Torbjorn Zetterlund

Sun 03 2023

66 Years Old and Counting: A Humorous Reflection

by bernt & torsten

I achieved the grand milestone of 66 years, or to be precise, “24,106 days,” this week. It’s a remarkable journey, and I can’t help but share some witty reflections on this adventure we call life. So, what is life all about? It’s a perfect blend of knowledge-building and connections.

Before I stumbled upon the world of software development, my career path was a rollercoaster ride through construction, delivery truck driving, and even a stint in the post office sorting mailbags. It’s safe to say I’ve had more career changes than a chameleon at a disco party.

One of the life lessons I’ve learned along the way is that anyone can accomplish almost anything with determination and motivation. And my journey into software development? Well, that happened when I got so bored driving a truck that I enrolled in a one-year college course in Administrative Data Processing, where I first dipped my toes into computer programming.

Fast forward 43 years, or 15,680 days, and here I am, still counting. I took my first steps into software development as a 23-year-old in 1980, an era when disco balls and floppy disks ruled the world.

My journey hasn’t been limited to a single corner of the globe. I’ve had the privilege of calling four different countries home – Sweden (Stockholm), the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Canada (Toronto), and the Netherlands (Amsterdam). Quite the collection of passport stamps, if I do say so myself.

Back in 1980, the demand for computer programmers was sky-high, giving me the luxury to choose my employer. I joined WM-Data Consulting in Stockholm, Sweden, where my one and only client from 1981 to 1987 was Philips Telecommunication in Sweden. That’s when my Dutch connection was forged.

In 1987, I embarked on a new adventure in Dubai, working for Philips Telecommunication as a self-service banking product specialist, delivering self-service banking projects across the Middle East. It was a time when my career was more exotic than a James Bond movie.

In 1994, I traded desert sands for Canadian winters, joining Oasis Technology, a startup specializing in electronic payment software solutions for banks and retailers. My journey in software development was like a thrilling game of “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

Then, in 2011, I packed my bags again, this time for the Netherlands, where I continued my journey, developing software and big data solutions. With 82,560 hours spent over 43 years, my calculation is based on working a typical 40-hour workweek for 48 weeks a year, with a well-deserved four weeks of vacation. Of course, there were probably more hours tucked in there, but let’s stick to the record.

As part of the electronic payment industry, I played a role in bringing the convenience of debit and credit cards to the world. This enabled us to travel the globe and confidently swipe our bank cards. In my case, it meant visiting 75 countries, primarily for work – a whirlwind adventure that would make anyone envious.

Now, let’s talk about some of the wisdom I’ve acquired along the way. I’ve realized that life can be divided into three categories: the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy. The wealthy are part of an exclusive club of “movers” and “shakers.” But for the rest of us, our battles and accomplishments shape our identities.

One of my key takeaways is that humans are creatures of habit, and habits can change faster than you can brew a cup of coffee. And speaking of management and leadership, let’s not mix up the two. Management is all about bottom-line outcomes, measurements, and efficiency, while leadership requires a deep understanding of your team’s needs and a knack for inspiring them.

In the world of software technology, the best managers are those with high technical skills, although they shouldn’t aim to be the technical superstar on the team. Instead, they should nurture the growth of their technical talent.

On the other hand, leaders work for their employees, constantly adapting to their needs and the organization’s evolving vision. Employee evaluations? I’ve learned they’re often a waste of time. Instead, knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses and providing targeted training can transform a group of individuals into a cohesive, high-performing team.

Remember, whether you’re a team lead, manager, executive, or business owner, your importance doesn’t make you more critical than others. Every team member is equally vital, and recognizing their contributions is essential.

I’ve learned that many managers are ill-suited for people management, and slick communication and internal politics mastery doesn’t guarantee success. Surrounding oneself with ambitious, skilled individuals is a recipe for project success. It took me a while to figure this out, as I wore various hats in my career, not always suited for the roles bestowed upon me. But the best way to learn on the job? Have stronger people around you.

