Career Advice

In yesterday's post on advice, the comment thread digressed towards the topic of law school.

Joanne Jacobs wrote,

My
daughter, who was graduated in June from a top-tier law school advises
that the legal gravy train has run off the tracks. At a time when it's
hard for all new lawyers to find paying work, a second-tier law degree
— which cost a lot of time and money to earn — may not lead to a
decent job. (She's working pro bono this year, though the law firm that
offered her a job has given her a stipend to wait to start till fall,
2010.) Even pre-recession, first-tier degrees were "national" (good
anywhere) while second-tier degrees were "regional" (good locally).

Y81 said,

Now if
someone graduates in the middle of his or her class at a second tier
law school, spends the bulk of his or her professional career closing
small commercial real estate loans, or defending small accident cases
for insurance companies, or whatever, at an income in the low six
figures (or the high five figures if not in a major city), and really
enjoys what he or she is doing, then that's fine. But I wouldn't spend
three years of my life preparing for that career unless I had some
thought that I would enjoy it.

(And all the academics choked a little on their breakfast at the low six figure comment.)

With more excellent commentary and links from Ragtime.

Meanwhile, I just talked two friends out of applying to graduate school this weekend. TWO. Two friends who were desperately bored at their jobs and really wanted the intellectual stimulation of the classroom. I had to explain the job realities to them and urged them to see if they could figure out how to get to their goals without getting a PhD.

I'm not sure that I would advise anyone to apply to business school right now. I have friends who finished their masters in education and can't find work.

What should smart, ambitious college graduates do? Maybe this is why they're all depressed

UPDATE: Geeky Mom responds.

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57 thoughts on “Career Advice

  1. Ragtime alludes to medicine as perhaps being the “safe” profession. I think *safety* is largely a measure of how well access to the profession is controlled. Medicine seems to do a fairly good job of that, right now (by limiting access to a fairly small number of slots at American medical schools, and using immigration top top-off the supply through controlled admissions to residency programs).
    Law does it (or did it) through controlled admissions, too, but as the number of law schools has gone up (apparently there was, until recently, a consent decree between the ABA, which accredits law schools and the Justice department based on the ABA’s attempt to limit accreditation for population control, rather than quality), the control is through admissions to the highly selective law schools (i.e. “Tier 1”).
    That could change, though.
    Both those professions, and their control of admission, may change in the future, though. So, my advise: flexibility. There’s no sure path. Think about investments and risks and always have a plan B.
    (And, medicine though currently relatively pretty safe, is messy to achive. Most lawyers I know eliminated the opportunity pretty quickly because they just didn’t want to be in a basement lab holding a hunk of formaldehyde infused brain tissue. Yeah, eventually you can become a radiologist, and spent most of your time looking at pictures. But, until you get there you’re going to deal with messy bodies).

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  2. PS: A big part of my advice about additional education is who is paying for it — if you’re paying for it, think thrice and then do it if you want the education itself. Very few training programs are “apprenticeships” that have any guarantee whatsoever of a job at the end.

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  3. Just want to point out that — as with far too many things that I am thinking — Matt Yglesias said it better, about ten minutes earlier, and with charts.
    http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/01/too-many-lawyers-but-also-too-many-cartels.php
    I would be the absolute worst person to advise ambitious college graduates. Honestly, I am still in the position I was at college graduation where if you asked me to list ten jobs that people do, I would get stuck after “Doctor, lawyer, teacher, um . . . Indian chief?” I still have no idea what half of my friends do for a living (“media consultant”? “executive ad buyer”?) or how they got into those fields.
    When I graduated, I was accepted into a (bottom of the) Top 20 PhD Literature program, but elected not to go, and then spent two years thinking I had made the worst mistake of my life as I bounced around between “Administrative Assistant” type positions before going back to grad school. Now, I count my blessings every day.
    For some people, grad school/ law school/ whatever might be the right choice, even despite the crumby odds. Maybe a 25% chance at the golden ring later is better than a 100% chance of staying in a job you hate now. I just think everyone should go in to it with their eyes completely open, knowing all the odds and facts and numbers.

