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Engineering Careers Short-Circuiting 1286

8BitWimp writes "Today's edition of the Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article discussing the current plight of the U.S. engineering profession. One 29-year-old engineer recently caught in Nortel Network's layoffs said "I spent seven years in school, and it resulted in a six-year career." The article goes on to say a California computer science professor has statistics to show that a programmer's career is not much longer than a pro-football player. What do other Slash-Dot readers think of this situation as related to their programming and engineering careers? Would you pursue the same career path again?"
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Engineering Careers Short-Circuiting

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  • by billmaly ( 212308 ) <(bill.maly) (at) (> on Thursday December 26, 2002 @02:57PM (#4961270)
    Someone needs to pull this trainload of Japanese imports, might as well be me.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 26, 2002 @05:08PM (#4962276)
      I've never posted to /. before but feel compelled to after reading this thread.

      I've been a generalist in the computer field for 20 years. In addition to being a generalist, I have good programming and databasing skills.

      I currently work in a Fortune 100 company as a SysAdmin / Programmer / Project Manager. I make a good salary for my geographic area and am not in danger of losing my job (knock, knock).

      I'm compelled to post because there are so many FUDs and misinformation in this thread it's not funny. But there are a few tidbits of genuine wisdom:

      1. The computer pond is shrinking, but that's because it's been overstocked for quite a while. The talented, smart, crafty, dedicated fish will always be in demand, the ones who are simply looking for a paycheck will be walking an unemployment line.

      2. (This is related to #1.) If you genuinely love to craft software and hardware solutions, then you will strive for excellence, regardless of the pay. I simply couldn't be happy doing another type of job.

      3. There is much garbage code out there, largely caused by too many people coding "Fast Food" type development tools. Can somebody please tell me why it takes a 2GHz processor and 512MB of RAM to show me my appointment calendar? Then crash while I'm looking at it?

      4. Management IS NOT where it's at. I've been in my current job for 11 years now. In that time we've gone through 6 managers. None of them really knew what I.T. was all about.

      5. We recently were accepting applications for a vacant position. We were FLOODED with resumes from web developers. They all went in the trash. Why? Because they were a dime a dozen and didn't have the overall skills to support our customers. We wound up hiring a guy with good GENERAL skills, because those can be broadly applied to our diverse environment.

      What I'm getting at folks is that there was a huge wave of expansion in the computer industry which introduced a lot of flotsam and jetsam. Now the wave is receeding and those not prepared for it are left high and dry.

      My advice: Use your knowledge of the industry to forecast where it's going, decide if you want to go there, then position yourself (with skills and interpersonal networking) to ride the next wave.

      If you give up just because "times are tough" you never were meant to be in the field in the first place.
      • You have made the clasic mistake of assuming because you are lucky everyone else is too. While it is true that too many people got into computers several years ago who had no buisness in computers, that does not mean that there are plenty of jobs for people who are good at computers. Those hiring have no good way of knowing who is good. They have a stack of resumes, and they don't tell you a thing about how good the auther is at programing.

        You have a job. Me, and several hundred programers that I know do not. Some of them are in the group who shouldn't touch a computer, but many are good or excellent programers.

        I have not giving up on computers. However I need to eat and pay my bills. Since nobody will pay me to work with computers, and I don't have the personality to sell myself (if there are contract jobs...) I've been forced to take a job in construction. I'm not alone in that choice.

        P.S. anyone want to hire me?

  • by linuxislandsucks ( 461335 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @02:59PM (#4961282) Homepage Journal
    Most of those who work in engineering or programming often don't have the title of that in their job title and work for 15 years or more in the profession...

    My personal example; Programming for about 15 years..many job titles.. I am stil programming!

    What are we reporting and releasing FUD now like Microsoft?
    • My personal example; Programming for about 15 years..many job titles.. I am stil programming!

      Well experience as a programmer would not necessarily qualify you as a chartered engineer.

      To become a member of the British Computer Society (a chatered body) you have to be more than simply someone who does grunt work. You have to have experience, you have to have responsibility for project outcomes - either as a manager or as an architect.

