Career Advice from a Neo-generalist Perspective.

Compass StudyPeople ask me career advice now and then. Generally, people who do so can’t follow the beaten path.

There’s plenty of career advice out there for the beaten paths. The basic recipe is simple:

  • Secondary School
  • Tertiary Education
  • Maybe specialize further.
  • ?????
  • Profit!

I’ve met a few people who this has worked for – which means going in debt with student loans sometimes, or having a tether to parents paying for things, or what have you.

The last part, ‘Profit’, is delayed until after people are repaid – bad news, parents are never repaid. In the context of the United States, which is hardly a data model for the rest of the world (but my experience), we have the rising cost of not continuing one’s education versus the toll of student debt.  The fact that studies are largely done by people who followed the beaten path further confuses the issue at times.

How often do you hear a college say you don’t need to go to college? Of course they wouldn’t say that – and one could say that the student loan issue in the United States is akin to tossing out mortgages to people who can’t afford to pay the mortgages. It’s all very muddy water, and where once I had an opinion I just see a sea of biased data and biased opinions and have none myself.

My Path.

My life, my work history, my education – they don’t fit the accepted model of education, ???, profit. I grew up working through secondary school in a printery, in a electrical motor rewinding workshop, and whatever odd jobs came my way. Despite this, and I would later learn because of a former Irish brother who had married a nun, I did not get expelled and managed to graduate – well.

My parents didn’t put me through college, and the debt I did incur toward not finishing college in the late 80s is something I paid off about 22 years later. The interest was bad, but I managed to settle with the Department of Education for pennies on the dollar. Incidentally, despite being what one might term a minority, I wasn’t African or Hispanic enough to gobble up any grants specifically for those minorities. Equal opportunity ain’t so equal.

My time in the Navy was so busy that I never seemed to have time for college classes or college credits. It’s hard to study full time in NNPS and work on college credits at the same time, or work in emergency medicine and pop off whenever you needed to; when people’s lives are at stake you don’t have that luxury. And getting yourself together after being discharged while attempting to support an ill parent just didn’t leave much room for college, or debt – or paying a debt which I still owed, and thus couldn’t continue college. A nasty trap, that, even with the military deferment.

And so I found myself back behind a computer again through some luck, working at Honeywell and proving my worth. It was a cool job, and I had convinced my manager to give me a book allowance where I read the most bleeding edge stuff I could find back then. It was awesome, if only for a while. Others, like Dr. VcG, tried to help round me out and did so a bit, but really, I was focused on just…. learning. To get promoted,

I was told that they would pay for my classes to finish a degree, which I then began – oceanography – and I was to find out that they wouldn’t pay for classes toward that end. No, they wanted me to get a degree in something they were already paying me to do. Why on Earth would I need a validation for them to be promoted when I was already validating it every day at work?

There was only so much I could learn there, and changes to the company started taking the ‘play’ out of it all.

I moved from this company to that, building up references, building up experience, but most importantly to me, knowledge. My knowledge wasn’t validated by some group of academics, it came from the Real World. As time progressed, the economy went down as my age went up, and I found myself working for money instead of knowledge. It was not fun anymore, and I moved on… to where I am now, with a few interesting stops on the way.

Serial Specialist, the Neo-Generalist.

The beauty of software engineering when I started out is that once you could get a computer to do what someone else wanted to do, you got to learn about what they wanted to do. I got to learn about business, banking, avionics, emergency communications, data analysis, science, robotics, and so much more – and I have this knowledge, hard won, without following the beaten path and getting a bunch of letters behind my name.

It’s where all that knowledge intersects that the cool and fun stuff happens. The beaten path could not have given me that.

Frankly, in my experience, the beaten path is pretty slow – which some say is a reflection of my ability. I don’t know that is true. What I do know is that the real world, paying bills and keeping abreast of responsibilities required me to learn faster than I could get a formal education, and I did. Simply put, I had to. I loved most of it, I hated parts of it.

Career Advice

When it comes to the beaten path that I did not take, I point at it. It works for a lot of people, though the ‘works’ does seem increasingly dubious to me as far as a return on investment. Go study something if you have the opportunity or if you can create the opportunity. Get your education validated, but don’t stop learning.

You see, what I can tell you with a degree of certainty is that the world is as bad as it is because of those who rest on their laurels after getting a certificate or a degree. I can also tell you with certainty that the world is as good as it is because of the people who keep learning and applying that knowledge toward good ends.

We don’t need people who are ‘educated’. We have enough of those clogging up the system. We need more of those that are constantly learning, certificate or degree or not – those are the ones who create true progress. Speaking for myself, I pace myself to 2 books a week or more on topics that range widely.

The world is interesting in many ways. You can make it more interesting by knowing how interesting it is from different perspectives.

Learn how to negotiate. Get as much as you can even though you don’t need it – a problem I had – because you don’t know when you will need it.

And avoid working for idiots if you can. You won’t be able to, and sometimes it’s not obvious until later on, but ditch them as soon as you can.

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Bring Ice Cream to Meeting Hell.

Meet Piemur!
Bringing a mouse to a meeting is typically frowned upon. 

