Continuing Thoughts on Careers and the Workplace

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Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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  1. Avatar Maribou
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    says:

    Mike, it’s really far from my place to give you advice on how to work your girls around to the idea of learning a trade, but they might be sneakily prevailed upon to think harder about the question by reading Byl’s recent book _Dirt Work_ – about going to work for the NPS with a philosophy degree a decade ago. It’s quite good, even if it doesn’t work :).Report

  2. Avatar Shazbot5
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    says:

    One of the things I really think is interesting is that people think that if there were an apocalypse, and we were thrown back a 1000 years, that the people with such and such practical skills would become respected and powerful, and the bureaucrats and lawyers and politicians and corporate executives and managers would become no btter than useless slaves. (It is a common fantasy that is absolutely dripping with projection and resentment.)

    But that isn’t how it was 1000 years ago. The same sort of dinks who used their knowledge of rules and bureaucracy, and their family connections to power and money to gain wealth and power were in power 1000 years ago. So not long after the zombie apocalypse, the same dinks would take over by contolling the bureaucracy, too. The world will forever be run by the same people.

    And access to information, communication skills, will always be necessary if you want to live a better life.

    I’m sorry you’ve fell on hard times, Mike. And I know you might not like me much given our past little run-ins, but the future is going to value the practical skills less, as economic skills (though they will be fun hobbies) as more and more is done by automation.

    I tell all the kids I know to prepare for either a math science career that will change rapidly with very generalist abstract math-science education and certification, or train for a career as a bureaucrat, manager, business organizer, communicator with a very general training in researching and then communicating abstract ideas in writing and orally. If that’s what your kids want, that sounds wise to me.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot5
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      says:

      Man my comment makes me sound like a jerk. Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound that way.

      Let’s hope this damned economy takes off soon.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Shazbot5
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        says:

        Let’s assume that’s the case. In this new world, there still will be a surplus of these types. They likely will fight over the fewer positions, and there will be a period of time when everyone is jockeying for position, power, etc., not just the useless.

        I think you’d see more “valuable” people less willing to put up with the ‘crats machinations when they are focused on eating.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Shazbot5
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      says:

      But that isn’t how it was 1000 years ago. The same sort of dinks who used their knowledge of rules and bureaucracy, and their family connections to power and money to gain wealth and power were in power 1000 years ago. So not long after the zombie apocalypse, the same dinks would take over by contolling the bureaucracy, too. The world will forever be run by the same people.

      The most powerful tool in the world is the human brain, therefore the most powerful people are those who are best at using a large number of human brains at once.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Shazbot5
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      says:

      A thousand years ago was 1013. This was still before the Crusades started and Europe was a violent place. The people on top were knights prepared to use violence. Smart people were in the background. It wasn’t till the 1200s that we really got to be in charge.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        My understanding is that the smart people of the time went to the church. Which had quite a bit of political power.

        A strong knowledge of physics and carpentry were also great skills for gaining favor from the big burly types in metal armor. Catapults and ballistas make one great friends of the people you designed/built them for.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Shazbot5
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      says:

      A thousand years ago, there were more workers in the primary industries (ag and mining), some in the secondary industries (construction and manufacturing) and a few in the tertiary industries (service and government). If we were to suddenly revert to those times, we’d have an excess of people trained in the tertiary industries. Some of those would come out on top, but the majority would have to find manual labor.

      The thing is, we’re not going to suddenly revert to those times. There’s no such thing as zombies. It may be smart to have a variety of skills to weather changes in the job market, but we don’t need to prepare for a duplication of 1013. That makes as much sense as preparing for the job market of 3013 (the sex trade for our dolphin superiors). There may be satisfaction from producing a physical product, but you should prepare your skills for the job market that exists during your lifetime).Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Expect a full scale energy contraction. I’d say that’s likely to shift more workers back towards primary industries, particularly with dramatic increases in costs of fertilizer and other oil-based crutches.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to Kimmi
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          says:

          One of the causes of unemployment is that we prepare ourselves for the job market that we expect to see over our lifetimes, but things don’t turn out that way. I don’t know if there’ll be an energy crisis like you predict, but it’d make sense that higher transportation costs would increase the need for local agriculture. Of course, the dirty little secret about our digital age is that it takes a bucket of energy for us to entertain ourselves.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Kimmi
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          says:

          I agree and disagree with Pinky.

          “If we were to suddenly revert to those times, we’d have an excess of people trained in the tertiary industries. Some of those would come out on top, but the majority would have to find manual labor.”

          This is right. Some of the, say, lawyers and corporate executives would have to become slavish workers. I can’t deny tha, given how the distribution of labor would have to change in the zombie apocalypse. And Others would take over Barter Town, just as they have taken over this world.