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  4. What should smart, ambitious college graduates do?
    Travel internationally as cheaply as possible. Join the Peace Corps (though it takes close to a year, maybe more, to get from application to assignment), teach English in China or Taiwan (are there still such jobs?), etc.
    (As for law school, a lot depends on the type of lawyer one wants to be and the costs one has. If you want, say, to be a public defender, work in state government, or have a small practice doing a wide variety of things, then going to a second-tier (or lower first tier- schools stop being “national” about the middle of the first tier, really) can be fine if you get a scholarship, don’t expect to become wealthy, don’t get much debt, and still work hard and do well. But don’t take on a lot of debt to do these things for sure.

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  5. Ooh ooh! I just thought of something!
    Recommend that your friends get a Masters of Public Policy, and then move to Washington or their state capital. Really interesting government work is available for a 1 or 2 year Masters degree, with lots of room for the smart and ambitious to advance and gain relatively high level work fairly quickly. Pay is not great, but “government grade” may be competitive and can keep you in the middle class.

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  6. Ragtime’s advice would be my advice to people in the middle of the ‘ambitious’ spectrum. I’m not sure what you tell somebody who is really ambitious.

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  7. Well, maybe that depends on how big your definition of “the middle” is. If you are good enough to get into the a “Top X” program in Whatever Studies, it probably makes sense to go if you are really ambitious, no matter what the economy. (And, really, for any grad program of 3+ years, who knows what the economy will look like then. Maybe those pesky baby boomers will actually start to retire, like we keep hearing.)
    But if you don’t get into a Top X Program, and have to settle for the Next X, or even the Third X, then I think that would put you in “the middle” of the ambitious spectrum, where government job may be a competitive option.
    Honestly though, despite what I said earlier, I think, for lots of people considering grad school, more transparency won’t actually matter much. These are people who have been hearing, “You can get anyway with not studying now, but next year is Third Grade, and that won’t work,” but they always aced the test without studying “next year.” Then they finished Top 10 in their high school (which Mrs. Jones in 8th grade said would be “sink or swim,” unlike middle school) and cum laude in their prestigious college (where the HS guidance counselor said “you may think you’re hot stuff now, but everyone in that college was hot stuff in their high school!”)
    Now, suddenly, they’re going to start believing that they might end up at the bottom of their grad program with no job prospects?

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  8. “Now, suddenly, they’re going to start believing that they might end up at the bottom of their grad program with no job prospects?”
    But, this is the real flaw, writing it like this — it’s not the people in the bottom of the grad program who end up with no job prospects. It’s the ones who couldn’t move to where the job happened to be, or weren’t in the right place at the right time when the job in their neighborhood opened up, or who didn’t have the right personality fit with their adviser (or the members of the interview team), or whose project didn’t quite pan out (more likely in science), or the parent who had a child who needed more than the official time allotted for children . . . .
    There’s a huge element of what I’ll call “luck” in making it to the brass ring. Luck favors the prepared mind, so I’m not attributing success to luck in independence of ability. But, the key advice I’m trying to give, flexibility, is based on the fact that factors out of your control will determine your fate, as well as the factors in your control. You may indeed correctly estimate that you’ll be at the top of your grad program. But, that won’t guarantee you the job at the end of the rainbow.

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  9. I quit being ambitious and generally think career ambition is limiting, but I don’t think most people would listen to that advice. But I get that smart college grads want jobs that are intellectually stimulating, lead to some advancement and give them some satisfaction. I’d suggest computer science/programming as a career and go work for Twitter or the New York Times, Google or Microsoft. It means living in certain places, often expensive places, but your pay will be ridiculous.
    Here’s what I’ve recommended as major/career options for my kids: Physics, Astrophysics, especially, and architecture. Granted, the housing market means slightly less work perhaps for architects, but there’s plenty of opportunity to do remodels on the domestic or commercial market. And we might be headed to space to find answers to some of our earthly problems. Urban planning seems like a viable career. Also, biochemistry, to work in the biotech industry and come up with all those new energy solutions.
    K-12 teaching is still a viable career. Especially if you have a degree in science or math. I see listings for those much more often than for humanities teachers. Of course, you have to get certified first.
    For the record, my stepbrother is in a third-rate law school, but it really didn’t matter where he went. He’s taking over my father’s small, but quite profitable practice and will likely make six figures his first year out. Had I gone to law school, I might have done the same. It’s too bad higher ed pays so badly.

