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If there are few decent jobs in programming...

If getting a decent job in programming is so hard, are there any other, better fields worth pursuing?

I'm a freshman in college, and so I'm still at a point where I can decide what career I'd like to pursue easily. I think I could be happy doing just about anything that's analytical/quantitative.

Or do people just come to this forum to rant and rave, exaggerating the reality of the situation? Are there no particularly good careers right now?

Warren Henning
Saturday, December 6, 2003

People just come here to rant and rave:
* Indians are taking my birthrite.
* My boss is an idiot (no really).
* Java sucks.
* Microsoft sucks (no really).


Saturday, December 6, 2003

Getting a really decent job anywhere is hard.  There's always going to be something you don't like about where you work, sometimes even several somethings.  Keep your eyes open for things that make you go "Ooooh!" and see if you can turn them into careers.  ;>

Sam Livingston-Gray
Saturday, December 6, 2003

I hear fishing is a pretty good career.

Saturday, December 6, 2003

Warren, I love what I do (really).  I was a ham radio operator back in my youth. Radio and electronics were my passion, so what else to become other than a EE?

The fact is that in every project, whether software or hardware, there came a point where anything else seemed attractive.

But hey, you're a freshman, you're taking calculus, and finals are coming up, don't you wish you were taking a course "broadcast communications" -- y'know, like Katie Kuric (sp?) took when she was a lass - and no doubt, she's probably making more than you'll ever make.  But think of who she had to sleep with along the way.

You gotta love this stuff or leave it.  And I don't mean all of it, you just gotta love the part you really love.  You can probably make a career out of that.  It is a lot of fun.

Saturday, December 6, 2003

hoser, why does java suck? 

Saturday, December 6, 2003

Why are Indians taking my birthrite?

Camping out on Jos this evening.  Woohoo.  Almost as fun as Xmas shopping.

Saturday, December 6, 2003

It's hard to know what the job market will be like 3-4 years from now.  Just do something that gives you more than one option, unless you are pursuing something relatively secure like law or medicine.  Choose a major that can give you a normal path to two or more occupations (or a major+minor, or a double major that can do the same).

Saturday, December 6, 2003


Yes.  People come here to rant and rave.  Increasingly so, it seems, as compared to the topics from a year or two ago.  Joel provides a very valuable community service, for each long, cathartic rant seen here potentially staved off the severe beating of an unsuspecting co-worker. ;-)

Seriously, though, I agree with Sam's general advice above.  The fact that you know that you'd be happy doing things that are analytical/quantitative already tells me that you're off to a good start.  If there's one common trait between almost all of the unhappy people I know, it's that they are struggling to figure out what it is that they like to do.  It may sound trite and silly, but it really is an extremely important question to be able to answer for yourself.  If you know what you enjoy doing, you're probably either good at it already or you will at least have the patience and diligence to succeed eventually.

Though it's obviously not the case with every unemployed / "under-employed" tech person, a sampling of many of the grumbling people I've met over the past couple of years gave me the impression that a lot of them still haven't gotten over the bursting of the dot com bubble.  It seems like a lot of people who are unhappy in the computer field now are the ones who got into it relatively recently and not because they had a passion for the work but because the field was "hot".  That type of reasoning may be good for making a quick buck once in a while if you're lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and know the right people, but in general, just following "what's hot" isn't necessarily a recipe for long-term satisfaction...

Tim Lara
Sunday, December 7, 2003

The replies have been encouraging. Thanks.

"Just do something that gives you more than one option, unless you are pursuing something relatively secure like law or medicine."

Medicine is secure, as far as I know, but applications to law school soared during the recession. I don't think of it as a "secure" field, unless you go to a top school.

Warren Henning
Sunday, December 7, 2003

If you dig physics, I recommend you investigate the field of medical dosimetry and see if it's for you.  They're paid well.  They work regular hours.  They get the satisfaction of knowing that they're involved in helping really sick people get better or at least buying them some time to be with their families.  As far as I know, the requirements are a degree in physics and a residency, no med school.  If I was just starting college now, this would be one field I'd be very seriously considering.

Sunday, December 7, 2003


The Occupational Outlook Handbook put out by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics is a fairly up to date (there's a 2002-03 edition) list of occupations, how much they tend to pay, what you need to do them, and what the prospects are in the coming years.

