Cowboy turned tech wrangler? Maybe, maybe not.
Since March is apparently Cowboy Month at Pink Slip - c.f., last week's post on Cowboy Ethics - I was just dee-lighted to see a header in the WSJ Career Section entitled "Cowboy Turned Tech Wrangler." (Access to the full article may require a subscription, pardner.)
Yippee-ki-yay! I just knew I had to get me some learnin' about a cowpoke who switched gears and got into technology.
The article started out promising:
It's hard to imagine that castrating bulls could be relevant to building a successful Silicon Valley technology storage company.
But from there.... Well, I was a little disappointed.
Certainly the background of NetApp founder Dave Hitz puts him quite off the path of the average techie. And it's pretty interesting that he spent a couple of years at a teeny-tiny junior college cum ranch before launching a brilliant tech career. But before you start thinking that we're talking about High Plains Drifter Community College in Tumbleweed, Montana, the ranch JC we're talking about is Deep Springs, an eccentric and highly selective alternative school that sends it's alumni to Ivy League colleges, from whence they go on to write novels, become professors, invent stuff, get elected to Congress, and generally do what Ivy League grads do: rule the world. (And don't tell me that we've had true cowboys ruling the free world: Reagan played cowboys, and GW played at cowboy.)
Hitz went on to study at Princeton, where he roomed with Jeff Bezos (yes that Jeff Bezos), which makes the story slightly different than if he'd spent his teens and twenties snowed in in the bunkhouse with Gabby Hayes and Trampas, learning to whittle.
Seriously, folks. Does having spent a few early-twenty years castrating bulls make Dave Hitz an echt cowboy who really changed careers?
Okay, I will confess to my own personal "up from blue collar" conceit. There are plenty of occasions when I position myself as a former Durgin-Park waitress. Which I am. I worked professionally and full-time - not just a summer job - as a D-P waitress for over a year.
However, in the cold, clear light of truth-telling dawn, I was also a drop-out of a PhD program at Columbia who a couple of years later headed off to business school at MIT. Which hardly puts me in the same waitress category as someone who - like most of the Durgin-Park "girls" I worked with - had been hard-scrabble supporting herself and her family for years on end serving prime rib, Indian pudding, and scrod - back-breaking, no-benefit, no-guarantee work that the women not so much chose as accepted because they had little if any alternative.
Which is why I'm going to say that Dave Hitz is no more a career-changing cowboy who became a techie than I am a waitress who became a tech marketer.
I am not saying that Hitz positions himself as such.
Sure, he makes the most of his cowpoke bona fides - and has even written a book - How to Castrate a Bull - which, on title alone (not to mention the device that appears on the cover: yikes! ) may make it one of the greatest business books of all time. (Who among us hasn't wanted to, at min, castrate some bullshit(ter) in the course of our careers?)
But the positioning of Hitz as a career changer by the WSJ strikes a truly discordant note with me, for whatever reason - perhaps nothing more than late winter crankiness; or maybe because I really wanted to read about a cowboy-cowboy who became a techie-techie. Not about another brilliant, privileged guy who made good (and, admittedly, made the most of his brilliance and privilege).
I have no doubt that Dave Hitz learned a lot on the ranch that stood him in good stead in his career in terms of self-sufficiency, decision making, and risk. And, in truth, I'd rather work for someone who'd been a cowboy than someone who's never broken into a work-related sweat (handball doesn't count, even when it's networking), and whose sole work experience was some fancy-pants internship his father had engineered for him.
So, kudos to Dave Hitz. And a big raspberry to the WSJ for calling his move from cowboy to techie a career change.
Career change to me is the fifty-five year old laid-off accountant who goes and becomes an EMT. The lawyer who chucks it to become a teacher. The long-time cowboy who becomes a chef. The Durgin-Park waitress who, at age 40 goes back to North Shore Community College for an AA degree in office management.
Nope. In my book, it's not much of a career change if you did something - like cowboying at Deep Springs or waiting tables at Durgin-Park - that you knew wasn't what you were going to be doing when you rode off into the sunset.
Meanwhile, I know I am being a complete pissy crank here. (Amazing the things that set you off, isn't it? Truly, with everything going on in the world, I'm annoyed by what to me is a misleading headline in the WSJ? When I'm not annoyed that they run a steady stream of op-eds by Karl Rove? Okay. Those I generally avoid.)
Anyway, I repeat my kudos to Dave Hitz and his book, which I may even read some day. (When I finish getting rid of all the partially read, yawn-a-rama business books I have piled up in my bedroom.)
And I will semi-end with a quote from Mr. Hitz:
"As a cowboy, life was simpler. I was taking care of meat. There was something very satisfying about doing work that so directly helped satisfy a fundamental human need. It made me wonder how to find similar meaning in my later life," he says.
Yes indeed. As a waitress, life was simpler as well. And I was taking care of meat, too.
Oh, for the days when the challenge was to see if I could carry 6 fully-loaded platters of roast beef at once, without dripping the au jus down the back of a customer.