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  10. Urban planning seems like a viable career.
    I guess I still have a bias against urban planning because most of it that I see locally is trying to undo the mistakes of the urban planners of the 60s. Right now, we’re at: “Let’s put back the street grid that we pulled-up because it turns out that surrounding a shopping area with four lanes of one-way traffic is a pretty good way of blocking the pedistrians who we were trying to attract.”
    I guess I’m not opposed to urban planning in itself. I’m opposed to have ambitious people doing urban planning. Somebody with a budget of $50 million and a reasonable cognitive powers might actually improve things. Someone with $500 million and a theory is a problem.

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  11. What’s ironic is the friend I was advising about law school got the brass ring in academia – a tenure-track job at an R1 before even graduating from his Ivy League school. But it was in a city he and his family didn’t like, in a department he didn’t like; he was unenthused about producing the book he’d need to get tenure in two years; and he couldn’t find another job. So he’s getting out.
    Maybe there’s no brass ring anywhere…

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  12. My advice would be to get an undergrad degree in whatever you love, love, love. Don’t worry yet about earning a living with it. Then go do an apprenticeship in plumbing or whatever. Something hands-on that is a bag of tricks that you can take anywhere.
    Then live in a university town or somewhere with a lot of educated people. You can earn a decent living while also having a pool of interesting people for friends. And also have the time to hang out with them.

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  13. “Which would be to create more environmentally conscious areas, more walkable cities, create more public transit, etc.”
    Not what urban planners do; what chairs of appropriations committees do. Go forth and legislate!

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  14. “Not what urban planners do; what chairs of appropriations committees do could do if they had any interest in the matter beyond being able to brag about how many dollars they got and who the project was named after.”

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  15. brag about how many dollars they got and who the project was named after
    The MH Memorial Pittsburgh Walkability Quarter? Is there an exploratory committee we can donate to?

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  16. See? I can’t even begin to imagine an alternate career! Don’t even know what urban planners do. City planners? Is it really a committee? That kind of sucks.
    Sandra, I have seriously considered plumbing. It seems like satisfying work–but there’s the mess that I’m not sure I could deal with.

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  17. Laura: I think I messed-up your whole thread by not closing a tag correctly or something. Sorry. I had no idea that was even possible.
    Doug: “Memorial”? Thanks.

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  18. Political lobbying should be a growth field for the next few years. A law degree can be useful, but is hardly essential, in that field. A degree in poli sci could be useful too, I suppose. In general, though, I suspect that we are in for a jobless recovery and that things will be difficult for those coming of age in the next five years (and, indeed, for some of us who are older).

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  19. Astrophysics? Really? Why?
    I give no career advice to my kids (of course, they’re 8 and 6, and not in high school). The younger has recently switched from rock-climbing geologist to meteorologist. I think he might want to be a skiing meteorologist. That’s a big growth industry, right?. The older one was intrigued by the possibility of writing hallmark cards, but recently piped up with whether there are people who come with the ideas for movies and shows and books. We told her there were, but that it was an awfully hard job to get.
    I agree about the “love” thing. I think the world is too unpredictable to pick an education based on what you think will be hot 10 years from now. So, I’d modify the love advice with a few additions (don’t go into significant debt, pick something you’re pretty good at, find out what the people really do — re urban planning, or astrophysics, or psychiatry or radiology, it’s often not what you actually think).

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  20. Majoring in math and having an open mind as to where you work (i.e. not insisting on an investment bank, or a large corporation) is a pathway to a good job these days. Double major in computer science and math or statistics and you’re in very good shape as well, especially if you emerge from school conversant with state-of-the-market database technologies.
    We are trying to hire people like this Right Now and having trouble. The ones who are out there are sought after.
    I strongly disagree with the “major in something you love, then be a plumber” mindset. This person clearly has no idea how difficult it is to get an apprenticeship with a plumber. Not to mention the trick of surviving on a plumbers’ apprentice wage while making college loan payments.
    Do what you love with your life if you can, yes. Do not incur tens of thousands of dollars in debt to study a thing you love if you have no prospect of paying off that debt. And understand that not everyone has a passion that can pay the bills.

