The other day at Barnes and Nobles bookstore, my 15 year old daughter, in a hushed whisper, told me “dad, that guy behind us, he was applying for a job.” I replied “so, what’s so strange about that?” She looked at me and said “he told them he just got a psychology degree and couldn’t find a job.”
It reminded me of when I came to Washington DC, fresh with an Anthropology degree in hand and expectations that surely I could find a job somewhere. I did, first as the graveyard shift clerk at a 7-Eleven in Manassas Virginia and second as a banquet setup supervisor at a Marriott near Dulles airport. Even though I had defied the odds and escaped my humble trailer-park upbringing and went to college, I still faced no prospects of a good job. My work-life was one of coffee carafes, pastry trays, and disgruntled meeting attendees.
Once, I was late to my banquet setup job, probably by no more than ten minutes or so – but it might as well of been an hour as far as the hotel manager was concerned. He chastised me, threatened to fire me, and told me the most important quality in my position was punctuality. And to be fair, he was probably right. But still…it was then that I decided to study computer programming at night.
I am so thankful for that fateful decision for I stumbled upon a career where you think for a living, enjoy (well mostly enjoy) what you do, and are never want for a job (usually). And if you are good, nobody is chastising you for arriving ten minutes late to work. And, after two or three years experience, the dilemma is never one of if you can find a job, but rather, if it’s a job you want and at the rate you want. Sure, you might stumble upon the odd story of the IT professional who works at Walmart because he or she cannot find gainful employment. But I assure you, dig a little deeper, and you will find extenuating circumstances. Perhaps they stopped learning and stagnated, perhaps they were never very good to begin with. IT changes rapidly, people that find a job in one technology and then fail to learn new technologies rapidly find themselves outdated and expendable. Simply put, if you are not willing to devote time to life-long learning, then IT is not for you. But if you devote a modicum of time to stay current in one or more technologies, you will find a job – usually within a couple months. And even more importantly, if you want a raise and your current employer won’t fulfill your request, you can easily find the rate you desire elsewhere.
It is hard to impress upon folks just how lucrative IT is as a career. While every career is taking massive hits, and the educated, well-paid, career professional is rapidly becoming extinct, there is one career choice that is growing dramatically – anything related to Information Technology. So how to explain this to the average person, someone that has worked in a “job” his or her whole life? How do you explain the difference IT can make?
Information Technology offers you a career rather than a job. Unsure of the difference? Chris Rock explains it best.
Computer Science Career Prospects
Before I discuss the gloomy prospects for most humans on earth in the twenty-first century, let’s start by exploring a particularly lucrative career, computer programming. Then, as we review the grim prospects, remember that we will readdress this career and the takeaway you should have from this post.
Not all jobs in computers are as programmers. Networks require administering. Software must be tested. Networks, hardware, and software must all be secured. There is a spectrum of tasks supporting the software revolution, so if you don’t like programming, it doesn’t mean you cannot go into Information Technology.
Now for the doom and gloom. The career prospects are grim for most humans. If you have a college degree and find yourself working at Starbucks, you are not alone. You did not throw away your life on a “worthless degree.” In the past, there was a large demand for well-educated college graduates regardless of major. But now, things are changing, it is harder to find a job, and a college degree just isn’t the employment guarantee it once was. If even graduates in engineering have difficulty finding entry-level jobs, how are graduates in a subject like Classical Civilization going to find jobs?
I’m not trying to make this political, but clearly the demand for human labor – both skilled and unskilled – is decreasing while the population is increasing. Blame the Democrats, Republicans, or even blame the Easter Bunny, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault…as computers continue to increase efficiency the demand for labor will continue to decrease. And you can take that statement as fact.
Superstars and Jobs
Maybe you are a snowflake. Maybe you are the next Justin Bieber, The Weekend, or Skrillex to start from humble beginnings on YouTube to international stardom. Perhaps, but consider this, even the music industry has seen many jobs simply vanish. Gone are the days of the well-paid backup musician, the rock band, or the symphony playing movie scores. Instead, you have the single DJ/Producer or electronic musician. And the one or two solo artists who manage to rise to the top and reap all the rewards are the exception, not the norm.
But maybe you are going to write the next Angry Birds and sell it on the App Store. Or perhaps, just perhaps, you will be the next YouTube image-consultant star with your own podcast like Dante Nero or Alpha M or Bradley Martyn. You will tape yourself buying a Ferrari and post it for the world to see, thus ensuring YouTube stardom. But for every successful YouTube star, there are countless more that never make it. Certainly, I agree a lofty goal like YouTube stardom is by all means impressive – go for it – but just be certain to have a backup plan. Or better yet, learn how to make your backup plan part of your dream (see the link to a Harvard Business Review article below).
