Midnight in Silicon Valley

Published On 2013/02/17 | By Kurt Bales | Rant

The Setup

So there I was, setting up my “command centre” for the 15 hour flight from Sydney to San Jose via San Francisco. I had my Macbook and my iPad fully charged, as well as ye olde print book ready just in case. I idly flipped through the inflight entertainment guide to see what movie would be playing on the main cabin display.

“Midnight in Paris” ? What’s this rubbish? Oh… Woody Allen… right… yeah… that’s just what I need 🙁

Thankfully I usually fall asleep the minute the plane pulls away from the terminal and wake up just as we’re coming into land. Should be able to sleep most of the way, and maybe read a few pages of my book between naps. This usually gets me in trouble with my wife, but I was flying solo on this trip so I was free to do as I pleased.

As fate would have it, my Macbook battery was at about 50% just as the movie started so I decided to “save some for a rainy day”.

Let me put on my headphones and see what this movie is like. It’s a Woody Allen flick (in Paris no less) so Im bound to be asleep in 20 minutes.

Oh it’s about “Art” is it? Lets make that 15 minutes!

Why is Rachel McAdam’s character such a bitch? That’s not like her.

Hrrmm… I never realised how much Owen Wilson acting the way he always does was so much like Woody Allen before.

And just like that, I was sucked into watching this movie I had no desire to see!

The Wonder

So the premise of the movie is that Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, is a writer on vacation in Paris. His romantic notions of life in Paris during the 1920’s, during the time of Picasso, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, are at odd’s with his wife and her family. While he wants to revel in the beauty and atmosphere, they are more interested in keeping up appearances.

During a stroll on his own looking for inspiration, and after a few drinks, he finds himself lost as the clock strikes midnight. At this time an old car pulls up along the road and the occupants invite him to join them. During this trip he is transported back to the 1920’s where he meets his heroes Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, and a whole host of other literary and artistic greats. Over the course of the movie he spends his days with his family and his nights with his heroes. During his time with his heroes he is able to approach each of them for advice about his book, his personal situation and life itself.

This same opportunity was offered to me back in 2011, and that was why I was on this plane. I had been invited to attend Tech Field Day’s Network Field Day 2 at the end of October of that year. I had actually received the invitation on night of my birthday in early September, and here I was with the opportunity to rub shoulders with my own personal heroes in the networking industry. The likes of Ivan Pepelnjak from a blog I read daily (blog.ioshints.info), Greg Ferro and Ethan Banks from the Packet Pushers Podcast, not to mention Stephen Foskett the man behind the whole event, as well as several regular contributors to the Packet Pushers Community and friends from Twitter. Just like Gil, I had the opportunity to get feedback and advice from those whose advice I sincerely valued. The ability to sit down with both the other delegates as well as the representatives of each of the sponsors was truly insightful.

Coming from Sydney, the “scene” in the whole Bay Area is entirely different to what I was used to. People dressed extremely casually here and there was a vibrant community buzzing with all sorts creative and cutting edge technologies. This was uniquely demonstrated during the Open Flow Symposium that was held on the day before the Network Field Day event began. Both vendors, implementors and attendees were all excited about the possibilities that were coming. Some of these ideas I was aware of before arriving in San Jose, but the depth and pace of these changes took me by surprise. Everybody was open about ideas – both what would, wouldn’t and couldn’t possibly work! Many names and faces I had been following online for the past 18 months attended this event. I was in awe of everything. I dont think I spoke to too many people that day as I was too stunned.

Over the next (densely packed) two days, we were taken from vendor site to vendor site and presented with their latest and greatest – and usually by their brightest. No questions seemed off limits and each of the vendors truly seemed to take on board the questions we raised and the “advice” we offered. These two days were completely information overload mode, and I dont think I was prepared to capture all of the useful information that was being presented to us. I have had to go back and watch the various videos several times to see what parts I had previously missed.

One thing that was pointed out to me by Stephen Foskett as we were driving through all these massive campus buildings was that “Over there is this massive building, costing millions of dollars. They do something in our industry, and I have no idea who they are. And this area is filled with these places. It’s exciting to see so many new companies and wonder ‘whats going on in there’ “.

I had an opportunity to spend intense nerdy times with the other delegates and sponsors during the jam-packed days, then follow on into the night just geeking out because the atmosphere was so charged. Everywhere I turned there were people doing “great things” that I wanted to be a part of.

Just like Gil, I too was caught in the position of “being where I wanted to be, and never wanting to leave”

The Reality

After 5 days away, I returned home to my normal life. Well, sort of normal. My wife was in the middle of a three month stint working in an outback Aboriginal Community School, and I wasn’t going to see her for another week or so. Then there’s all the things at work that needed tending to since I had been away.

I found my self longing to be back in San Jose with the group I had just spent so much time with. It didn’t matter that all the other delegates had returned to their own homes, that is where I wanted to be. And my reality was far removed.

“Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… The name for this fallacy is ‘Golden Age Thinking’, the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the time one is living in. It’s a flaw in the Romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to live with the present.”

This quote above comes from a character in the movie who was a know-it-all A-hole, but he had a point. His witty remark to Gil’s character was both spiteful yet accurate, though his didn’t stop Gil from still pursuing his dream.

I knew that if I wanted to progress it into the areas in the industry that I wanted to be a part of, that I would have to make certain changes to my career path. I mapped out what I felt were a series of career goals and achievements that I would need to accomplish in order to make headway. Since this time I have changed jobs to focus on the particular projects and technologies I felt I needed, buckled down, put in a lot of study and research.