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  21. My advice to new grads:
    Avoid what I’ve heard economists refer to as tournament systems, whether they be professional sports, journalism, multi-level-marketing schemes, tenured academia, or rock music. Look for professions that reward middling applicants with middling salaries and top performers with high (but not obscene) salaries.
    If there is enough demand for your discipline, work for an organization that draws its revenue from it. The accountant at an accounting firm and the lawyer at a law firm have very different experiences from the in-house counsel at that accounting firm, or the accountant at the law firm. These tend to be expressed in corporate culture and mentorship rather than salaries, so they’re especially important to emphasize to recent grads. As I tell CS majors looking at internal IT jobs in oil or banking, do you want to be a necessary evil?
    Go where the action is — where there is a geographic concentration of firms that might hire you. It’s great to work for IBM in Armonk, but if you get bored or they lay you off, you’ve got no options that don’t involve a move. There are a lot more alternatives and a better network of your peers to rely upon if you work for IBM in Silicon Valley, Austin, or RDU.
    My advice to high school graduates might be quite different, however.

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  22. As I tell CS majors looking at internal IT jobs in oil or banking, do you want to be a necessary evil
    Do they ever reply, “well, I don’t know so much about this ‘necessary’ part, but I do sort of want to be evil
    (Maybe you’d need some group other than CS majors for that, though.)
    (Also, the lawyers I know who have gone in-house all seem pleased with it. But it’s hard, I think, to start out there.)

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  23. I have no objection to going in-house once a grad has worked 5-10 years and gotten some perspective. It’s the starting off that’s the hard part — you don’t have the community of fellow-practitioners around to advise you and check your work. Pity the CS grad who’s the lone IT staffer at a small non-profit: given total autonomy, told he works miracles, never encountering criticism; he’s twenty-five, under-paid and completely un-teachable.

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  24. I would argue that working in the non-core competence of a company (e.g. IT at an energy firm) is a good way to maintain work-life balance, with the trade-off of lower salary and lower intensity. I’ve seen it work for many people.
    FYI, at many financial institutions IT is seen as pretty core. Much more core than, say, HR. It depends on the firm.
    And to Ben’s point, I pity *any* IT staffer who ends up on his/her own at a small non-profit. I would argue that regardless of age that person probably started out largely unteachable (note they picked the job, which shows they already thought they needed no outside perspective) and just showed their true colors over time.

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  25. Wow, super-interesting discussion.
    For computer science, I think I’d be careful with that one. Off shoring and the global marketplace have really changed the face of software development and will probably continue to do so.
    My advice is automatically suspect because I’m in media, but I think people who focus on the aspects of work that will lead to designing things, analysing performance, or managing relationships/development will do well in the future. These are positions that require one to be connected to the marketplace – to know what will sell, what the cultural trends are, what information would be most useful and how to get it, and whose hand to shake.
    People who focus on production (including production of knowledge) or distribution will probably experience a lot of turbulence.
    Service industries that require physical presence (medicine, care, some kinds of education) are pretty secure too I bet, although I’m not sure salaries will go up.
    If I could change one thing about myself it would be to be more comfortable as an entrepreneur. I wish I had pursued more studies that would have pushed me out of my “research, talk, write” comfort zone and more into a promotional zone.
    P.S. Ben my husband was that guy, except he started at 27. But he was teachable, it just took a while. 🙂

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  26. Part of what I want to teach my children (but am very unsure of success in) is to be able to do without material goods in order to be able to choose the work more flexibly. It’s a principle our family followed for a very long time. But then, the economic fates rewarded us, and, by the time we had children, they were being raised in a very privileged environment. Now, I don’t know what sacrifices of money-requiring things they (and I) would be comfortable with, though I pay the concept a lot of lip service.
    Living even further below our means might be a teaching tool, but it would also mean giving up things and experiences that give us joy that we can well afford.

