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Thursday, May 04, 2006

On Dentists and Technology Obsolescence

Hi, everyone! I've got a couple more articles for the Job IQ series in the works, but this week, on my birthday (and one year anniversary at my stop-gap job), I'm taking a breather to say that I went to the dentist recently and it got me thinking about some things.

I haven't had dental care in a couple of years, which is unusual for me. Unfortunately with my new dental insurance I had to switch from my dentist of thirty years to a preferred provider. My dentist of thirty years is in his seventies and still practicing. He has taken excellent care of me all this time. While he built a beautiful modern office building several years ago, his tools have remained essentially the same over time- the traditional lifting and reclining dentist chair, the spitting fountain, etc. And of course his fingers, his eyes, his intelligence, and his formidable skill.

The thing that struck me about going to the new dentist was first of all how young he was - how young everybody in the office was. Being a member of the generation in which dentists didn't always use novocaine on children, I grew up being a bit edgy in the dental chair. So now I'm thinking, "Ack! Mere babes probing my teeth!"

But he didn't hurt me a bit. At least not yet. ;)

The dental chair in the new office doesn't just recline, it puts me flat on my back. And instead of spitting into the little traditional sink next to the chair and filling the paper cone in the little metal cup with fresh water from the fountain to rinse, I found myself closing my mouth around a straw which siphoned my mouth clean as I lay flat. The dental assistant covered me with an xray protection blanket, but then proceeded to xray every single tooth in my mouth. =:o Thirty-two (give or take) xrays! And any time anybody looked into my mouth and touched a tooth, they called off a series of numbers and codes to someone who recorded them on a chart. It all sounded terribly serious, especially compared to my old dentist who merely looked at the bitewings and commented, "Uh-oh. You've got a little cavity," or "Everything looks great - keep up the good work."

The upshot is that I now have a treatment plan which includes:
  • pulling 3 teeth (one broken one and two wisdom),
  • putting on 3 caps on teeth that have cracked fillings,
  • getting an implant,
  • fixing several minor cavities,
  • and filling thinning spots.
That last one I question - I think my older dentist's philosophy was "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," at least when it comes to drilling unnecessary holes in perfectly good teeth.

On a related side note, in my factory job I'm actually working with a dentist who had a twenty year practice in the Phillipines. She can't practice dentistry here in the states - but I'm sure she's a good dentist.

Anyway, the trip got me thinking - both my old dentist and my Philipino friend are not fresh out of school. But I'm sure they have kept up with their fields. And even though some of the tools and techniques and approaches have changed, this doesn't mean that they can't fill a tooth or pull a tooth, or crown a tooth, or do a root canal very capably - and take care of someone who needs help.

Not so, apparently, with some of the technology degrees that schools and universities have been peddling in the last 20 years.

In the eighties, universities started hopping on the technology bandwagon - in addition to traditional schools of engineering and science, they created whole new departments and schools of engineering and science technology. Applied science was the tidal wave of the future. But now many of those degrees are seen as defunct and obsolete (if not in name, then in skills and knowledge obtained) and considered even more "useless" in the job market than the much maligned "liberal arts" degree.

However, these technology degrees required just as much investment in time and money from the people earning them as the more traditional degrees. And the people earning them were lead to believe by the people teaching them that the underlying principles and skills gained were just as timeless. And the universities and professors offering these programs made just as good a living doing it.

This is not to say that once a person has graduated and gone to work that they don't have an obligation to keep up to date in their fields. A professional has to do that. And I would propose that a professional in the computer technology field especially has to do that, given the rapid rate of technology change. So I have taken classes and self-studied and created my own opportunities to experiment with new methodolgies and tools and programming languages and approaches in my field. Still, I wish I hadn't relied so much on my job to give me the experience I needed.

Furthermore, since technology is exceptionaly rapid in its change, I think that technology curriculums need to spend a lot more time educating students not only about the need to keep up but about ways that they can keep up, especially when their jobs technologically "dead end" them or don't pay enough for continued high dollar training. And especially since the more traditional route of advancing from bachelor's to master's to Ph.D. may no longer suffice to keep one current in one's field. Perhaps technology programs need to develop continuing resources for their graduates. Perhaps technology degrees should come with a warranty or maintenance agreement much as modern software does - so that graduates can go back for training and upgrades every once in a while!

I also think employers should realize that even in technology fields, there are at least a few underlying skills and aptitudes that are as timeless as those of the dentists that I mentioned above. While an older graduate like myself may not have been trained on the latest platforms, if people will take a hard look at my education and experience and motivation, they will see that I have demonstrated and proven aptitude, interest, passion, enthusiasm, and the ability to quickly adapt and learn and apply technology in the work place. This should be a factor in consideration for employment, especially as the mills continue to churn out new technology graduates by the thousands. That's not to say that the new graduate doesn't also deserve a shot at getting a job.

It is to say that these degrees need to deliver on their promise and keep on delivering.

For people are not computers, and few people can afford a degree that is obsolete in less time than it took them to earn it and before they can even pay off their college debt paid and start benefitting from it.



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