If you think meetings suck, you’re probably doing it wrong or you’re stuck with people who do – so either do it right, or find a way out of those meetings.

Most meetings suffer a lack of definition, which is the core issue. Without that lack of definition, there can be no real actions to come from the meeting. There’s always at least one person who seems to be so out of scope that everyone else in the room doesn’t smack them only because it’s considered impolite.

There should be a set time. Everyone should show up on time, arguably earlier so that people can get out of it and move on with their lives.

Some people like transcriptions of the meeting. Ask at the beginning if they want one – and if so, guess who just volunteered? If not them, assign it to someone who knows how to listen and will halt things for clarifications.

This tongue in cheek, ‘20 tricks to appear smart in meetings‘ mocks the main problem of meetings: People trying to appear smarter than they are. They actually don’t for people who have more than 3 brain cells, so if at all possible, get the ‘must prove my intelligence to everyone people’ closed off in a meeting somewhere and treat it like a cage match with no bathroom breaks.

And then there is the tyranny of the clique – where a select few talk among themselves, not allowing anyone else into their conversation.

Avoid meetings, stick to a schedule and leave when the meeting is supposed to be done. Meetings are for people who like meetings, who like appearing busy rather than being productive.

Productive people meet. Busy people have meetings.

 

Beyond The Flooding in Trinidad and Tobago

Alien LandscapesThis comes in the way of an apology to readers outside of Trinidad and Tobago: I’ve written more in the past week about Trinidad and Tobago than I typically do and the reason behind that is simple: I felt it needed to be written. And in that, there is no real apology.

There are lessons here, though, when we look at the planet not as we see it, but for what it is – a complex network of networks that has existed before mankind and that will continue after mankind.

We live in an odd alien landscape that our senses can barely discern. We have gotten better at it, and through trial and error – arguably disastrous error – we have learned new things. If Clair Cammerson Patterson hadn’t tried to estimate the age of the Earth, he wouldn’t have ended up leading a campaign against lead poisoning, and leaded fuels. So many who don’t know his name have probably had their lives saved. That’s just one example.

There have been people doing similar things around the world, opening up new perspectives on the planet by daring to look, to ask questions rather than accepting… and we take them for granted. Many of us don’t understand what they do, which makes sense, but many of us don’t try to understand.

The planet doesn’t care about our effective collective apathy.

That we are given pause to consider such things is not enough, that we use the pause for introspection is still not enough. The world doesn’t care about our bureaucracies, or democracies, or our economies.

Humanity, to survive, needs to be more agile in it’s adaptation to the world. The increased population certainly doesn’t help; more humans means more agriculture and farming which we clear more natural land for without truly understanding all the implications. It means increased use of all the nasty -icides we use, it means more transportation using things that cough pollutants. Our medical technology assures we live longer, our business technology allows us to profit or lose from it more rapidly, and the person who works in the hope of retiring finds themselves working longer to retire because of socioeconomic circumstance.

The planet’s governments were not designed for this level of change. They don’t scale as fast as we procreate, a problem that China was quick to deal with, making people shudder at the implementation. In this way, perhaps, the Chinese ‘solution’ kept the population growth to a speed where the governance could adapt fast enough.

I don’t know, and really, I don’t think anyone does. There are opinions, I’m sure, but I’m not sure anyone actually knows. It’s apparent that there are at least some Chinese people who are not pleased with the way things are. In time, history books will tell us the ones that survived were right.

What we do know is that we can see events in our spheres faster than we could have 20 years ago, or 40 years ago. The world is awash with would-be citizen journalists documenting themselves and what they see, interpreting their world on the fly without a few moments introspection.

Governments around the world can’t keep pace with all of this. Trinidad and Tobago, since I have been writing about Trinidad and Tobago, is slow to adapt and change. It didn’t diversify it’s economy when it could have while oil revenues were high. It had brain-drain as oligarchal systems kept people from pushing things forward, forcing them to other places to become what they would become. Corruption that paid well came from such things, creating it’s own sub-economy while effectively stalling progress.

In this, there are parallels with other developing nations. There is nothing significantly different in the corruption aspects of developing nations, but where Trinidad and Tobago is different is that it could have been developed much further along with the oil revenues it once had. Instead, politics divided and conquered as politics typically does.

Whenever administrations change, we get reorganization.  Reorganization within the same cavern of methodologies doesn’t actually change as much as politicians would have people believe, largely because politicians aren’t systems thinkers outside of politics.

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.
 Charlton Ogburn, Jr. (1911-1998), in Harper’s Magazine, “Merrill’s Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure” (Jan 1957)

So how do we get real change? It’s simple, really – we stop playing politics. We push on fixing the things we need to – foresight – rather than getting wrapped up in a blame game that politicians play so that they can be elected or re-elected.

And when they fail, we criticize by creating.

Many individuals have thoughts on how to do things. Being an expert on something limits what can be thought of within a narrow field when all too often innovation comes from intersections across fields.

Stop wasting time on politicians. Start using time productively toward solutions. When someone has an idea, challenge it – and if it passes, share it so others can challenge it and better shape a solution.

Or you can go on depending on politics. How’s that working for you?