Make Time to Discover

    By: Jonathan Gennick on Dec 20, 2016


    By Jonathan GennickJonathan Gennick

    One of my favorite activities when traveling is to set aside unstructured time to walk about and explore whatever area I happen to be in. I like to soak in the local flavor and get a sense of what it might be like to live in an area, and that’s best done at a slow pace — either on foot or, at most, on a bicycle. There’s so much you can see when moving at a slow pace, and I love the freedom of following my nose, so to speak, and the unexpected delights from random discoveries along the way.

    A recent trip to visit my son in Cadillac, Michigan, provides an example. I had noticed a bicycle path near his house on previous trips, and this time I brought along a bicycle of my own for a bit of random exploration. I looked up and down the path, chose the most interesting-looking direction, and followed the path until it terminated near a lake. I looked both ways and made a choice, and that led me to a unique discovery from my ride: the commemorative monument you see on this page. Visit to read about the event the monument marks. It’s a wonderful story, and a fun piece of history for any Michigander to know about.

    It was a similar sense of adventure and exploration that drew me into computing, first as a programmer and then later as a database administrator. During my younger days in high school and college, I would grab whatever computer manual looked most interesting and read that manual front to back, simply trying out all the commands and statements that I ran across in my reading. How long has it been since you’ve done something like that?

    One memory I have is of discovering a file type supported by our Xerox Sigma VI mainframe that wasn’t being used in any of our production applications. Curious about that file type, I ported our ZIP code database and lookup subroutine to use it. Then I ran some performance benchmarks, fully expecting to show off to my boss how much faster we could make our ZIP code lookups execute. But the numbers were against me and the file type didn’t really matter to the lookup speed. Buried in my disappointment was an early lesson that real results from actual testing will trump any preconceived expectations.

    Some of my early employers provided time for ad-hoc explorations, or at least they gamely allowed me the time, and I’m forever grateful for those early opportunities. It’s not so easy today to find the time, and many managers aren’t keen on hearing that I chose to spend an afternoon just playing around with some new language or technology that might or might not ever yield a business advantage.

    Our crowded schedules omit unstructured time in which to experiment and learn. We feel always pressured to “get something done.” Yet it is so very necessary to make the time to explore, and to discover. Because we lose something when everything we do has to be in pursuit of some specific goal. Sometimes what is needed is to take an hour and enjoy the journey.

    Reading books and trying out commands and just making time to discover like that is what led me into the computing field. Learning to write code and get the computer to do something useful was an adventure. Later in life, I discovered SQL, and it was the same magic all over again. I was mainly a MUMPS programmer at the time, but I made time during my week to read database manuals and experiment in SQL. The payoff from learning SQL has been so much greater than if I had spent all that time focused on just doing more work in MUMPS.

    It’s so easy in the tech field to be consumed by short-term goals, meetings and emails. But there’s so much to learn. So many new technologies to come to grips with. Whatever is paying the bills for you today, there’s a high likelihood that it will be something else a decade from now. Make time to discover. Because what you discover today might be what puts bread on the table tomorrow.   

    Released: December 20, 2016, 1:36 pm | Updated: February 3, 2017, 3:34 pm
    Keywords: IOUG Press Corner | Jonathan Gennick

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