The idea here would be to find an occupation that you enjoy, and one that you will be rewarded (financially and emotionally/spiritually for). Also try to match your career to your tempermant. High paced, high stress careers aren't for everyone.

Good Luck.
Sunday, December 7, 2003

Oh Yeah
Sunday, December 7, 2003

>'Medicine is secure, as far as I know, but applications to law school soared during the recession. I don't think of it as a "secure" field, unless you go to a top school.'

How many unemployed lawyers do you know?  Law is secure for employment once you finish law school and the bar exam.  Maybe you won't get into a law firm that enables you to make $200K, but you will have a job somewhere.

True, it is not so "secure" to get into law school, but anyone with decent grades and a good LSAT can get into a law school, even if it isn't the school of their choice.  However, a CS graduate with excellent grades still has a nontrivial probability of never getting a job in the field, at least in a market like today's.

T. Norman
Sunday, December 7, 2003

Tim Lara wrote:

"... a lot of them still haven't gotten over the bursting of the dot com bubble.  It seems like a lot of people who are unhappy in the computer field now are the ones who got into it relatively recently and not because they had a passion for the work but because the field was "hot". "

True dat.

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Warren, some people do just come here to rant and rave.  That is the case with humans in general.  If you don't really understand what's going on, you can always predict gloom and doom and pretend like you do.

Nevertheless, many complaints you hear are valid.  There have been business cycles in the past and you can expect them to continue in the future.  People doing technical work have always been affected, but unemployment rates for engineers and computer programmers are usually  small compared to the general unemployment rate.  This time it is different.  Articles posted at note record high unemployment levels with numbers as high as 6% or higher.

To the high unemployment rate add the outsourcing phenomenon. This adds a major factor of uncertainty to the idea of having a career in computer programming.  The uncertainty is driving a lot of the ranting and raving.  And that makes it difficult to tell you if there is any future in it.

You also have to look at how technical work is actually done.  Way back when I was a college student I liked math and science and had some notion that engineering was important and interesting work and having a worthwhile career was available to anyone who put in a reasonable effort.  It's not. You might enjoy the analytic nature of computer programming, but to many employers you are just an expensive data entry clerk.

If you think that might be an exageration, consider the typical cube farm depicted in Dilbert.  It is well designed for workers who sit in front of a keyboard and monitor and spend 8 hours a day typing.  Thinking or being creative isn't considered part of your job, so it is not considered in the design of the work space.  There are exceptions to this common pattern.  If you decide to stick with programming you will have to search out the few good places to work and not take any job that comes along.

Some random bits of advice: 
Read DeMarco and Listers "Peopleware" to get an idea of what is possible.  Read Scott Adams "The Dilbert Principle" to learn what real work life can be like and what you have to work to avoid.

If you want to do engineering work, look in to bioengineering and nanotechnology.  These do seem to be up and coming fields.

For a more stable future, consider law, medicine, or business, if you might like any of those fields.  Science and engineering should only be considered by people who aren't good at anything else.  Me, I'm a nerd and wouldn't have a chance at anything else.  And on a few occasions I have worked on really interesting projects.

Sunday, December 7, 2003

>>> It seems like a lot of people who are unhappy in the computer field now are the ones who got into it relatively recently and not because they had a passion for the work but because the field was "hot". <<<

I would question this statement.  When I got started in the computer field there wasn't an Internet and the idea that computers could be personal items was only starting to form.  There were a lot of cubicle jobs even back then, but there were some fairly decent developer jobs, too.

In retrospect, I realize that the problem wasn't the bursting of the bubble, it was the growth period.  Engineers became hot commodities.  The small company where I had worked for 15 years was bought out.  Where quality had been the focus of our company culture, the new culture became one of growth.  Hire as many deveopers as you could before someone else did.  Working there wasn't fun any more.

Before the bubble it was always somewhat difficult to find good software development work.  When the bubble was growing, it seemed like we might get to the point there would be more then enough work for everyone.  But that never happened.  My career got a 20 year setback, without the options that Warren has.

So I have mixed feelings.  I like to develop software or do any kind of engineering work.  But recent events make it hard to recommend to a freshman as a lifelong career.

