Toastmaster's speech #4 - Magician

Sorcerer. Wizard. Warlock. Enchanter. Mage. Magus. Magician. IT worker.

Ok, so at first you’re thinking… “um, did you kind of get that list a little mixed up? Its like you’re playing one of those ‘which one of these is not like the other’ games.” You may be right, but after I had some time to process my little epiphany, I have come to realize that the IT worker of today’s world was the Magician of 1,000 years ago. You may not believe me yet, but I promise that I can convince you.

First, lets consult Wikipedia and see if you can play 'spot the geek’ in this description:

Wizards can act the part of the absent-minded professor, being foolish, prone to misconjuring, and generally less than dangerous; they can also be terrible forces, capable of great magics that work good or evil. Even comic wizards are often capable of great feats, such as those of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride; although a washed-up wizard fired by the villain, he saves the mostly dead hero.

Doesn’t this really describe your average IT worker? Always seems to be lost around people. Prone to utter the words, “Well, that didn’t work how I thought it would.” Able to retrieve files you thought were totally lost and bring inanimate matter back to life!

Consider the language used by your average magician. Fantasy novels describe how a sorcerer speaks in dead tongues or languages that have not been spoken by men for thousands of years. When mere mortals here the words of a spell, their hairs rise up and their skin crawls, if they’re not just driven insane on the spot.

Now, think of the last time you called tech support. How many times did you hear any of the following phrases: dll, shockwave, corruption, 404, pixel, cpu, usenet, botnet, keyloging, authentication. Now take those words, string them together into a spell and picture the geek on the other end of the line wearing a big black robe with matching black hat reciting them loudly. Nah, that doesn’t sound like magic at all, does it?

But let us not skip over that line about wielding 'terrible forces’ from my earlier quote! Think about all the power an IT worker has over your every day life. Can you remember the last time at your job when email or Internet access was down for an extended period of time? Do you remember what that was like? No? Well, me neither, but that’s because I blocked out those hideous hours from my memory, too. Not only can a network or computer outage ruin our productivity, but it can ruin our day as well.

So what is the source of an IT worker’s power? Magicians of old claimed to be blessed by God or cursed by the Devil, depending upon whether or not there was some mob of officer workers, er, farmers, trying to burn them at the stake for bringing down the Internet connection, er, I mean causing the crop to fail and the cow’s milk to dry up. For IT workers, its really much the same. I am an IT worker, and honestly, ever since I can remember, I’ve just had this affinity for computer and electronic equipment. I have never really understood why this is, but computer equipment just seems to work for me. Its not something I asked for, and not something I ever really had to work for, it just kind of made sense so I went with it. And just like magicians of old, I claim it as both blessing and curse. Blessing because everyone who knows I’m good at what I do wants my help and cursed because they won’t leave me alone, either.

No matter what the claimed source, study and experience were always the backbone of Magicians. Most were understudies of some old wizard of great power who guided the youngling into the full blossom of their strength. Its usually the same for IT worker, most of whom spend years in college learning the basics and then go out into the workplace and find that some grey-beard who remembers when punch cards and vacuum tubes were high tech to mentor them. Others, such as myself, had a brief encounter in their formative years with a relative genius that inspired their imagination so much that they set out to learn all they could about technology.

But like magicians, IT workers come in all types, with different levels of power, influence and ability. Some work the helpdesk for the rest of their lives, helping to shepherd poor users through installing their new printer. Others move on to creating new spells, er, programs that are inflicted, I mean installed, on computers all over the planet. Those rare and dedicated few, who become so consumed with their craft that they end up as CIO or as professors, trying to shepherd new geeks in training who are just starting out their new geeky career.

So the next time you curse technology and pray to God that all electronic equipment finds its way into the fiery heart of the sun, remember that out there somewhere is an IT magician who loves their computer and destroying it would be destroying that person’s best friend.