The end of 2013 and the start of 2014 have me thinking a lot about age, both my own, my students’, and my colleagues’. It wasn’t always the case that I thought much about age in a work context, which is probably a side effect of having started graduate school immediately after I finished my undergraduate degrees. Because of my direct route to a Ph.D. program, I was only 25 when I stepped in front of my first class of students, making me barely older than they were. Once I got to DePaul I commonly taught classes for professional Masters students, which resulted in me only rarely being the oldest person in the room. But now it’s most often the case that I teach first-year classes to undergraduates so that my students are 25 (or more) years younger than I am. In the past five years, perhaps because my daughter is closer to my students’ age than I am, I’ve begun to feel more like their mother and less like their contemporary. Overall I’m fine with that since I think the role of mom suits a programming instructor well.
It’s also relatively recently that I’ve started to think about age with respect to my peers. Yes, when I was hired at DePaul the people who were already there were significantly older than I was. But I was hired during the boom years of what would become the College of Computing and Digital Media, so the majority of people around me were within 10 years of my age. Recently, though, I’ve worked hard to expand my professional network outside of DePaul. Some of the people I’ve met are significantly older than I am, and more recently, some of them are significantly younger. To their credit my older colleagues, even the ones who were already teaching computing in the year I was born, have never made me feel like I’m anything less than their equal. Now that I’m finding colleagues who are equivalently younger than me I’m having the same reaction, which makes me quite happy. After all, age is only one measure of a person, and often a poor measure of what kind of colleague or collaborator someone will be. But I do find myself smiling when someone significantly younger than I am comments on someone else’s youth. It’s made me realize that with increasing age comes a broader range and variation in what one considers “old” and “young” and a deeper understanding that those terms are relative. So my apologies to my much older colleagues if I’ve ever amused you with my remarks about youth. I’m sure I’ll get better with age.