Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Musing on Careers - New and Old

I did an informational interview with a student from one of my SAIT classes earlier this week, and one of his questions got me thinking.  He asked me what it was like starting a career in Information Technology before Google went public - as he put it, 'when IT was a cool and cutting edge industry with browsers and technology changing and evolving all the time.'

I answered him as best I could.  I felt I started my IT career at the tail end of that whole 'gold rush' as it were.  In many ways it felt like a bit of a lottery - if you chose the right company to work for, you could get rather rich;  if you chose the right technology or language to become an expert in, you could also get rich.  But if you missed out on either of those choices, well, it might not be the fairy-tale experience we hear in so many stories.  I fortunately chose a good language to focus on (java) at that time, and that helped establish my career.

I was reflecting on that conversation this evening, and I realized that while I had managed to get into IT reasonable close to when new media started going main stream, I have also had the distinction of having a career in an 'industry in decline' - print media.  Specifically newsprint.  That was a different feeling.  It was not well paying.  There was shift work.  Certainly more dangerous.  In fact, I just realized tonight that when we did maintenance on the press, we never 'locked it out' - a standard safety practice in many industries I had learned over a decade earlier in the saw mill.  The support for education (getting a journeyman's ticket) in the industry was poor.  In fact, it was a bit of joke.  We ran huge presses that would hardly fit in a gym, and the journeyman course was on a press that would fit in a closet.

What is the lesson here?  .... I can hear you thinking.

I got into printing because an organization had a need and I was asked to fill it.  I was tired of formal education and learning theory without practical, hands on experience.  I wanted to feel productive.  Printing really scratched that itch for me.  I didn't care how much I was making.  The product of my labour was tangible - I could see it and I knew I was learning good things and getting experience, and that felt good.

There's a time though, when you need to examine where you are and what your doing with your life.  Ask yourself if you can continue doing this for another 10 or 20 years.  Does it make practical sense for you to do it for that much longer?  Will it affect your health and your quality of life down the line, etc.  That's what my wife and I did.  And as a result, we sold our house, moved, and I went back to school.

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