Laughing Matter

This may scare you, but the fact is that you and I have more in common than you might think. For one thing, we're both Computerworld readers. I typically get to read most of the articles before you do, and I'm privy to a lot of what goes on behind the scenes to make them happen. But just like you, I read Computerworld because it's a great resource to keep me abreast of what I need to know in my profession.

And like you, when I come across an article that I find particularly interesting or enjoyable, I like to share it with people I know who might not otherwise see it. The one article I've shared more than any other in recent memory appeared in our Dec. 19, 2005, issue. Written by Matt Hamblen, it was entitled "No Fun," and it raised an intriguing question: "When did life in IT get so darn dreary, and what can you do about it?" I have a hunch that a lot of people outside of IT are asking the same question about their own professions.

So, regardless of our lines of work, it's good for all of us to read in Hamblen's story what Dale Sanders, CIO at the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, has observed: "You can predict a successful business if you can hear heartfelt laughter 10 to 12 times a day."

I have to think he's right. Way too often, we take ourselves way too seriously. And if we'd only admit it, there's a lot about ourselves that we can laugh at.

That brings me to another recent Computerworld story that I especially enjoyed: Todd Weiss' piece "Technology Victim: Western Union Sends Its Last Telegram," which was posted on our Web site on Feb. 3. Beyond the humor inherent in the fact that, as Weiss' story noted, there were actually 20,000 telegrams sent via Western Union in 2005 (by whom, I can't begin to fathom), my own association of telegrams with Morse code brought to mind the most embarrassing moment in my professional career.

In the early '80s, when I was working for the National Security Agency, I had to learn Morse code for an upcoming assignment. I was put in a class of kids who were fresh out of high school and who had been hired by the NSA to do some sort of Morse grunt work. As the lone, thirtyish intelligence officer in the class, I was the center of attention of my young female classmates, who were clearly enthralled by my experience.

One day as we sat at our terminals, listening to the dots and dashes through our headphones and banging on our keyboards Typing Tutor-style, I decided to pause to take a big swig of coffee. If you've ever done that and had it go down the wrong pipe, you know what happened next. I started choking and sputtering and spewing coffee all over myself, compelling several of the girls to come to my rescue with whatever they had handy to wipe me up with. When my coughing and hacking finally subsided, I realized that, in a matter of seconds, my Bondesque persona had vanished. I was Loser. Larry Loser.

It's been fairly difficult to take myself too seriously since then, and it's just as well. It's a lot easier to laugh that way. Over the years, I've found that the people I admire most are the ones who, though they may carry a seemingly crushing burden of responsibility, are still able to laugh. That's a trait we'd all do well to work to have in common.

Don Tennant

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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