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Dealing with Madness

I'm the guy in your office known as the "goto guy".  Everytime someone can't figure something out, they ask me about it.  Everytime there's a project that needs a little attention to detail or that needs to be done quickly, it's always me.  Nothing is spec'd out, just do it, do it, get it done.

I really hate this situation.  Right now I'm in the telecom industry, and although I really like programming/database design, I'm getting really sick of the "dail emergency" that pulls me further away from building a real software development environment.  Also, I've never worked with anyone that knows more than me, somebody who could teach *me* how to do things.  That really annoys me because I feel like everything is always my responsibility, and theres nobody else who can help me.

My problem is that I'm self taught, and I don't think that I'll ever be able to get a job on a "real" software development team without any degree or I'm thinking about going back to school.

I'm just kind of bummed because I feel that I know more than most CS grads, and I have to go back to school just to get a stupid paper that says that I know what I'm doing, when I've already been doing this for 6 years.  However I think that I could get over this because I really enjoy knowledge and I want to meet other people who are *really* into programming.  I feel kind of old to be doing this though, I'm 30 and by the time I get out I employable at this point??

My other option is to just go off and start my own software company, hope that it's a success, and then I can build a team with the proceeds.

Anyone else in this situation?  How do you deal with it?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Also, If I take the back to school route, do you think that an associates (2 years) with a lot of experience is good enough?

Furthermore, what do you think about just getting a few certifications?  Which ones?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Having been in the same situation as you, and having started school in September, I can strongly recommend that you go back to school as soon as possible.

Put it this way:

You can handle "daily emergencies" created by ignorant assholes, or you can handle "daily emergencies" created by the fact that haven't studied enough for your exam that afternoon.

One results in no tangible benefits to you besides stress, weight gain, and baldness, but forces you to work with a bunch of management sub-retards.

The other allows you to do whatever you find interesting while surrounded by young happy people. As a bonus, you will be working towards that "piece of paper."

Worried about money? Look into a school with a decent co-op or internship program.

Where do you want to be in 4 years?

The Happy Student
Thursday, January 22, 2004

The sad fact is most people who are programmers aren't
really into programming. You'll have to hang out at
places like this or go to local meetings.

Telecom isn't a good place now. And if you don't have
connections it will be hard to get in the door without
a degree.

It will also be hard to go into another field with a
telecom background.

So if you don't get lucky or have connections then getting
a degree is probably a safe bet.

Start your own company is a good option too.

son of parnas
Thursday, January 22, 2004

>I'm the guy in your office known as the "goto guy".  Everytime someone can't figure something out, they ask me about it.  Everytime....

Hey, that's my story too.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Thursday, January 22, 2004

However I think that I could get over this because I really enjoy knowledge and I want to meet other people who are *really* into programming.

That depends quite heavily on the school you go to.  I would bet that as high as 75% of the people in some of the upper division (3rd and 4th year classes) CS classes really disliked working with computers.  They were doing it for money, and just about only money.

I was even called a nerd in an upper division Operating Systems class.  By another guy in the class.  amazing...

I would assume this is even more prevalent in non-research institutions.  Either way, research what school you go to carefully before you go.

( I went to UC Davis, btw. )

Andrew Hurst
Thursday, January 22, 2004

==>That depends quite heavily on the school you go to.  I would bet that as high as 75% of the people in some of the upper division (3rd and 4th year classes) CS classes really disliked working with computers.  They were doing it for money, and just about only money.

My experience was contrary to this (although I got my degree over 10 years ago).

In my experience, the first and second years were stuffed full of these people. By the time I got to the third or fourth year, those guys had been weeded out and moved on to a marketing degree.

Your mileage may vary ...

Sgt. Sausage
Thursday, January 22, 2004

" Also, I've never worked with anyone that knows more than me, somebody who could teach *me* how to do things. "
"I'm just kind of bummed because I feel that I know more than most CS grads, and I have to go back to school just to get a stupid paper that says that I know what I'm doing"

I guess you're not so smart after all.  Welcome to the corporate world where bagdes and 'stupid papers', as you call them, matter. 

Your choices are actually very simple:
You can sit around and whine like a big baby, or get off your duff and start working towards that 'stupid paper'. 
Otherwise, you will see most CS Grads who come your way pass you by and you will still be moaning about how much "smatter" you are for not having the necessary skills (techncial + political + business) for advancing in you're career.

Reality Check
Thursday, January 22, 2004

Just curious, why do you say it's hard to get into another field with a Telecom background?