      In Germany the title 'Engineer' is as important as 'Doctor' and merits serious respect. Until their economy got kinda clobbered by the absorbtion of East Germany, Germany was a model for a modern industrial society.

      Come to that so was the US during the Clinton-Gore years. I would argue that over the long term there is a positive correlation between respect for engineering and economic success.

      So why do silicon valey companies have Chief Scientists and rarely Chief Engineers?

  • We win (Score:4, Funny)

    by SteweyGriffin ( 634046 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:00PM (#4961287)
    The article goes on to say a California computer science professor has statistics to show that a programmer's career is not much longer than a pro-football player.

    Yeah, but who gets more tit 'n ass? ;-D
  • by kolathdragon ( 413050 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:01PM (#4961292) Homepage
    Knock on Wood here, but I start my career in 91 during the last recession and am still doing fine. Of course I've changed 4 - 6 languages by now (RPG -> VB -> C/C++ -> C#, ASP, JavaScript, XML, HTML, etc ). My rule has been always try to stay current and not comfortable. If you feel comfortable, then you are on the way out of a job.
    • And when you die... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tomblackwell ( 6196 )
      You can look back on a lifetime of discomfort and wonder what exactly it was that you were thinking...
  • by Aggrazel ( 13616 ) <> on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:01PM (#4961299) Journal
    When I got laid off right after the September 11th attacks, my Job was shipped to India.

    Sometimes I wonder if the whole economic problem we're having is due to many companies doing this same thing, exporting our high paying jobs to other countries. It saves them money in the short run, but in the long run its taking money out of our country and slowing our economy.

    But then, I'm not an economist, and eventually, I did get another job with another company. But I was unemployed for a year, thats 1 year of my salary that I was unable to produce because my job went overseas. If you add that up over all the people in the industry who are in similar situations.

    It was grim, being unemployed for a year. I even contemplated switching industries, actually thought about becoming a Truck Driver to sustain my family. But for me, my job is more of a love than a carreer. Its what I do. Its my hobby, its my passion, and I really don't want to do anything else.

    But the guy in the story wants to give up on his job because he got laid off from one company, thats sad. Maybe for what he does its necesary, I don't know, but there are other jobs out there, and who knows.

    Anyway, thats my 2p.
    • by glrotate ( 300695 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:40PM (#4961566) Homepage
      Why do you deserve that engineering job and not him? If he's willing to do the same job for less than why shouldn't he get it? What makes you special? Oh you're an American.
      • by kcbrown ( 7426 ) <> on Thursday December 26, 2002 @05:53PM (#4962599)
        Why do you deserve that engineering job and not him? If he's willing to do the same job for less than why shouldn't he get it? What makes you special? Oh you're an American.

        Yes, he's an American. And as a result, if he were to try to do the same job for less than his Indian counterpart, he would be unable to pay his rent. Hell, he'd probably be unable to pay for his car, much less his apartment.

        The cost of living in the U.S. is much higher than it is in India. That's why his Indian counterpart can get away with being paid so much less. It has nothing to do with what the guy in the U.S. is unwilling to do and everything to do with what he's unable to do.

        There is a huge injustice in all this: companies are able to shop around and find the cheapest source of labor worldwide, but the labor is not allowed to move in response to the shifting demand. So the person you're responding to can't move to India to take advantage of the greater demand for talent there. Despite his years of training and experience, he can't offer his services competitively because immigration laws of other countries prevent him from doing so, just as immigration laws in the U.S. prevent many from attempting to satisfy the demand for labor in the U.S. (not that there's much of that right now).

        For the "global economy" to truly work, people must be able to move as easily as the demand for labor does.

    • Too much pride? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by unicron ( 20286 )
      I live in Las Vegas, and if you know this area, you know how shitty our IT market is. 95% of tech people work in a casino, and if you don't, you're extremely lucky. I do grunt tech work, switching backup tapes on Vax's for 40k a year, and while it may not be the most glamorous IT job on the planet, I have full benefits, steady work, and my company LOVES lifers. No matter how boring or tedious shit gets, I never once drop my smile. I really am fucking lucky to have a job like this.

