Sometimes, I consider the possibility that my advisors had it backwards. That getting a "good job" was the first step, the kind of thing one does when getting ready for the real world, and not the final goal. That, once you have that good job, you need to continue to develop value skills. In business, they call this "differentiation," and it's the reason you'll pay twice as much for a box of Cheerios than the generic version.
My friends who are successful without that traditional education or age all have very specialized skills. Today, it is Hadoop and cloud computing. Five years ago, it was business intelligence. Five years before that, the thing to know was data warehousing.
I had this same conversation with my father, Roger Heusser, around 1986. I told him that I wanted a job with a defined career ladder, where I could work at the same place for forty years. He looked at me strangely and replied, "Son, I am afraid that those kind of jobs just won't be around for you, at least not in the private sector."
Perhaps dad had it right.
A Final Analysis
Compared to most jobs throughout history, software development is pretty good. We get to work in air-conditioned offices, don't have to carry heavy weights, and, if we are willing to do the work, have considerable prospects for advancement and job security. The problem is in comparing that security and advancement with other fields and deciding what we will do with the rest of our lives. Most of us have the option of doing something else. Sometimes, summering at a seaside tourist town and spending the winter as a ski lift operator seems downright appealing.
Esther Schindler, the famed technology journalist, once told me, "I don't care what the career numbers say. Do what you love." I certainly understand that. If I had 1986 to do all over again, I suspect I would still be at my keyboard, typing away. It was a joy for me.
Then again, I have plenty of friends who found their joy and sense of worth as volunteer firefighters and do something else to pay the bills—something more stable and secure.
In a few years, my daughters will be faced with similar choices. Even now, what they play and what they study will influence what they decide. I just want them to understand all the facts and the implications, so that they can make their own studied, well-considered decisions.
If I could wish one kind of education on our youth, it would be to have them understand these things before they start their secondary education and not to figure them out after they graduate college. In our own family, we make the most of that time before college by homeschooling our children. We want them to try different things, see what they enjoy, and count the cost before making that final decision.
Career choice doesn’t have to be entirely a cold, calculated decision, but it isn’t hacking all summer, either. The best choice is somewhere in the middle, and we should start talking about and treating it that way. Toward that end, we are homeschooling our children.
What are you doing for your children and for yourself right now? If you don’t have an answer to that question, there’s no time like the present to start thinking about it.