I haven't been doing telecom for 6 years, I've worked for an Insurance company and an Automotive Software company as well. 

My current position is in Telecom (I'm supposed to be a programmer, but I spend a lot of time putting out fires, like I said).

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I had the exact same problem until I woke up and realized I was a wanker and a sucker at the same time.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Well, I didn't say I was "smatter", I didn't even say that I was "smarter", I said that I know more...and I do.

Also, I've worked very hard to get where I am.  CS grads are usually the ones that whine when I get mad at them for not knowing how to write a proper "select statement" in SQL or when they don't understand the client/server model!

Money isn't an issue, I make plenty.  It's the type of work and the people I have to work with that I'm worrying about.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


I empathize with you. I completely understand your situation and believe me, when I read your words, I kept thinking how aptly you described my situation as well.

I think the only workable solution is to apply for a CS degree right away and that's what I am doing. Once you get that degree, there shouldn't be any discrimination you'd face in job interviews. Right now, they don't even want us in the interviews sometimes, and its hard to take, especially when you see bummbers and quacks working with you all those years behind. Once you get your degree, you'll be invited to interviews, listened to and then you can get a much better job.

Over here, in India, they ask for an MCA (Master of Computer Applications) or a B.E CS (Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science) or a B.Tech (Bachelor of Technology). I have enrolled myself for a preliminary course of 6 months after which I shall be qualified to join an MCA class.

Good luck!

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Thursday, January 22, 2004

If it bothers you that much, buy a cabin in the wilderness because idiots are everywhere.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

...see bummbers and quacks working...

That was bummers. I made a typo there.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Thursday, January 22, 2004

Getting the degree is a good idea.  If you're self taught, then there is a lot of stuff that you haven't been exposed to.  I was largely in the same position.  The solution I found was to -teach- classes, rather than get another degree, since I already have one (just not in computer science).

I would recommend getting a four year degree from a good school, not just the local commuter college.  Part of the benefit is that you'll be forced to learn about things besides computer science, and that's a good thing.  You might even consider studying something that isn't strictly computer science, such as mathematics.  For the purpose of getting jobs, having a degree is the important thing, and the subject matter is secondary.

Clay Dowling
Thursday, January 22, 2004

People for the last time, Wayne is just too smart (for everyone he meets).  He doesn't need no stinkin' degree!

Reality Check
Thursday, January 22, 2004

Thanks everyone for all of the good advice.

I was thinking about not going back for Computer Science and picking something like Mathematics instead... I'm going to think about it some more.

"Never make decisions when you're angry!" is the advice I keep hearing in my head when I get like this.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Yeh, I know how you feel, I think. I work with nice enough people in development, but the people RIGHT over me have me putting out fires, all the time.

So I went part time, work on my own things too, it'll be great! Now they're trying to make me work 10 hours 5 days a week with a 40% pay cut, and why? Today I spent about thirty minutes really coding, even then I had to fight for it, people coming over etc...yet I'm still to do my daily work in development, 30 minutes!

It's almost like those fires don't count once they've been put out, when other developers do it, they tend to screw up and I always get roped into it. Llike the java guys debugging low level networking issues in the kernel for a solaris machine, on a different o/s.

So now I think I might as well get paid to do what I'm doing, go work in operations and script most of my job (I've been in operations before programming).

You just can't win, I know the guy right over me has his heart in the right place, but he's just, so so so so, annoying.

He was out for four days and I wrote a new systems management and monitoring suite, three days, I was pretty proud, got everybody else hammering it and not finding bugs, it's proved it's worth internally already, he came back and I'm spending most of my day explaining what's happened, why I didn't do $x (because it made no sense).

I don't know, sorry for bitching ;-)

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Fascinating "Reality Check"'ve added so much to this thread, we really appreciate your input.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Uh, about the three - four days thing, three days writing it, one day tweaking config files and frontends for it as well as documenting how it works, but three days coding.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Best three days you've had in a while I guess.  I love it when I can actually get in the zone and do my job.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Any bets on how long before Wayne realizes he's a moron just like all the rest of us?

my guess is never
Thursday, January 22, 2004

You sir, are an idiot wrapped in a moron, with an outer layer of retardation.

Thanks, I always wanted to say that.
Thursday, January 22, 2004

actually, I don't think myself or Wayne is a moron.  Looks like its just you.  sorry man.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I'm the guy in your office known as the "goto guy".

Oh, buh-ruther.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Looks like the world has an endless supply of people who think their excretia doesn't stink.