      I do, however, have friends that think we're still living in the era. More than one of my friends have been laid off in the past 6 months, and each of them seems to think their the cock of the fucking walk in the IT industry. These are people that were making 80k a year at the age of 25 now sitting at home still convinced that employers were going to be dying to toss money at them. And they did get some offers, but they refused every one of them for not paying enough. These are guys with families and thier giving me the "No way in hell I'm running cat5 for $20 an hour, fuck that." I wanna fucking punch them in the throat. At what point do you swallow your pride and take the $14 an hour tech job doing acrobat installs? When they start shutting off utilities at your house? When they take the car? This is ridiculous. People with financial obligations do NOT have the luxury of job market pride.

      Sorry, I got off on a tangent, but my point is you can't always stick at your current pay/job level and need to recognize when it's time to bite the bullet.

      A funny after-thought: How many of you now see job postings requiring RIDICULOUS credentials to even interview? I honestly saw a job posting the other day in the paper for a $12.95/hr tech job troubleshooting tier-1 cable modem calls that required a BS in CS, I damn near shit myself laughing.
    • by RalphSlate ( 128202 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @04:08PM (#4961766) Homepage
      Globalization sounds really good on paper -- jobs are sent overseas, and then those people get money and then buy products from us. Everyone wins, right?

      This completely ignores the human side of the equation.

      Problem #1: what happens when your industry is wiped out?

      The Globalists say "easy, switch careers". Try telling that to a 45-year old with 2 kids and a mortgage. Going to college at $25k/year isn't much of an option. Being unemployed for a year or two isn't much of an option. Even actually switching careers isn't much of an option, because few companies in their right mind would choose a 45-year old over a 25-year old, even at the same salary. They see the 25-year old as being more flexible, more "hip" to the profession, and probably with less baggage. Someone who agrees to reduce their salary is seen as being someone who is going to use the job as a "transitional job", someone who will not be loyal to the company.

      Sure, maybe 20% can make the switch, but what about the other 80% of the people in the industry? What will they do? We get taught in school that if we work hard and do our best, that we are so much better than the losers on welfare who just feed off the system, but when you're bounced from an industry that moves overseas, most are no better than the welfare cases.

      Problem #2: Who is making the money here?

      The conventional wisdom says that if a US company lays off its $100k programmers for some $5k programmers in India, that it can both lower the price of its products, and make those products available to the people in India who now have $5k/year. Also, the wages in India will rise because of increased demand.

      The problem is the price reduction takes too long, and companies capitalize on the increased profit margins to simply get fatter and concentrate wealth. Price reduction does not replace the lost income to the US. Wages never increase in a global economy; when wage pressure shows its head, the jobs are moved to the next nation.

      That means that the product doesn't get noticibly cheaper in the US, and the people in India don't get noticibly wealthier (so they don't consume). So the effect on the US economy is that there are less people employed at good salaries. This does eventually deflate the US economy, but the ironic thing is that it does not immediately hurt an individual company as much as it helps them in the short run. Trimming $1 million from your expenses today isn't as bad as losing 20% of your potential customers over a 10-year period. At least, companies don't see it this way.

      But what happens when the US consumer appetite is eventually weakened by 40% because there are only low-paying jobs here? We will be stuck in an economic middle "black hole", where we can't afford our own goods because we don't make enough money, but others can't afford them either because neither do they. The only way out will be a complete crash.

      There will be about 500 people in the country who can afford to buy the goods -- the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies. That doesn't sustain an economy.

      Problem #3: Are globalized countries willing to participate in both halves of the equation?

      Sure, we're sending more money to India. Does India have the opportunity to "buy American"? Or are we just exporting our dollars overseas for nothing, and we can expect to never see them again? Is India willing to raise its human standards once it starts getting wealthy, even if it reduces their ability to compete and puts them at risk of losing jobs to China?

