Monday, June 18, 2007

Sparks Fly

"Computers are the future", I was told by the career guidance teacher, "There'll be plenty of work in that".

In my old school, the position of career guidance counsellor was a sort of repository for senescent dodderies. My counsellor was an affable relic that was kept-on out of some kindness. There was some unspoken financial matter in the chap's past that restricted him from taking to pasture as he clearly needed to do. As a result every pupil was individually slumped before the fellow, to spend an hour of their life that they would never recover, as he dispensed the worst vocational advice known to man.

His determination of one's ideal path was algorithmicly linked to the most recent exam results. So the bookish were pushed towards the professions while less accomplished academics were told that lifelong nirvana could be obtained from a trade.

I was able to save the man the bother. Having made up my mind that software engineering would be my life's work at an early age. Even back in 1988 the grey had a vague notion that "computers are the future", and I saved myself perhaps 30 minutes of wasted teenage time.

Nearly 20 years on and I'm less certain. On the face of it the less erudite school boys have enjoyed two decades of unbelievable wealth accumulation. Sitting as I do now, in a home that demands the attention variously of chippies, sparks and plasterers. They can more or less name their price and certainly command hourly rates that make me blanch. That, of course, is if you are lucky enough to get a quote from them. I've had tradesmen who didn't turn up, electricians that took one look and vanished into the ether and a single quote from a sparks with a lasso and ten-gallon hat.

It seems to me that I would be a rich man had I taken up a trade in preference to a career in computer science. I don't blame the should-have-been-superannuated man. My mind was set and he could no more have made me pursue a life as a mason than as a medic. I fear the mistake was mine, but I do fear it was a mistake.


David Jordan said...

Money aside, do you enjoy it? Do you think that you would have enjoyed the hypothetical life-as-a-chippie more or less than life as a professional geek / programmer

Darren said...

That's an interesting question.

I don't think I'd enjoy doing an electrician's job. Or any aspect of any trade that was routine. Though I think I'd enjoy cabinet making and constructing novel things with electronics and so forth.

Looking back on my career, I've only really enjoyed the bits that provided problem-solving intellectual stimulation. There's a lot of that in software so I'd have to say that I've been mostly happy.

How about you?

Rational Root said...

I enjoy programming, but I'm not sure I'd spend 40 to 50 hours a week doing it just for fun.

When I win the lottery I'll quite likely retire, maybe work on some GPL project for kicks, and build boats.

Tenwit said...

At least you guys all have the practical moxie and digital dexterity to consider a change in careers, and may someday hope to contract out to Hire-A-Hubby and command $150/hr fees from people like me. I once tried to change a light bulb, but the toilet stopped flushing, so I gave up.

Roll on contract console gaming. I need a change in profession, too.

David Jordan said...

I also like the problem solving aspects of programming, even more than the problem solving aspects of putting bits of mindstorms lego together, and that's saying something.

Having said that I have trouble with customers. Oh I know that they pay the bills and all that stuff, but they're a pain in the ass. They are forever calling up and demanding stuff, much of which they don't need and they give out when I deliver the stuff they really do need. After all, I'm the programmer so clearly I know best.

As RR said, winning the lottery and playing with GNU would be fun. But I think that would become boring after a while. Appealing as it sounds, indefinite fun for fun's sake isn't enough.

But I would be willing to give it a try just to make sure.

What's needed here is an job which provides just enough money to pay for those domestic trifles (mortgage, food for kids etc), bi-annual holidays to far flung locations, computers and related toys while providing a secure long term financial footing and pension, but doesn't have the hassle of annoying customers but provides flexibility to play with said toys while helping save the world from evil greenhouse gas polluting baby eating corporations who really control our governments.

So what is that job? (Don't say it's academia coz I've been there and it only fulfils 1/4 of the criteria)

Tenwit said...

I know what job it is! Project champion. Hey Darren, do you remember Euristix' resident guru from the early days? Not Bryan Alton, the other guy.. iirc his name was Peter? Not Cauldwell, the other one? He had the perfect job. He was the most experience programmer, and a genius. He got to pick his projects, pick his team, pick which bit he was going to work on, and he had tech managers to talk to the clients for him.


And he was better at bowling than I am.

Darren said...

I don’t think the “Product Champion” role was actually a job description so much as a title. It was pretty meaningless too. Apparently the senior manager decided that he could hand out titles to people in place of pay rises.

When it became apparent that the new moniker was an exercise in placating my salary expectations, I suggested that I choose my own title. Initially the senior manager was agreeable until he heard I wanted to print business cards emblazoned with the company logo and “Darren Kelly – Supreme Allied Commander (Western European Forces)”. My colleague Siobhan was quite distressed that I had pushed the matter too far and ruined the choose-your-own-title perk for everyone else. She reasoned that no one would object to “Princess”.

David Jordan said...


You wanted contract console gaming? Well this isn't quite contract but it a good start
Wii games: Roll-you-own, publish then sell