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  27. I’m with JennG; great conversation.
    On the topic of offshoring, keep in mind that there’s tons more to IT than software development. I agree that, for all except the biggest companies, the era of in-house development is essentially over. However look at the vendor landscape; look at all the startups that have launched in the last few years, and all the coders they’re trying to find; look at the penetration of even high-flying technical applications into every size and type of business.
    OK, so, vendor or in-house, can you outsource the actual coding somewhere? Absolutely. Does that project need to be managed and its quality robustly checked? Yes. Does that project have a chance of coming back to an internal team if the quality problems get bad enough? Again, absolutely. Note that the same thing can happen with onshore coding if its quality is not high: it will experience problems and the work will be given to someone else. And there are certain applications that will *never* go outside as they are just too sensitive.
    I also think people who view medical jobs as the next wave should think harder about what we’re trying to do with health care reform. A typical hospital chalks up 60% of its costs to labor. That number (the overall cost of a hospital stay, and perhaps the proportion devoted to labor) need to go way, way down in the next 10 years. That’s going to mean fewer rad techs, fewer billing people. And has anyone seen the satisfaction numbers for physicians right now? The only “recommendable” job in the medical world right now, IMHO, is nursing.

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  28. I agree that if you want to be paid your worth & are ambitious, you want to be the lawyer at the law firm, and not the lawyer at Kraft. But, if you want to achieve “balance”, being less vital to the main force of the company can actually be a plus, and, indeed, I think that’s what many in-house counsel are looking for.
    I also agree with Jen’s “think more broadly about who you want to work for.” I often see people dismissing entire industries (oil, for example, or big utility companies, or big pharma). But, unless you live off the grid without a car, you use their services. Dismissing the work arbitrarily doesn’t make sense. I think that there’s a way to be honorable producing goods and services that people use and need (even in the oil industry) and ways to be dishonorable in non-profits and education.

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  29. That number (the overall cost of a hospital stay, and perhaps the proportion devoted to labor) need to go way, way down in the next 10 years.
    The most optimistic reformers talk about slowing the rate of growth, not reducing, medical costs.
    That’s going to mean fewer rad techs, fewer billing people.
    I very much doubt anything will reduce the billing people, though I suppose there is something to be said for optimism as an approach to life. I doubt there will be fewer rad techs nor do I think it would be a good idea to try to reduce their number. There are so many new imaging technologies and it is a real area of innovation.

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  30. I would argue that working in the non-core competence of a company (e.g IT at an energy firm) is a good way to maintain work-life balance, with the trade-off of lower salary and lower intensity.
    Jen, I don’t think you can generalize quite that easily, though when I speculate about in-house accountants or lawyers I certainly do my share of it.
    I’ve had friends work as in-house software developer at chip design firms and have a fabulous time — fairly easy hours, high pay, and a great deal of professional autonomy. On the other hand, my friends who do in -house development at financial firms are in Dilbertland. Release schedules and contents are set without any consultation with technical staff, and people at meetings actually say things like “Well, if we canceled vacations and had everyone work on Sunday as well as Saturday for the next six months, could we make this release date?”
    The pay seems to be a bit higher than in a software firm, but I really don’t think it’s worth it.

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  31. JennG, I agree with both of your comments about CS and connection to the marketplace, but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.
    This gets to the advice-to-high-school-grads topic a bit, but I really think that persevering through a technical major is worth it for students so inclined. I’ve had a wonderful career in a field that offers me fascinating work and good pay (and we’re hiring!) But it’s frightening to recall how close I came to dropping out of the CS program because of early scholastic difficulties in subjects that have no bearing on my life. To think that a kid who’d loved to work with computers since elementary school–who’d decided to major in CS despite conventional wisdom that the field was glutted and he’d never find a job–could be plunged into an existential crisis because of trigonometric substitutions is distressing. I’m sure that a lot of people drop out of fields they’d enjoy because of that.
    But to your concern about offshoring, I really think it’s more of a problem for people whose domain is highly constrained and related to hardware, like developers of device drivers for example. The software jobs with a strong connection to American culture aren’t going anywhere. My own employer experimented with offshore QA and development and ended the program after a few years. This was not too surprising to those of us who’d had long IM conversations with India in the middle of the night, explaining federal campaign finance law or the role of alumni associations in American higher-ed.
    This is one of the reasons why a strong background in the humanities or social sciences–any field that forces you to write and talk–is so important to the long-term career of an engineer. If you’re only comfortable and effective in an environment where highly-detailed specs are sent to you and you don’t have to communicate with other humans, your environment can easily be moved abroad.