      What I think people fail to realize is that a global economy probably can't exist without a global government, because individual countries do not behave the same. India can compete because they discard 50% of their population by not educating them, banishing them to a life of poverty. China banishes more, and holds families to strict population quotes. Countries like this are throwing their resources to the cream of the crop, while more advanced countries have developed a "nobody left behind" philopsophy.

      When businesses compete for labor, people have the ability to switch companies if the labor conditions aren't that good. But when countries compete for labor, then the lowest common denominator has a huge advantage -- the US is already losing jobs to countries where there are 7-day, 60+ hour workweeks, no safety regulations, no child-labor regulations, etc. And it's hard to move backward on social conditions. That means that developing countries, who have poor social conditions, won't develop them because it would be suicidal.

      If India offered the same "benefits" to its citizens -- goals for 100% literacy, worker safety, decent hours, retirement, social programs -- that the US does, I don't think they could provide the same labor for $5k/year.

      Globalization will cause great upheaval, all this for theoretical benefits which have failed to materialize. It is merely a gimmick for the powerful to gain more power. Regionalization offers more stability, more safety, and does not allow power to be concentrated into the hands of a few.

      Think about it -- it might theoretically be better if there was a single brand of car out there -- it would be cheaper to produce, easier to fix, and would allow for standardization of everything from parking lots to garages. Yet would you be willing to snap your fingers and give one company the power to be the sole supplier of this car? Would you be willing to trade the heterogeny of our current car industry for the homogeny of a single manufacturer?

      Diversity should be the goal, but globalization is the enemy of diversity.
      • You offer valuable insights to very real problems of globalization but no solutions.

        If you ran a company would you keep a large workforce of highly paid workers or would you ship jobs overseas? How would you compete with competitors who did the same thing?

        There is an economic force that is pushing companies to employ people overseas where there is a much higher demand for jobs. This is very bad for the US and the US standard of living. But I don't think any laws to stop the flow of jobs overseas will do any long-term good. They will just slow the tide that is based on the simple math of lower operating costs.

        I think what we need to focus on are strategies to create jobs in the US to replace jobs that go overseas. We have a highly skilled workforce in the US as well as an excellent infrastructure. Start-Ups in the US have a huge advantage to StartUps in Afghanistan.

        I think we need to stimulate entrepreneurship and make it easier for new businesses to find starting capital and to succeed. With the poor performance of stocks and bonds lately, there's lots of money out there looking for good investments... We need some way to connect the dots and stimulate new business and provide good investments for retirement savings... maybe some cross between VC and insurance funds...

        We also need to decrease the cost of education. In the past student loans have made education obtainable for all americans with the academic ability. However, paying off student loans is a huge albatross that makes it hard to buy a house or raise a family. The cheaper education is the more skilled workers we will have for new businesses and the greater our advantage will be over other countries.

  • The collapse in the tech job market came at just the right time for me. I will finish up my Bachelor's in Mathematics and Computer Science this following semester, and afterwords I will be getting my M.B.A., instead of a Master's in Computer Science. It will be vastly easier classwork, and easier work in the workplace. Plus, I imagine that as a manager who actually knows what programmers are doing, I won't have any trouble ever getting a job that pays well.
    • Re:Just In Time (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Em Emalb ( 452530 )
      Not to sound too pessimistic, but unless you have a butt load of experience, your college won't mean a whole lot.

      If you have taken a look lately, Companies are requesting Doctorates with 10+ years exp for 32k a year. Keeping a positive attitude is great, but the economy is crap. I surely hope you can disprove my pessimism.
      • Re:Just In Time (Score:5, Informative)

        by I'm a racist. ( 631537 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:23PM (#4961458) Homepage Journal
        Just to chime in on this... a PhD often won't get you much money. I'm transitioning into the academic realm now, and I'm taking a slight paycut (although I don't have a PhD, yet) and turning down a much better paying offer.

        A lot of PhD's do it because they love what they do, not because there's money in it. The economics of research are very unfavorable. A typical ROI, if you could even call it that, could be decades away.

