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Life Lessons from a 97-Year-Old Lobsterman (2019) (outsideonline.com)
142 points by marconey 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments





As one might fear, Olson died shortly after the article was written, still age 97: https://www.penbaypilot.com/article/john-w-olson-obituary/12...

He lived a long life, got to experience an absurdly eventful and turbulent near-century of human history. Managed to stay in good health and still had a sharp mind, according to the article.

A life well lived, I would say.


I am running two software companies. Extremely busy and got to deal with lots of negativities (unhappy people, firing, project delays etc). Yet the financials are better than ever. Sometimes I wish I just had a simpler life. Being a woodmaker or a electrician. I sometimes despise the life of ambitious posh people. Hate the world of VCs, diners and rich fake parties. Taking a step back is hard. Lots of pressure from the outside.

I went from a manual machinist, meaning working with lathes and mills from WWII, to a career in Cybersecurity. During that transition I was also a plumber.

The 'simple life' jobs are also taxing, but just in different ways. Bosses yelling at you to get work done ASAP, union bullshit, and reletivly low pay (unless you own your own business).

While there are some days I wish I was doing some head math and watching a lathe make cuts on a electric motor shaft, in the end I'm happy with where I ended up.

Just posted this so you know that the grass isn't always greener 100% of the time!


The grass is always green on the other side, but you still need a lawnmower :)

Somewhat similar, I trained as an industrial electrician but ended up a lead software engineer.

While very different fields a lot of the skills to be successful at one are applicable to the other.


Just curious, how did you make the career transition?

It was a winding road, but it went like this:

In school for welding while also working at the machine shop. Making ~10.20/hr machining parts to repair electric motors. I start thinking about my future a bit more as I was making money (lol @ me thinking 10.20/hr was money but I was 19 and working more than I ever did). I started thinking about the doomsday scenarios where if this machine shop closed down, what would I do? The world was going more toward CNC machining. While today there is a place for a manual machinist, what place will it have when I'm 50? This fact, alongside the fact I could make more at Arby's, led me to quit.

I decided to give another trade a shot, which was plumbing. A family friend was a solo plumber and I inquired about being a helping hand. I enjoyed the work, but my boss wasn't exactly pleasant to work for. I got a decent pay raise in comparison to my last job, but exactly 0 vacation or benefits. In the beginning I was fine with this as he was 'doing me a favor' by showing me the ropes, but in the end it didn't work out.

When that job was winding down, I decided to go back to school for computers. I built computers in my day and I knew my way around which led me to pick this 'trade' up next. I started applying for L1 help desk jobs and got in with this company doing internal IT. Very thankful I ended up here as it was NOT a call center. We fielded maybe 10 calls a day, sometimes we had as little as 2, so I had a lot of downtime to study up on the next role. I signed up for LinuxAcademy and grinded courses.

LinuxAcademy has cloud servers, where I learned Linux on. The corporate security team caught that (oops), which is where I met them. Eventually they had an opening for a SecOps Analyst and now I'm here :).


THIS is the proper path to becoming a crusty, crotchety, greybeard. Self taught. Pulled up by your boot-straps. Doing it because you like it, not just because of $$$.

Congratulations!


This is awesome story :D

Software dev is not posh in 99.999999% of the planet. Only in SF where they sell robberbaron-ism as a product. There is nothing posh about cat videos and hate speech on mass.

Leave the Valley, get a real company/job.

The rest of the world does not operate like Rome.


>Sometimes I wish I just had a simpler life. Being a woodmaker or a electrician.

On YouTube I discovered a channel of a cobbler called Bedo's Leatherworks. It's relaxing to watch I thought this is a calming thing to watch during these crazy times plus my dad is ill (not making for less stress! I'm literally cracking my own teeth).

I thought what a great job it's working with your hands, artistic, and useful.

https://www.youtube.com/c/BedosLeatherworksLLC


Imagine yourself being 80. Weight on your good and bad life choices, now that they are done and set in stone with all the consequences. What would matter to you most?

Clue - what others think about you now (or ever) won't matter a dime. What kind of lifestyle you project externally won't either. Life is damn too short, and it gets 'faster' as we get older.

Another clue - most people when old end up regretting at least some parts of their lives. Only you can know what it means not ending up like one of them.


Counter-anecdata : I’m nowhere near 80 but even looking back to college, having the respect of people I respected was/is deeply satisfying.

As with most human motivators, there is the cheap version (fame across everyone) and the sustainable one (respect among true, trusted peers)


Why is happiness at 80 more important than happiness at 20, 30 or 40?

If anything it’s less important as you’re less likely to see 80 than any preceding year.


Sell the two companies, or at least one.