Who'd have thunk?

my guess is never
Thursday, January 22, 2004

Yeah, I hate it when they ask me to do work.

Don't those morons get it that I'm only here to do the things that *I* want to work on?  All this firefighting is seriously cutting in on my Joel On Software time.

I really have a hard time seeing what the problem is.  Being the go-to guy isn't a bug, it's a feature.  It means job security.  It means outrageous salary demands.  It means being able to say, "I only work here 40 hours a week; if you don't like that I go home at 5, fire me" -- and getting away with it.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

An AS will not help you employment wise. Also, because of your extensive experience working, you will also not learn anything new getting an associates. Dump the AS plan.

A BS might help you a bit employment wise. But it will take 4 years and cost you a fortune in not just fees and living expenses but in lost income. You are making $65 now let's guess. School will costs you $20k/yr depending on your life style. I will assume you have no house payments or other liabilities to make good on while in school. So that's a quarter of a million dollars you'll be behind by the time you graduate. There is no possibility you will make that up in future increased earnings.

Also, you will not find more people interested in CS in the CS department than in the field. In the CS department are lots of people exploring CS because they heard it pays well. In the workforce, the people you findh at least like it enough to keep with it after graduation.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, January 22, 2004

A math degree would make sense. You will certainl/y find almost all the students in that degree path are passionate about tehir interests. If you want to and can afford to take 4 years off, then do so. Don't study CS though unless you are going into a PhD program, which is totally doable if you have an undergrad degree in any field, plus your six years experience.

If you want to go to school, pick something you've always been really interested in. A degree in Classical Studies or Film or Mechanical Engineering will help you be a better developer than a CS degree will. And the people you meet will be far far far far far more interesting than CS students who are the most boring dullards imaginable.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, January 22, 2004

If your goal is to improve your ability as a developer, buy the books Joel recommends, read them and discuss them with others at your local IEEE or ACM meetings. If those are too basic then move on to the big ones like Knuth and the GoF.

Universities are still over a decade behind the state of the art. Keeping up with journals and tech publications is the way to go. Don't forget that almost 100% of university professors have zero experience producing commercial software OR software used by others. They can not help you become a better programmer.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, January 22, 2004

A degree probably won't make him a better programmer, but it will probably help him find a better job.  Unless he knows someone (not necessarily someone in a position of authority like a manager, but at least someone who is respected for their technical skills, and can vouch for yours), a CS degree and a buzzword-compliant resume is the best way to get past the initial candidate screening process.

He may want to investigate a distance education college, especially the ones that are self-paced.  Most employers are looking for *a* degree, not where it's from (well, as long as it's from an accredited college).

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Do not waste your time getting a CS degree.

If you want to go to uni, please please please, do yourself a favour and get a degree in something useful.

Sum Dum Gai
Thursday, January 22, 2004

3rd the advice to avoid CS in uni. Imagine the competence of people who couldn't get jobs during the dot com boom. Those people will be your CS professors.  Not to mention CS is an academically moribund discipline, anyway. No fundamental progress for the past 50 years. There's really not that much to it.

If you like engineering, get a real engineering degree. If you like abstraction, consider math and philosophy...or advanced physics. If you like bugs, study entymology. 

Better yet, do yourself a favor and study something that will improve your cool quotient. Film, studio art, foreign languages, ethnomusicology, literature.  Being able to speak in japanese to japanese chicks about french movies will improve your quality of life much more than introduction to compilers.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Thanks all for taking time to write a post, (especially Dennis Atkins).  Good points to think about...

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Yeah, maybe I should just try to get a life outside of computers... I find myself only wanting to talk about technology/software development, but it makes me seem boring to other people.

See, I *am* a dullard and I didn't even get my CS degree yet :)

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Wayne, have you tried finding a different job, on a "real" team as you called it?  Successful developers without degrees aren't unusual.  If you really know your stuff and have the on-the-job experience, the degree shouldn't be much of an issue.  Yes, there are some people, mostly in HR departments, who will immediately reject you because you don't have a degree, but this is by no means the rule.  Try to get yourself in front of the people who can really evaluate your abilities.  If you're as good as you say, it won't be hard impressing the people who count.  I say all of this from experience. 

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I have to admit that I haven't overly extended myself in the search for a new job.  I've created my own situation, I'm not blaming anyone else.

Part of my problem is that I get so engrossed in the stuff going on at work, that I forget to pursue some of my own personal interests.

Like Alyosha` said, "Being the go-to guy isn't a bug, it's a feature."  So, I should take advantage of that by keeping my work hours on a leash.