        Your typical postdoc, which is what you do right after getting a PhD, might earn $30-40k/yr. Even a new professor at a major lab is only getting something like $70k. I'm not sure how universities pay, but for assistant/associate professors I doubt it breaks the $100k mark.

        Of course, if you've got decent credentials you could start in the mid-six-figures doing quantitative analysis for a brokerage firm in Manhattan...

        But, yes, there is certainly a trend in current job ads to ask for a lot of experience. This is an employer's market nowadays, as opposed to the employee's market that just ended. 10 years from now, employers might be begging to hire anyone with a little bit of biochemistry experience (like being able to synthesize your own buffer) the way they would hire anyone with a tiny bit of programming a couple of years ago (Remember? You could even get by with just some HTML knowledge).
    • will be vastly easier classwork, and easier work in the workplace.

      Kid, you're gonna get your ass handed to you on a platter if you believe this. Coming from someone who's already been there, IComp Sci is pretty easy: you learn the formulas, equations, languages, etc, and you bundle it up in packages. Most projects are pretty much identical. A real businessperson has to handle many, many different things. There's no sitting on your ass in a comfy cubicle while you surf Slashdot. You may get an assignment in a job that's "Improve sales by 25% in the next month. Go." And that's *all* you get. At least, with the comprable IT problem: "Improve performance by 25% in the next week", you know where to look, what to do, you can read web sites, etc.

      If you think an MBA will be "easy", you're in for a rude awakening.
    • No offense, but please don't think that going to school for programming/CS is ANYTHING like programming in a production environment. More than likely, you'll know just enough to come off as a know-it-all, and you'll wonder why your employees can't do a job that you know *YOU* could have done faster.
  • by Egonis ( 155154 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:02PM (#4961303)
    I enjoyed a programming "career" for 5 years following high-school. I am self-taught, and managed, developed and implemented databases at an ISP, a TV Broadcast Company, and for a Freight Brokerage.

    Although I have not attended University or College for training in the field, I made a substantial income.

    I observed many of my co-workers and friends whom had gone through University and such, and their careers ended just as quickly as mine.

    The common problems we all faced were that management did not understand the nature of the job performed, and ended up hiring a large agency to take over our "home brew" projects.

    I have reformed my future, and am becoming a Special Ed teacher for the Blind and Visually Impaired... because the IT industry has completely collapsed, not resulting from poor economy (I live in Canada, and our economy is quite strong right now...), but as a result of poor management and planning.

    My suggestion to anyone considering, or currently working in IT, is to educate themselves in another field, and use their skills as an addition to their qualifications.

    I write small applications to make programs like Excel more accessible for the Blind, as there is little, or no support for Text-to-Speech software, while at the same time performing my other duties.
    • ...not resulting from poor economy (I live in Canada, and our economy is quite strong right now...), but as a result of poor management and planning.

      Since when the high unemployment and poor economy is as a result of our fault? Let me rebuke your FUD and give you a real picture of what IT business is.

      The major problem the IT business is facing is the programmers in general failed to follow what has been planned by management. We've stressed on focusing on our core values for many years and none of our programmers could list any one of them in any of their review, least following them. I don't know what their core values are, neither, but when we've made them, they should follow them precisely. Also, we've emphasis on the importance of COM(Customer Oriented Management) for years and even introduced 4P(Professionalism, Partnership, Proactiveness and Priority), but none of our programmers seemed to have followed them. Therefore, this year, we restated the nessacity of TCQM(Totally, Completely Quality Management) and our compliance with ISO 60002. Guess what, none of them understand a hell of them!

      At the beginning of this year, I gave them one last chance and called for "paradigm shift" and "thinking out of the box", to my provokation all they could do is eating out of the box! We even so nice as to rewrite the VMV(Vision, Mission and Values) and annoucned "3Rs &1M" (Re-prioritisation, Re-engineering, Reorganisation and Market enabling). I hope they could at least re-organize, re-engineer or re-prioritize their code toward the heaven of total quality, but all they could raise up is to urge me to adopt some craps like design pattern! We are not running garment business God damn it.