Edit: looks like you might enjoy reading "How will you measure your life?". Tweet summary here [0] - I made it this morning [1].

[0]: https://twitter.com/booktweets6/status/1330600066176880641

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25180473


What makes you not do what you think you want to do?

I went from manual to office to manual back to office.

At 18 entered college to do computer programming, dropped out and at 19 joined Air Force to be an aircraft mechanic. After 4 years back to college as an aerospace engineer student. Graduated and then started the job jumping for 6 years because the jobs were boring. At age 35 I became a firefighter - paramedic (did PM classes at night - the fire department trained me to be a FF). About 4 years in to this career I saw a lot of people get injured, mainly with back injuries from repetitive, awkward positions so I decided to get a Master's in Computer Science online from DePaul University. It took me 5 years to complete. I started working part-time remote as a programmer.

When Covid hit I decided that it was time to go and I found a full-time, remote programming job making good money. I thoroughly enjoy it. I still think FF-PM is the best job ever but with serious chronic health issues I couldn't risk getting sick. Also a constant sleep schedule is AWESOME!

I spent 14 years as FF-PM. I am now 50 yo. I don't ever plan on retiring because I enjoy working and don't really have any hobbies beyond reading and programming. I do worry about being able to get a job when I'm older, but I'll find something to do.


I just don't know what to do with my shameful career when reading this.

Some people seem so focused and without doubts, I just feel so far away on the other side of that spectrum.


Believe me when I say that there was a huge amount of doubt.

When I was contemplating becoming a FF-PM I had a wife and 1 year old child. I was far from being in shape but I passed the requirements to be selected (if I had to do it today I'm not sure I would pass. They up their game on entrance requirements!). It didn't help that my mom was telling me that I shouldn't do it and that I should think about my family. But it was actually my family I was thinking of. I knew if I didn't do it right then and at that moment I would never do it and would regret it for the rest of my life.

Fast forward to April 2020 and the department agrees to pull me out of the field because of Covid since I have a chronic liver disease. I thought I got a new lease on life as I was getting tired of the field. But it was more frustrating "upstairs" than in the field and I started applying for almost all remote programming jobs.

When I finally got a legit job offer came doubt again. As a FF-PM in good standing with the department there was little chance of ever getting laid off or fired (the dept has a high, high rate of turnover). Now I had to decide to leave a secure job or take a job in the private sector. From money standpoint it was a no brainer, but from a security standpoint not so much. Ultimately I made the decision to leave the department.

Look at where you are and where you would rather be in 1 year, 5 year and/or 10 years and work backwards from there. What can you do today to move you toward that 1 year, 5 year or 10 year position?

Don't give up and don't stay in something you don't like.


I suspect your unusual convergence of skills and domain knowledge will make you perfect for /some/ job at any age!

My father turned 80 recently and he still works five days a week. That wouldn’t be ideal for everyone, but he enjoys his job and he’s remained sharp and capable.

That milestone really highlighted for me Silicon Valley’s weird relationship with age. It’s absurd to imagine 80 year old engineers working here. We’ll vote for a 78 year old to run the country, but won’t trust them to write code. Heck, it’s a bit shocking to see someone over 50 in my office. As someone who got into software engineering late in life, that’s worrying, and I suppose it’s time to start preparing for my third act.


I think that in 50 years time we'll see 80 year olds in software engineering. With the terrible economy that millennials have faced their entire adult lives, a lot of us will never retire.

Moreover with the slowing of Moore's law, I think it'll be reasonable to keep up-to-date. Experience with 33Hz punch-card machines is not very transferrable to modern systems, but I'm willing to bet that in 50 years desktop CPUs will be in the same order of magnitude, and we'll be using keyboard + monitor.

Anecodotal evidence: As a 19 year old I learnt programming on a 20 year old VBA program built by an IBM punch-card veteran, and was mentored by a scientist with a similar background who could not fathom what classes are.


I would expect in 50 years virtual reality will be indistinguishable from real world, which can make remote team work actually efficient, unlike current state. This has to enhance SW development in unimaginable ways. I still expect to use (virtual) keyboard and some form of 3d mouse. I can imagine multithreaded debugging made much easier.

But yeah code will still be code, on similar platforms, don't expect anything radical compared to VMs of these days. Probably.


Out of curiosity, what was your first act and what made you transition to software engineering?

Bioengineering in academia. Moved to software engineering for an extra $100,000/year. In hindsight, my overall my standard of living has gone down despite the extra money due the housing crunch in the Bay Area.

The software industry messed me up big time. Often, I wish I had chosen a simpler career. It must feel amazing to spend most of your time thinking only about real, simple tangible things.