Sunday, December 7, 2003


Your ONLY goal in your 20's  is to find a career you ENJOY.  this is so cliche, but you won't be able to appreciate the gravity of this statement until it's too late.  Take this one on faith.  Do not chase money.  And NEVER think you're locked into a job or career before you have kids or a family.  Till then, you can do as you please, with almost zero consequence.  If you enjoy your career, many many other aspects of your life will fall smoothly into place.  And vice versa.  If you hate your career, or are in it only for some money, many other aspects of your life will also suffer. 

There are plenty of programming jobs around, and there will continue to be.  Computing is only growing.  The salary future level of a programmer is up to debate.  But see above rant, and it is a non-issue.

Good luck, you will be fine.  A college freshman that possess your resourcefulness will go far.  Trust youself.

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Try the video game industry, you can play with a wide varierty of things there :


Sunday, December 7, 2003

>> Your ONLY goal in your 20's  is to find a career you ENJOY. 

Heed this advice.  But you wont! :-) ... because you ARE in your 20's  :-). You'll hear this advice so often that you'll forget it. Seriously! What you will do is go for the job which makes the most money/most "stable". You'll get the job out of college. And then at sometime in your life you might stumble across what it is you really want to do... and then you'll be in a position where you wont be able to make a career change due to wife/children/current lifestyle ...blah blah blah.

When your young you CAN make mistakes... so go ahead, try out as many things as you can to find out if what you want to do them for the REST OF YOUR LIFE!

Step 1.
List all options : snowboard instructor, avalanche rescue team, software engineer, himalayan trekking guide, lawyer ... write down EVERY job you think you might like to do. List by priority and then:
1. Try em out if possible: ie do related things during the weekend /after school ...  eg: for "testing" software development ...actually develop some software ... 3hours per day after school and 8 hours on sunday or saturday...
for "testing" snowboard instructor go snowboarding ono the weekends... sign up as an instructor...

2. Find out the lifestyle of the people in these professions. ie the kind of money they make, their quality of life, the types of people they work with, the apartments they live in ...the amount of free time they get ....

3. Describe a day in the lives of  people in these professions ... a whole day.

Suddenly you'll stumble on something that makes you smile ... that makes you dream of actually doing it ....  That should be the job you should try to do....

After doing all this analysis I realised that I wanted to have my own software/design buisness ... and am slowly steering my career towards this.

All the best. 

Sunday, December 7, 2003

The problem with #2 is he will only see what he wants to see.  eg:  Ignore the handful of $60k 12 hour day lawyers, and focus on the 1 Johnny Cochran.  See what you want to see.

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Doing a law degree doesn't mean you'll be a lawyer anyway. I'm not sure of the exact figure, but I heard once that it's something like 35% of people with a law degree work as lawyers.

The majority presumably leverage their knowledge of law to launch a business career.

Sum Dum Gai
Monday, December 8, 2003

Or work in other capacities in a law firm... I would imagine the superstar (read: lawyer) needs a decent support staff to do research for them and help organize things.

If you can't get a "job" in programming, you can... start your own company... become a pundit... do both.
Monday, December 8, 2003

Warren said: "I don't think of it (law) as a "secure" field, unless you go to a top school."

A more extreme example: Someone I knew in college is going for a Ph.D. in archaeology. She said only 1/3 of Ph.D.s in it get jobs in it, but that her plan was to make sure she was one of the top third. (And that may well happen; she's at the Univ. which apparently has the top program in the U.S.)

Exception guy
Monday, December 8, 2003

> The majority presumably leverage their knowledge of law to launch a business career.

In that case, I say, HIRE a lawyer, and concentrate on implementing your business model. 
Jack of all trades == Master of none

Monday, December 8, 2003

Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer.

So was Thomas Jefferson.

So with a law degree, you can do farming. Or rabble-rousing. Pretty versatile field to go into actually. I wouldn't mind a law degree myself.

Monday, December 8, 2003

If you are serious about software, I would recommend backing up your education with a lot of business classes.  I would even go as far to aim at being a technical manager who can deal with offshore teams straight away.  You might not get the opportunity at first, but if you aim for that target you have a much better chance of hitting it. 

Personally I don't see a lot of growth in the low end of the industry anymore.  Entry level work is the first thing to go.

I come from a family of engineers, but I wouldn't recommend the field to my children (if I had any that is). 

christopher baus (
Monday, December 8, 2003

Curious to hear why you wouldn't recc. a career in engineering.  Thanks.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

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