Leadership is a mantle bestowed upon those capable of acting on behalf of the group, but not everyone wears it well. Beware of those who seek leadership solely for personal gain.

Now, about what employees genuinely care about. Forget the surveys – it boils down to a few simple things: paying bills and having a little extra, spending time with loved ones, and having a job that doesn’t make the world worse. Some even strive to outpace their peers.

Promoting your best employees? Be cautious; it can weaken your team. There are alternative ways to recognize and motivate your top performers.

Innovation is another crucial aspect I’ve learned to appreciate. Too much organizational process can stifle innovation, even if you’re the tax authorities. Sometimes, allowing employees to tweak a process here and there can yield surprising improvements.

Lastly, let’s address the quirks of aging. I’ve noticed more hair in my ears and nose lately, which means my ears and the inside of my nose will be warmer this winter. And names? They seem to slip my mind more often these days. Introductions aren’t my favourite pastime, either.

I believe that everyone on this planet can achieve anything if they truly want it. I may be wiser now, but I have this peculiar tendency to forget it. As I reflect on my journey, I realize I’m the most valuable employee I’ll ever be, yet my motivation has seen better days.

I’ve learned that our needs remain the same regardless of where we’re born – shelter and food. But unfortunately, we humans tend to focus on ourselves and our immediate families, often forgetting about others. Climate change looms, and it’s high time we rethink our priorities.

We live in social bubbles, whether they’re family, friends, work, or fun. But sometimes, bursting these bubbles is essential to savour life truly.

In Europe, where I’ve spent most of my life, we’re often spoiled with more wealth than we need. Even the poorest among us enjoy a higher standard of living compared to people in many other parts of the world. It’s a reality that can easily lead to complacency, where we focus on luxuries rather than necessities.

But it’s essential to remember that the excesses we enjoy come at a cost, not just to our wallets but also to our planet. The very planet that has nurtured me for these 66 years, or 24,106 days, is facing unprecedented challenges. Climate change, deforestation, and the depletion of natural resources are urgent issues that demand our attention.

As I reflect upon our beautiful planet’s future, I can’t help but feel a growing sense of concern. It’s a concern born from a lack of trust in elected politicians to effectively navigate us through the most significant threat our world faces today – climate change. My skepticism extends not only to leaders in my own country but to politicians worldwide. The pressing question remains whether they will collectively take the necessary actions to steer our societies toward a more sustainable future.

About My Generation, well, my generation will never return when we are gone. We lived in the best time that the Earth had to offer mankind. A generation that walked to school, as no one was driven to school. A generation that did their homework independently to get out on the street to play as soon as possible. A generation that spent all its free time on the street with its friends. A generation that played hide and seek in the dark. A generation that collected sports cards. A generation that bought vinyl albums to play on record players. A generation that collected photos and albums from their childhood life experiences. A generation that played board games and played cards on rainy days. A generation with only two TV channels and 2 hours of TV for each age group.

I loved growing up during this time. We had so much freedom to do what we wanted, and my generation had the best times. But, as I look at the world today, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve lost some of that simplicity and freedom. The constant rush, the digital distractions, and the fast-paced nature of modern life have left us with less time to play hide and seek in the dark or collect vinyl albums.

Yet, amidst all the changes and challenges, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed—I’m still here, counting the days, and eager to embrace what the future holds. As I enter the later chapters of my life, I find myself dipping my coding skills into the realm of AI, building some cool AI tools, and staying curious about what the world of technology has to offer.

So, here’s to the next chapter, the next adventure, and the next 24,106 days. I may be 66 years old, but I’m still going strong, armed with a lifetime of experiences, a thirst for knowledge, and a dash of humour to light the way. Who knows what the future holds? Whatever it is, I’m ready to face it head-on, armed with the wisdom of the past and the excitement of the present. After all, age is just a number, and as long as the days keep counting, so will I.