I imagine that having a simple practical mind as an adult must feel like childhood but I will never know.


I started my first programming job at 28. Before that I did computer repairs and support. Starting that job was the first time I experienced still thinking about work, outside of work.

In a lot of jobs, your thoughts are free to wonder and you can think about whatever you feel like, whilst also working. Not so in software development, to do a good job your thoughts must only be about the task in hand and those thoughts can persist long after the task is over.


That's an interesting way of thinking of the problem. Personally I have been involved with manual and not so manual effort. Obviously digging a trench ends after you stop, but building an algorithm that does the equivalent thing, whatever that is, is not comparable as you don't stop thinking at 5PM?

I can relate, and I guess the same holds true for any other knowledge work that requires such intense concentration.

There are definitely tradeoffs and I suspect that having chosen software, you might have gotten cabin fever before you were 20 years in.

With software, you can tweak the rules that create a forest and press a button to have - in your hand - a board that’s better than the last: solid, straight, and knot-free.

These are things that take decades in simpler disciplines.


One must ask, “do I need the leverage tech provides to live a well lived life?”

This comment feels out of left field.

Was I accidentally arguing that tech is more important than a well-lived life?


I might have misunderstood your comment. If so, my apologies for the hot take.

How old are you?

I got out of software when I was 27, got back in when I was 30 and then out again at 34. I won't go back.

I drive around the world instead, writing about what I do, and teaching others how they can do it too.[1]

It's never too late. I met people in their 70s driving around Africa, having a great time!

[1] youtube.com/theroadchoseme


I started when I was 10, first paid job when I was 15 or 16, got out in my 30s. I still love coding, and do it every day, but I can't see myself doing it for money again.

I urge you to put your skills to good use at your leisure and for your own pleasure, not as a job, but as an art. You can make the world a better place.

Thank you for sharing your YouTube channel, I find it inspiring.


Thanks! I do still tinker and write code on things I find interesting or challenging.

These days most of my efforts go into photography and writing (I've just finished my second novel). I find working on the "real" world a lot more satisfying than purely digital where not a lot is tangible.

Good luck!


>but I will never know.

Nature, solitude, psilocybin mushrooms, & you'll know.


>John maneuvers easily around a slippery deck, his only helper his son Sam, 72, who often comes along as his dad’s sternman.

It's a funny sentence, when you hear about a son helping his father out in his fishing business I don't think you often imagine someone who is already 70 himself.


Thought the same about his son.

I'm wondering why no one in the comment section commented on the fisherman's content for dying.

He was ready to go at any moment and still defeated death when he was staring at him. I think that was the most remarkable and most wholesome aspect of the article.


Lot of commenters saying software has fucked them up. I wonder if it's the extended period inside that the pandemic has necessitated, that's triggering this angst. I am also feeling the same way, but I can't help but feel that to some degree, the months of isolation (not just from friends and framily, from the outdoors even) have a big part to play.

The occupations where you are out and about carry a big risk: physical injury can put you out of work and cause debilitating pain for the rest of your life. Granted that it happens less will continue to trend down with improving oversight and safety standards, but it is still a risk. Perhaps we do not realise this or think clearly about it when we yearn for working with our hands/work outdoors?


I think that you analyzed the situation correct in your second paragraph: E.g. people that work in construction: "Construction is a tough, heavy, manual industry where injury and ill health are likely; many workers leave the industry early due to ill health or musculoskeletal disorders (Arndt et al., 2005)." (Excerpt from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000368701...)

I come from a different career (mechanical engineering degree and then worked in infosec consulting) and i observed that software engineers have the following advantages: 1. highest degree of freedom in their working conditions. 2. The most intellectually challenging work there often is in the entire company. those are the reasons that have drawn me to this industry and they continue to hold true for me :)

And yes, the body and mind needs balance from intellectual work. For me it works best to do sports and spent time with family.


>He doesn’t get mad. Or if he does, he keeps it to himself.

There is something to that.


Pretty good. Better than "Life lessons from a 97-year-old Spiderman"

I thought he was going to be mutated like a lobster...

Given the title, I was expecting advice from a human-arthropod hybrid who obtained longevity from genetic experimentation.

Unfortunately, not yet!


I actually imagined a lobsterman from X-COM: TFTD:

https://www.ufopaedia.org/index.php/Lobster_Man


Same. Was deeply disappointed to find the article is about a human who lobstered professionally


Your comment made me laugh! I can imagine a machine learning model would derive the same meaning.

TIL I am actually a machine-learning model.

(Actually, I wonder if it's easier for a chatbot AI to emulate the writing of someone like me who is on the spectrum, than neurotypical writing)


The only spectrum worth being on is a ZX Spectrum



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