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  32. “This was not too surprising to those of us who’d had long IM conversations with India in the middle of the night, explaining federal campaign finance law or the role of alumni associations in American higher-ed.”
    But that will change as American-educated, perhaps even American raised folks are running those companies.
    Mind you, I was going to complain about how MH can know that the billing error was a *result* of outsourcing (versus being simply correlated with it). Then, I thought perhaps an American developer would have had a reality check about a $4500.00 bill, in contrast to someone whose currency comes in different denominations (but, who knows).

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  33. BJ, the error was because of the differences in how numbers are formatted in different countries (i.e. in many places, they use a comma where normal people use a decimal point). Of course, the coding was outsourced to a California company who then outsourced the actual work to Asia. To me, the California company seems to hold the biggest fault. Anyway, our water company does much worse at the things that cannot be outsourced, such as providing good water.

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  34. This, to my mind, is exactly why the Gates Foundation has been so focused on education all along. They know exactly how hard it is to find top-quality talent, even if you’re not expecting cultural literacy.
    The quality bar is being raised in many industries, IT among them, which is one reason an entire layer of just-barely-getting-by individuals in these industries are being shed. It’s frightening to watch, absolutely. But in the end the work lands with the folks who can produce a high enough quality product.
    I guess my point here is that there’s no reason to warn American grads off of CS. There is work in the field and will continue to be. But as Ben noted, the days when you can simply code out to spec are gone.

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  35. I guess my point here is that there’s no reason to warn American grads off of CS. There is work in the field and will continue to be. But as Ben noted, the days when you can simply code out to spec are gone.
    Maybe I am weird (and by weird, I mean “normal”), but I went to High School in the 1980s are a relatively good public institution, and not once did anyone try to teach me what it meant to “Code.” I had a computer class, where we learned how to Word Process on two different programs (because it wasn’t clear which of WordStar and WordPerfect would become the industry standard), we made spreadsheets, we used a database program. Nobody ever tried to explain what “computer programming” was.
    Then, I went to college, and I contemplated various majors, and I knew I liked “Math” and “English” and “Physics” and “Philosophy,” and chose a major from amongst them, and then there was a whole part of the university dedicated to “computer science” over with the engineers, and I really had no idea what they were doing, except that they had been doing it their whole lives and it would have been ridiculous to take a course over there, like having people in my Calculus 101 class who had never learned Algebra.
    At least until the early 1990s, “Computers” was stuff that nerdy kids did alone in their basement. (Or, maybe they weren’t alone — but they certainly weren’t inviting me down there.)
    Is it different now? Do high schools have classes in COBOL or C++ (or whatever the kids are programming in these days)?

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  36. Ragtime, I think that your experience was quite common. My high school experience was BASIC on Apple IIe, with a smidgen of Pascal thrown to the advanced kids. When I got to college, at least a few of my classmates had programmed in “real” languages on mainframes, mini- and even supercomputers. One of the big challenges of a good CS program is to choose a language for the intro course that’s obscure enough that the playing field is leveled for students of varied backgrounds, so that early access to resources doesn’t mask actual talent and interest.
    But just how inaccessible a subject is CS compared to others? When I got to college I’d also never heard of “Linguistics”, but I fell in love with the intro course enough to pick up a second major in it. Why should that (or Civil Engineering) seem more approachable than Computer Science?

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  37. I think quite a few kids these days know HTML markup, for example, or XML. That qualifies as its own type of coding.
    FWIW, I didn’t learn how to code until I was in my mid-20s, and I learned it on the fly in the workplace. I actually came out of a library science type of background (a very easy transition, turns out). I come from a generation where most people who went into IT got their formal training in something else, like music or engineering. I think the younger folk joining my department these days come to us with CS degrees (as high as 30-40%).