Also during this time I went into “Social Media Radio Silence”, as I was busy focusing on some of my end goals and needs. I was so busy focusing on the future, I was completely ignoring the present. I had lost my inspiration to write because I felt so overwhelmed by all the things I didn’t know. Instead of documenting my discoveries, I was actively avoiding the things I couldn’t answer.

Life got in the way and I was feeling discouraged.

The Re-Awakening

During Gil’s trips back and forth between time periods, he meets a young French girl from the 1920’s named Adriana. Even though she lived in the time period that Gil romanticised, she longed to live in an earlier period of Paris’ history – a time she felt was truly inspired. And fate (and of course the script) would have it, both Gil and Adriana found themselves in Adriana’s romanticised time – La Belle Epoque!

While Adriana is lost in her dream, they meet Paul Gauguin and Edgar Degas who themselves were discussing how “this generation is uninspired”. This is when Gil discovered the truth, and had to explain it to Adriana who didn’t want to leave:

“Adriana, if you stay here though, and this becomes your present then pretty soon you’ll start imagining another time was really your… You know, was really the golden time. Yeah, that’s what the present its. It’s a little unsatisfying because thats what life is – just a little unsatisfying”

And in with these words both Gil, and myself of re-watching the film, knew what needed to be done.

If I ever want to write something worthwhile, I have to get rid of my illusions that I’d be happier in the past”

Mop and Bucket

In early February, Stephen Foskett was out in Australia to keynote two VMUG gatherings in Sydney and Melbourne. During this time we spent the better part of two days catching up, discussing life, the industry, and careers. Whether he knows it or not, those conversations really helped solidify some of my goals and plans.

I’ve learnt that Australia is no farther away than I make it, and I can still be quite active and involved even if I am not “in the heart of things”. Positioning oneself to take advantage of opportunities that arise, and to connect with various people both within our industry, as well as the clients we have, is the best way to stay in front of the game and stay involved. This is evident in the fact that I was invited to be a Juniper Ambassador in October 2012.

I would like to think that I have more technical posts coming in the near future, because it certainly feels like a long time since my last one. I’m feeling inspired again, and getting ready to re-engage. And for that, I am truly sorry 😉

 

PS. Please refer to my Disclosure Statement in reference to my participation in the Tech Field Day events, as well as the Juniper Ambassador program.

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About The Author

Kurt is a Network Engineer based out of Sydney Australia. He a the Senior Network Engineer at ICT Networks where he spends his time building Service Provider networks, and enterprise WAN environments. He holds his CCNP and JNCIE-ENT, and currently studying for his JNCIE-SP and CCIE R&S. Find out more about Kurt at http://network-janitor.net/ and you can follow him on Twitter.
  • networkingnerd

    I loved this post, Kurt. You've hit the nail right on the head. I'm not isolated on the other side of the world, but I'm in the middle of the US and in the same situation as you. There's not much around here to pique my IT interests. Silicon Valley is like IT Disney World. I get super excited right before every trip. Every minute I'm there is like being a kid in a high-tech candy store. And when I get to the SJC airport every Saturday morning, it's like the Disney Hangover. I realize that I'm about to go back to reality and away from a place of happiness.

    I find that staying involved with blogging and social media helps the nostalgia aspect of things. To me, the people are what make these things so wonderful. Keeping up with you and Stephen and my other friends really helps the isolation feeling. So long as you keep us all up to date with what you're working on and how things are going, we're all never really more than a tweet or a Skype call away. That way, the nostalgia of events like NFD2 can be fun to reminisce about. But the real excitement comes in what lies before us as we speak about the future and how we are going to shape it.

  • This post has summed up something I could not put into words. Australia is far away but only as far away as you make it. Stephens NFD was the slap of the wet squid of reality and really fired the embers of my career. I am sure I am not the only one that thinks that.

    Tom makes a great point that blogging and getting involved with members keeps isolation at bay. Who knows? Silicon valley may move to the center of the US or down under to dingo land. We just need to keep thinking and innovating. Creating and sharing is what makes our community so awesome.

  • Harkening Woody Allen to ICT is something I wasn't expecting. It's rather interesting that in our heavily connected world (with text, audio and video communication methods a-plenty) people still long for somewhere geographical. I guess not all forms of virtual shoulder rubbing can substitute for the real thing 😉

  • There is nothing like the energy of the in person meeting with like minded people.
    Living in New Zealand I also miss my overseas buddies when I get home from the infrequent trips.
    Live podcasts and twitter keep me connected.

    On blogging it is easy to get focused on the big important posts you want to do but the greatest value usually comes from the quick impromptu post when you find a solution or realise a new way to look at a problem.

    Good to meet you the other week too.

  • Awesome post Kurt! I still very much so enjoy going to SJC to see all the mecca's of the IT world but when you think about it why can't that mecca be wherever we are today? Like Tom said blogging and social media changes your view on a lot of items. I no longer see Silicon Valley as this amazing incubator for technology, with social media you can reach so many people that it really doesn't matter where you are anymore, all of us could be a startup at some point in our lives and with our networks (of people) we build we'll reach more than if we all moved to the valley.

  • Blake: I should mention that one of my favourite moments of that trip was sitting in the room when you got the notification that you passed your CCIE Wireless. Was great to share that experience (and the drinks) with you.

  • John McGrath

    I guess it comes to how much effort one want to put into the endevour, including IT.

    I moved from California to the Midwest, and instead of losing an edge on the techical side of the my sphere of IT, I feel like I opened a new broader perspective. No, I don't get to go to all of the seminars or vendor shows that I did, but I am immersed in a environment that is different from the one I was in back at my old position.

    I thought that moving away from the 'center', as it were, would have a stifling effect on my access to knowledge. I checked on podcasts and other sources of information, and found that the information is out there if you look.

    Thanks for the post, Kurt.