First, let me say that I’ve always been a very small cog in very large machines; I’ve no illusions about my significance in the grand scheme of things, well, the global economy, or the state-of-the-art, at least. But I have worked on significant things.
My first “real” job was for a consulting company, and the significant thing we did there was that we made the Internet a part of the everyday life of normal people (as in, people outside hi-tech/academia). If you’re in your 20s right now, you probably won’t remember when a company having a website at all was unusual, let alone one you could use instead of calling a call centre or queuing at a branch. As I say, I was just a footsoldier (well, a Corporal or a Sergeant… Certainly not a General) in the unruly army that made this happen. Nevertheless, I was there, I was a part of that, our clients were household names, and an ordinary person who wanted to book a flight, check their account balance, or see if a product was in-stock with one of them on this new-fangled thing called the web will have run my code. Knowing how things are, probably still do!
Next up was a company in the financial services industry, specifically working in foreign exchange, money markets and interest rate derivatives. Nothing so visible as fundamentally changing the way individuals interacted with organizations, but still, all this stuff mattered, the global economy ticked over smoothly because of thousands of cogs like me making sure that whatever you wanted to do, the underlying machinery was ready process that transaction. Our end-users weren’t just high-powered Wall Street traders screaming buy! sell! they were companies buying raw materials and selling finished products over national borders; even individuals going on holiday, their foreign currency at the airports would be aggregated into a larger trade and run via our systems.
My current job, in online gambling, is actually, day-to-day, nearly indistinguishable from the last one (comparisons between gambling and investment banking notwithstanding!) The technology is pretty much the same, as are my responsibilities – “the design, implementation and operation of high-volume, highly available OLTP systems” is how I describe it. I enjoy it, and I’m good at it, and I am always pushing the limits technically and organizationally. But the industry I work in is a side-show, it has no relation to the “bigger picture” at all. Anyway, what brought this on is that as of this month, this is the longest I’ve been in one job. I’ve no plans to leave, but still, I miss the feeling of what I do having some wider relevance…