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  38. But that will change as American-educated, perhaps even American raised folks are running those companies.
    You may be right — in fact, US immigration policy exacerbates this process by taking talented and motivated engineers, immersing them in American software development for 7 years, then booting them back where they came from, like it or not.
    However, American engineering culture has some strengths relative to India. US firms have long established technical track career paths that parallel the advancement up the management ladder. The Indians I have worked with (here, but mostly in India) see no such career option. I’ve seen brilliant technical people pursuing MBAs with palpable sense of despair, since they’ve hit a dead end ten years into their career. I’ve also seen offshore development talent inversely correlate to rank, since senior engineers are marking time for an inevitable promotion into management and are uninterested in improvement.
    I’m not sure how widespread these issues are, but they present some real (though not insurmountable) challenges.

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  39. Well, for me the issue was that at Penn the Engineering School (where Computer Science was located) was a whole different “College” from Arts & Sciences. Intro Linguistics just required signing up.

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  40. Related question for the group: who here is working in the field for which they trained in college?
    “An English Degree trains you for anything,” so . . . yes.

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  41. “But then, the economic fates rewarded us, and, by the time we had children, they were being raised in a very privileged environment. Now, I don’t know what sacrifices of money-requiring things they (and I) would be comfortable with, though I pay the concept a lot of lip service.”
    This is a problem. One of my young relatives (mid-20s) was raised in a very, very comfortable home, although due to divorce, her mother now has very limited means. Anyway, my young relative is in the middle of a medical program right now, and the signs are that she isn’t going to continue straight on (talk of switching programs, taking a break, etc.). I don’t know all the gory details (like whose name is on the medical school loans), but the situation looks bad, and I don’t think young relative understands exactly how dangerous this all is (i.e. you can’t comfortably pay off medical school loans without a medical degree). Young relative is the baby of the family and has worked only very briefly (and never needed to support herself 100%), but she’s a good kid and has done lots of traveling do-gooder stuff over the last few years.

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  42. Husband and I are both BS Chemical Engineers, spent over 20 years in the nuclear materials field doing project management and risk assessment. After successful completion (i.e. closure)of an environmental remediation site, decided we would not move the kids again. Besides, I was (am) dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s. So husband enrolled in the metropolitan police academy at age 47 and is now a financial crimes investigator. I pick up consulting work that does not involve too much travel. To reiterate what others have said, go for as much technical as you can stand, and above all be flexible, because you can not know what life will throw at you. PS, the kids are doing GREAT, staying put was the best decision we ever made. Your results may vary.

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  43. Related question for the group: who here is working in the field for which they trained in college?
    I went to business school and then earned the Cdn version of a CPA. Am now in the social work field.

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  44. @Jen, what kind of jobs can you get after majoring in math apart from academic ones and working in finance?
    I’m genuinely curious because I majored in math (and did a PhD) and am now considering what to do next. I got the impression that my choices were pretty well limited to academia, finance, maybe computer animation (perhaps a stretch?) or else making a complete career change to something that doesn’t use math.

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  45. or else making a complete career change to something that doesn’t use math.
    That would be journalism. The job situation is worse there.

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  46. “@Jen, what kind of jobs can you get after majoring in math apart from academic ones and working in finance?”
    This wasn’t to me, but my husband did a second PhD back to back after his math PhD. However, I’d assume that a female mathematician is a pretty hot property, even these days. A good friend is a freshly-minted logician and she was pretty much swamped with interviews and job offers, although that was a couple of years back.

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  47. “@Jen, what kind of jobs can you get after majoring in math apart from academic ones and working in finance? ”
    I’m interested, too, because i think on top of the flexibility I’m trying to encourage in the workers my children will become, there needs to be reciprocal flexibility in the work place. And, if you haven’t done the work that you’re trying to be hired for (for example, say a mathematician wants to try to be employed as a statistician or analyst at the Gates foundation, looking at teacher evaluation or effectiveness of health interventions) how do they go about convincing the hiring agent that they can do the job?
    We’ve already heard about the institutional/governmental barriers that prevent the entry of a Ph.D. mathematician into education. But, in lots of fields, it seems that the propensity to hire people who have done the exact thing you’re looking for plays a significant role in hiring, limiting the application pool (perhaps unwisely).

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