          “There’s no such thing as zombies.”

          Don’t you lie, sir.

          “the job market of 3013 (the sex trade for our dolphin superiors)”

          Am I the only one who thinks this doesn’t sound like a bad job at all. I mean, they’re sooooo cute!Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        I should clarify. An EMP, supervolcano eruption, et cetera, would be bad news all of a sudden. And there are any number of things that could cause widespread calamity over several years. But the place we’d arrive at wouldn’t be exactly 1013. The guy who could keep a city’s wifi operational could be the most valuable person in the world. Or 50% of the economy could suddenly become engaged in the production of an antiviral. Humanity may experience a slide like the Dark Ages, but we’ll be scavanging off the remains of the current system, rather than the Roman Empire.

        Also, at the risk of sounding elitist, a lot of tertiary industry types are problem-solvers. That’s a valuable skill. Innovation comes from creative individuals or teams, often with a variety of skills. This sort of goes back to the “5 college majors” question we recently discussed. If we face a crash, I’d want to be the guy with a strong back *and* a background in math and logic.Report

  3. Avatar Shazbot5
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    says:

    Let’s not forget how anomolously bad the job market is compared to historical norms, which is a result of the crazy-financier-induced crash.

    Moreover, I think wage inequity will reach a breaking point at which point the government will step in to ensure a more even distribution of wealth, ensuring that a higher percentage of all the kiddies in school now have better lives.Report

  4. Avatar Russell M
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    says:

    oddly enough your quote from Morrison makes me recall a line from the Belgariad where Durnik is finishing a crossbar for a wagon axle and tells Garion to always finish what you put your hands to and always do your best, even if no-one else knows. because you will know.Report

    • Avatar Annelid Gustator in reply to Russell M
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      says:

      Aww. I love those books. The first one has this perfect sentence. Something about the enless afternoon of Garion’s youth.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Annelid Gustator
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        says:

        I loved the Belgariad… and then he went and wrote the Malloreon.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North
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          says:

          The Malloreon isn’t that bad. I liked reading about Garion as an adult.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq
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            says:

            Honestly, I did too but the repetative element was really offputting to me and their whole, running away from everything but easily flattening anything that got their way schtick annoyed me mildly.

            But yeah, credit where it’s due: Belgarion was a pretty likable adult which is unusual. Usually kid characters grow up to be total twerps.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North
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              says:

              The repetitive element was kind of annoying but at least Eddings was clever enough to create a plot point for it. What I liked about the Malloreon was it showed how the characters changed, thought hard about how even the death of the Big Bad is not going to lead to utopia, and it really fleshed out the compexities in the Angaraks, whom I always felt sympathetic for.Report

  5. Avatar George Turner
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    says:

    I think you could combine your hunting and management skills to create a business that offers some kind of exurban zombie security insurance and support services. Lots of people are making personal or family plans for the zombie wars, but few are taking it a step further and bundling packages that include management and coordination of all planning and preparation, with supply lists, travel routes, and pre-stocked rendezvous points for their clients. You could also offer training programs in basic hunting skills, along with courses in a range of survivalist skills covering everything from escape and evasion (like Air Force SERE school) to the primitive living and homesteading skills based on Foxfire and Mother Jones. On top of all this you could sell caps, jackets, mugs, and books.

    One thing you could stress is ammunition commonality, and as a suggestion I’ll mention that
    one of my friends has been using a .300 AAC Blackout, which is a .30 caliber cartridge that is compatible with an M-4, developed to provide better penetration than the 5.56, 6.5, or 6.8mm variants with fewer conversion issues. With a 125-gr bullet its performance is equal to a Soviet 7.62×39, and with a 220 grain bullet its suppressed subsonic performance is superior to the standard 9mm MP-5. The suppressed performance could be crucial in an post-apocalyptic zombie scenario where you want to avoid attracting any roving herds, and it is effective out to about 200 yards.

    As an aside, I used to make beautiful welded maille, and have thought of automating the assembly process (admittedly very difficult). Anti-zombie body armor that combined maille for joint flexibility and metal or plastic plate for economy would probably be very useful as bite protection in close quarters sweep and clear operations. But the key would be making the armor before it is needed and while the country still has a currency system to pay for it.

    By the way, Bali has been recently overrun with a rabies burn through. Since their Hindu culture has long tolerated huge numbers of stray dogs, the crisis is large and immediate. To date 78 people have died and only 20% of the dogs have been vaccinated. Depending on gun laws there, you could probably sell Bali vacation packages as “zombie war training excursions.” Many of your clients would no doubt be squeamish about shooting stray dogs, so those could don the anti-Zombie armor and go up close to both vaccinate the dogs and put a bright collar on them so they don’t get shot, since so far the Bali government has put down about 200,000 pooches. If your clients are really squeamish then you sell them PETA PTSD counseling packages when they get back!

