talking about my generation

That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.

~Adlai Stevenson

One of the bright spots in getting older is realizing that there are youngsters out there with the same dreams and aspirations that motivated me when I was that age.  I do have to admit that I occasionally hear words coming out of my mouth about the younger generation that sound like echoes of complaints I heard from my parents or grandparents: statements like, “the younger generation doesn’t know what it’s like to have to work,” or “young people these days just don’t have any manners (or common sense, or appreciation for what their parents have sacrificed – pick one).”

But now and then a member of the younger generation appears who seems to have already acquired the wisdom that I give credit to the more than sixty years of living I needed.  And that’s why it was such a pleasure for me to meet Matthew Burton last week.

Matthew has an intriguing idea that I would love to see made real.  Given his age and his background, it’s also a given that Matthew blogs.  The theme for his blog is “Using the Web to help national security, government, and democracy.”  He has a few years of experience working directly for the federal government, but because his skills are in the technology arena, he recognized pretty quickly that innovation isn’t the federal government’s strong suit.  But he’d like to change that.

Matthew’s idea is to create a Peace Corps for software developers that would bring talented technical folks, well versed in bleeding edge tools, into the government for a fixed period of time where they could learn from the inside what needs to be done and build better tools.  For the two years, the developers would be employees, not contractors working to complete specifications to fulfill contracts written more than a year earlier against requirements that were gathered even before that time, in a cycle that seems guaranteed to produce an overpriced product that no one needs any more because the available technology changed in the meantime.  At the end of the two years, the Developer Peace Corps members would return to the private sector where they could reintegrate into bleeding edge opportunities.  And the government would bring in a new group with even more bleeding edge experience.

Now I’m a contractor myself, so you might think I should be wary of a program that would move IT development away from the contracting/procurement model and back into the government.  But I like Matthew’s idea and I hope it grows legs.

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible – and achieve it, generation after generation.

~ Pearl S. Buck

For more about Matthew’s Peace Corps for Developers idea, see his blog entry.
For more about Matthew’s Speechology project (User-powered analysis of political debates, speeches and campaign ads), check out this link.

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