I'm going to take my time before I go changing everything.  I might do some projects that I've been thinking about, maybe build up a "portfolio" site or something.


Friday, January 23, 2004

Having worked with several "Go To Guys" over the years, I suggest you (Wayne) ask yourself a couple of simple questions). When you fix a problem, do you document what you did and make sure the person who called can fix the problem again if it happens again? Do you tell them where to find information if something similar happens so they might be able to do some research? When you set something up in the first place do you build in troubleshooting help and document how to use it? I suspect the answer to all of these questions is No.

My experience has been that the Go To Guy's work is often sloppy, way overly complicated, and failure prone. I'm not saying you work that way, but the symptoms point to it. The ego boost in being essential keeps them going. We had a guy quit last year after a rant just like yours, he was convinced he should've been the highest paid person there and the whole place would fall apart without him. Turned out that once he was gone, the emergencies were fixed once and for all.

Tom H
Friday, January 23, 2004

Taking university classes can be very fulfilling, but it is not for everyone and having a degree doesn't guarantee you a better job.  These days there are lots of students who are looking for "the paper" and not really interested in learning.  This can be frustrating as a mature student.

A degree is just a way to get your foot in the door.  Or, another way of looking at it: a checkbox feature.  If you have spent the last six years becoming an expert in your field, doing research into best practises etc etc - it is possible that a great deal of the material you cover will be such that you could teach the class.

If you decide to get a degree, you should determine your motivation / goal in getting it.  If it is to increase your employability - I second the poster who said that you will never recoup the cost at this stage in your career.

If you decide to get a degree for intellectual stimulation - I'd extensively research the university and its professors first.  And I would personally take at least the first few classes part time - to see if you actually enjoy being a student :)

Friday, January 23, 2004

Wayne, I think you might be suffering the boredom factor and that's why you should study something other than CS (as many others have suggested.)

Studying stuff you already know, or have worked out years ago, is boring.

The unreal .
Friday, January 23, 2004

Hey Wayne, didja know Stacey's mom has got it going on?

Synonymous Cowboy
Friday, January 23, 2004

Wayne, one thing that strikes me is that you don't /think/ you'll ever be able to get a real programming job.  Why is that?  It sounds to me like you haven't even tried.  Last I heard the Conventional Wisdom was that once you'd been employed for more than a couple of years that employers stop caring about where you went to college.

If you're as good as you say you are, I'd think that any employer worth working for would hire you in a minute.

Foolish Jordan
Friday, January 23, 2004

It's dangerous to commit four years of your time to
something that you might not like. You are DOer and
most of other people are just TALKers.

After few years there, you may find yourself lost again.
My advice would be to try something easier first. Think
for a few days that you have degree, but you know
almost nothing useful for your daily job - so act as an
average Joe.

Be friendly. Be supportive. Try to talk about other peoples
problems ten times longer than it really takes for you
to understand and solve them. If it's not a risk of any kind,
try to make some compliments about what they do or even
how they look (new hair style, new shirt, new iPod,...).

Then sometimes decide that you would just talk, as
someone who has no clue about what's going on, so
nothing gets solved after few hours of group tinkering.
Analyse other's people's ideas or remarks. Talk about them.
Be supportive and understanding and say "Gee, looks
like you got again the hardest task/problem to solve. I
really don't know if I could do it! Let's try together."

Once a week/month decide that today you will be
stupid and useless, but act as if you are trying. Try to
understand why it's hard for others to see solution.
Tell a joke. Talk about girls/sport/cars... Just don't
do anything useful. On purpose.

After a while you'll be promoted and be happy without
going to college. Only if all of this fails, go to college.

Friday, January 23, 2004

If you can afford it and, as Dennis Atkins mentions, have no mortgage payments or other debts, I advise you to go to a decent university, preferably far from where you live now, and pursue your BS or BA.  The change of pace will do you good, and you'll likely grow as a person.  Ignore the opportunity cost -- working in telecom, your debt to your soul is doubtless already greater.  :-)  Don't pick a major right away, or if you must, make it something in the liberal arts so your exposure to other subjects will still be broad.  You'll find a passion soon enough.  Don't worry about the resumption of your career.  Pick something impractical and fascinating.  If that turns out to be CS for you, fine, but don't think it must be, and make sure you only do that if it's a theoretical emphasis (mostly math) -- the classes of a practical "CS" curriculum you're probably beyond already.  Universities are not trade schools, and the students who treat them as such rarely come out well educated.  Go there to become more human, not to find a better job.  The jobs will be waiting.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

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