    Note the basic business model. “Bill the clients. Sell them stuff. Bill them some more. Sell them more stuff. Charge them for vacations. Bill them for vacation recovery.” How could it go wrong?Report

  6. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    says:

    One additional comment I would make is that I believe the best approach is balance. I like the idea of getting a degree, becoming a lifelong learner (I think a liberal arts education is good for that) and then learning a skilled trade. That give you the best of both worlds should one fail. I’ve done the knowledge-worker-with-no-visible-product thing for over a decade. I’m just being honest when I say that I wish I had something physical I could point to at the end of the day. The satisfaction I get from mowing my lawn often trumps the satisfaction I get from saving my company thousands of dollars with a process change. Something seems wrong with that picture.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      says:

      Mike – we find ourselves in a very similar situation; eldest daughter is 16 and contemplating the next phase of life – followed in quick succession by two brothers and two sisters – and I am also a knowledge worker (Enterprise Software – Sales). About a decade ago we bought a small property in the Shenadoah Valley where we currently raise about 100 sheep, a small milking herd (2 goats, 2 dexter cows), 100 layers, hundreds and hundreds of broilers annually, and we care for about 30 acres of woods that provide Deer and Turkey each season. The goal is not any sort of Zombie apocalypse self-sufficiency, but rather, Balance.

      The land is approaching self-financing (we sell our excess direct to the consumer); the children learn valuable lessons in shepherding (in the broadest sense), stewardship, Life-cycles (birth and death are not much of a mystery – and my 5-yr old can tell the difference between liver, kidney, heart and lungs including their biological functions and culinary values), and best of all they learn the pragmatic prince of all sciences: Agricultural Engineering (math, physics, biology, chemistry and baling wire).

      It is well known and often told story of how commodity agriculture forced farmers into a reluctant part-time (or full-time) in town job; ultimately unsustainable. For them, I have great sympathy. But, what is old becomes new again; with many of the advances in information technology and intermediate machinery a viable business is within reach. Not, admittedly, immediately self-sustaining without your Knowledge Industry funding… but a long-term project around which you, your children, and your children’s children can orient. Think of it this way: you are a land-owner who is also a Logistics Engineer… the career serves the man, and the man serves the land, which in turn provides for the family.

      The goal, as you say, is balance; a project on the land provides that, but more importantly it provides ballast. The land teaches, the land is fruitful, and the land is (in every possible sense) a platform for many different projects – projects that can and should change over time. Now, in all things, balance… we can’t all go to the land, we need cities and we need towns (I’m not a dogmatic ruralist), but for those who have the talents to appreciate the land, and the eyes to see it, the part of the current economic equation that is out of balance is the city and the country. There are opportunities for families that recognize that the future may require SQL skills coupled with milking and refined into a business plan for a dairy.

      So, to end this long-winded exhortation from a fellow-traveler, skills and wages are fleeting – use them as tools to a better end; the balance you seek is in a project that spans generations. If your economic and political horizon does not include your grandchildren, you are doing it wrong.Report

  7. Avatar Plinko
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    says:

    Mike, first let me wholeheartedly urge you to heed PatC’s advice on commuting. If I had it to do over again, I would trade an awful lot to get out of my supercommute. When the time is right, we’ll pack and and do whatever to get out of it.

    Following that, I think fearing outsourcing in 2013 is kind of too late now. The big waves are done and the future is just general churn and uncertainty for everyone.
    It’s probably more likely your company will become obsolete than your entire industry will pick up and move overseas nowadays.
    Nothing is impervious to future market change, so encourage your daughters to be adaptable and good with people.Report

  8. Avatar Jonathan McLeod
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    says:

    Good luck, Mike. I’ll echo Pat and Plinko regarding the loveliness of a short commute (luckily, loving my urban life, this is pretty easy for me, especially in a small city).

    And if you don’t mind a little input, I’d suggest that the send-and-wait game isn’t the best way to go (assuming that’s what you’re really doing). Follow up is key. It’s no fun to seem pushy, but when you’re persistent, you’re telling the prospective employer that you’re eager and determined – two good qualities. You’re also making sure that your name is top-of-mind for whomever is in charge of hiring.

    Of course, no matter how proactive you’ll be, there’ll be some waiting and some disappointment. Keep you head up, man. The fact that you’re current employer seems to value you enough to keep you around all this time probably means you’re the type of employee other companies will want.Report

  9. Avatar Citizen
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    says:

    I hope you find work that makes you smile. It’s an increasingly elusive hunt for most of us.Report

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