Here’s a good video explaining the economics behind the Winner Take All Economy. But it’s not that difficult to noodle it through: if 200 years ago, you had to physically go to a theatre to watch actors perform, while today you can watch actors perform from the comfort of your living room, then the demand for actors today must be less than it was then, as not every town needs its own theatre and acting troop.
Wow, so that’s pretty grim. Not only are computers taking our jobs, mass-communication means that consumers can select the best and leave the second-best to mop floors. So perhaps a strategy of being the CEO, the star, or the professional athlete isn’t the wisest career plan.
Working for a Living
Finally, we need to talk about work. Old fashioned American hard work. Perhaps, just perhaps, you were misled by our recent popular culture regarding jobs/work. Sure Steve Jobs tells you to “follow your passion,” but is it practical? Moreover, earlier I presented a video clip of Chris Rock extolling the virtues of a career compared to a job. But he was talking about unskilled labor. Skilled labor isn’t necessarily a j.o.b. that makes one loath to arise in the morning. Many white-collar careers are also a j.o.b. to the person in the position. In America, over the last few decades we started equating anything involving labor as a job and anything pushing paper as a career. I find that strange, as I feel a managerial position where I “plan stuff” all day would be about as appealing as scraping shrimp off plates at Red Lobster.
IT is hard work. I find it more akin to the blue-collar work of yesteryear than to white-collar paper pushing. In fact, industry hype aside, you will find managers have about as much respect for IT folk as they do a kid working a drive-through window. Maybe IT wasn’t your passion and how you envisioned your life…but it’s an opportunity. Isn’t it possible to shape your passion to the situation you find yourself in? Listen to Mike Rowe talk about passion and opportunity.
There are jobs, albeit not enough to counteract technological unemployment. Somebody has to work the computerized mechanical monsters, albeit, instead of fifty people only one person might be needed. If you can be that one person…
If you are in IT, and you resolve yourself to constant, lifelong learning, then you will be needed in the new economy. Still not convinced?
The Age of Abundance
Here is a video explaining the fourth industrial revolution. While watching it, take particular note of the people in the video. Without exception, regardless of the person’s career, he or she incorporates IT into their career.
Information Technology Career
A perfect storm is brewing. Computers are rapidly replacing many of the traditional jobs. And not just menial jobs, jobs that traditionally required substantial education. At the same time, our culture denigrates hard work culturally. IT is more akin to the blue collar worker of yesterday than the stereotypical manager of yesterday. System administrators, cybersecurity analysts, programmers, all do something beyond go to meetings, schedule things, and drink coffee.
But forget all the high-faulting nonsense, let us keep it simple.
- Careers deemed “menial” or “trade” or “blue collar” somehow became undesirable over the past several decades, even rewarding ones that require considerable skill and pay handsomely.
- In the United States, Information Technology was taught as a science rather than a learnable skill, leading to large sectors of our population believing it was a career beyond his or her reach.
- Computers are taking jobs, even “smart” jobs, at an alarming rate.
- Hundreds of thousands of Information Technology jobs will go unfilled.
- If you are willing to become skilled in this career – all of the above means you have a job, a good job, even if the economy does go south for most other college graduates.
It really doesn’t matter what you consider the source of the world’s current woes. It also doesn’t matter what you consider the solution to those woes. Rest assured, information technology will be a part of the solution (unless we bomb ourselves back to the stone-age, in which case discount my previous pontification). If you even suspect you might like a career in computing, you owe it to yourself to explore all facets of the industry. Explore computer programming, system administration, testing, cyber-security analysis, and other aspects of the career.
You might not be the next Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or IT billionaire, but you will have a six-figure salary for a relatively low upfront educational investment. And if you dedicate yourself to lifelong learning, or find that coding is your passion? Well, the sky’s the limit.
As an aside, I’m getting up there in years… it took me a long time to learn the lesson in this Harvard Business Review article. Although the article is directed at those in their midlife, it is equally applicable to those just starting out and trying to balance their dreams with the realities of his or her current situation. Yes, it requires reading (gasp !) rather than watching a YouTube video… but there is so much truth in this article. It is exactly what Mike Rowe is saying on a higher level. In fact, I plan on sending the link to him and/or his Facebook page.
The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change