perceive injustices of any kind. The whole Aaron Swartz affair still has me raging and keeps me awake at night, the idiocy of mindless bureaucrats pushing brilliant young people (who are in their eyes apparently conceited enough to think that we shouldn’t wait with reforming the world until the next five generations have passed, but to do it today) to the point of suicide just to set an example and all their little helpers and apologists cause me to see red and dream dreams of terrible violence.

The flip side is that subjects that would have upset me greatly in the past now leave me cold, the reassuring fact that the world will keep on turning even though something upsetting has happened gives me peace when in the past it would have left me disturbed. I’m less inclined to micro-manage things, more relaxed and more at ease with letting others play a larger role and I’m far more inclined to accept that there are multiple valid ways to reach a certain goal than I would have been in the past. At least, so I hope :)

On the whole I feel a lot better and happier than I did when I was 40!

The part where I feel I’ve been most fortunate is the people that I’ve gotten to know over the years. The variety in cultural background, skills, geographic breadth and so on is simply astounding. And with every new person that I come in contact with I appreciate more that there is an interesting story behind just about everybody. All it takes is to be willing to listen. This is the thing that drives me to learn ever more languages.

For me ‘50’ is a bit magical in the sense that I can hardly escape the fact that I am now very very likely to be across the half-way mark of how long I’ll end up living, even if everything the future still holds works out in my favor.

Admitting that I’ll (even if I do become 100, which I more than likely will not) never amount to much that my 20 year old self would have been really proud of is definitely an admission of defeat and I don’t have any clear plan (or even any plan) on how I would go about doing better. 30 years just melted away like so much snow, the words ‘opportunity cost’ are now fully grokked. But then again, it is hard to define what I should have changed within my ‘circle of influence’ to give me more striking power and how well I would have been able to wield such power. The person that indirectly caused me to start writing this blog in the first place died in March 2008, and I can hardly believe that it’s already been that long. What struck me about him is that he had more or less the same ideas I did but much better tools so I’d just decided to put my brain to work for him when I received a phone call telling me that that would not be happening. That’s one road that I’ll never find out about what it would have lead to, and I’m terribly sorry about that.

On the Technology front things are moving ever faster, the gramophone lasted for many decades, the CD for a few and new audio distribution formats now spring up and disappear with the seasons. At least mp3 seems to be here to stay. Ditto for other media, books are about to go extinct (and I’ll miss them), computer programs are now monstrosities of large numbers of layers of libraries cobbled together to create ever more slickly polished user interfaces showing ever more inane content and advertising. It is hard to stay relevant as an aging techie in that world but that will not stop me from relentlessly re-educating myself about the field that I have chosen to work in. I’m sure there will come a time when I am no longer able to keep up but for now this is one area where (self)discipline and perseverance can still level the playing field and I (still) have those in spades.

It’s probably official that I’m no longer ‘employable’ in the regular sense of the word, any company looking at me would see a person that does not care overly much about formalities or undeserved respect, that is going to be extremely hard to manage and that is going to upset most or all of their holy apple-carts when allowed to range free. So rather than pursuing employment directly I’m now relegated to the pasture that old programmers and other technical professionals go to: consulting. Usually this involves auditing other peoples work, figuring out why things go wrong, helping makings things that went wrong go right again, writing a (really) large invoice and then moving on to the next job.

It’s a win-win, I don’t have to spend years in the same chair and the companies that hire me for short-term contracts get the best of me without having to keep me busy once the biggest problems have been solved.

So, onwards. How many years of this hardworking version of me I have still in me I can’t tell, maybe 5, maybe 10, most likely not 15 though it might just happen.

What definitely hasn’t changed is my curiosity, the future is going to be interesting and I can’t wait to see it, how the machinery in it is put together and how that machinery will affect and shape our future lives.

50? Who cares ;)