      You see how many chances I've given to them? If anyone of them could comply with what we've planned we could have achieved the state of Total Quality, Zero-Error and Complete Customers Satisifaction years ago! Now you say we are to blame?!

      (For humor-impaired: this is a joke, but all the terms listed above are real, some of them are extracted from our Director's year resolution, sadly)
  • by PingXao ( 153057 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:02PM (#4961305)
    20 years ago. And NOT to protect the incompetent. More along the lines of professional associations like the AMA, the ABA, the MLBPA or the NHLPA.
    • What the tech industry seriously lacks is any certification that says "This person does quality work." MSCE just says that the person knows how to sell you Microsoft products, CCNA does the same for Cisco... there is no credible certification that says you know when to use a Cisco product, and when all that's really needed is a Linksys.

      "Look for the union label" is supposed to convey an image of quality. Especially in freelance fields, being hiring a union member means that the person qualifies for membership, and only performs work that complies with the union standard. More expensive, yeah. But it serves as a great way to convince others that the work complies with standards. "Yeah, we use subcontractors, but everybody we hire is union."

      Think about it, how many companies will want a Linux server set up, but then not be willing to pay you to patch it or and don't know how patch it themselves. A union standard could prevent such a situation, by refusing to set up servers for people who do not committ to also have them supported by a union member. Yeah, they could go the cheap way by having non-union techies set it up, but that may hinder the company when trying to impress other companies.
  • by joeflies ( 529536 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:02PM (#4961306)
    that engineering is the only profession where your value to the company goes down the older you get.

    Fresh kids out of college know current technology, have the lowest starting salaries (so you can get more of them), and willing to work ungodly hours without extra pay. With the competition for engineering jobs ramping up in India and other lower cost countries, I realized early that I may like technology, but without having the desire to go into management or get a doctorate (to get access to career engineering jobs), then I needed to get into another profession.

    • This isn't always true...

      One of the highest paid group of programmers these days are old cobol programmers. Big companies (mainly in insurance and banking) don't have the same system turnover than most places. As the number of cobol programmers drop, their value increases.

      Even medium sized companies have 'old' systems that only a rare few people know how to use properly, and will just continue to age (especially now with spending freezes and drops).
    • by SimJockey ( 13967 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:22PM (#4961451) Homepage Journal
      Maybe in the tech industry, but not for what I do. Engineers with 20 years experience in refinery design and revamp are few and far between. And worth their weight in gold. Sure, as a recent grad I may know the computer based design stuff better than some of the older guys, but as I have learned the hard way "Two weeks of simulation can save you 5 minutes of thought."

      Engineers with a ton of real-world design experience are an amazing asset, not just in my industry but aerospace, civil engineering, and most other "old" engineering disciplines. I definitely wouldn't generalize that all engineers get less valuable with time.
    • by koreth ( 409849 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:27PM (#4961479)
      Baloney, if you keep your skill set current and grow over time. When I graduated from college, I didn't have years of Oracle development and administration experience, several large system architectures to my name, Solaris kernel development experience, firsthand knowledge of the common pitfalls of J2EE development, real-time network application development skills, experience leading a team of junior engineers, or the ability to gather requirements from customers without a manager looking over my shoulder. Now I have all of that and a lot more.

      On the other hand, I've seen other engineers stuck in one place for years, mostly because they're content to keep doing the same thing every day, never taking any initiative to push themselves further along. It's not just about embracing the techno-fad of the day, it's about the certainty that no matter what you're doing, you're not as good at it as you could be, and it's up to you to improve.

      If you're not a better engineer now than you were a year ago, someone else will have your job eventually. If you are, and you can say that every year, then you'll have people offering you jobs out of the blue even in today's economy.

    • by John Miles ( 108215 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:29PM (#4961491) Homepage Journal
      "Engineering is the only profession where your value to the company goes down the older you get."

      ... is that in our line of work, experience doesn't count for as much as it does in other fields of endeavor. That's the sign of a rapidly-growing and (yes) immature industry where progress often takes place via change and mutation rather than simple growth.

      But that line of reasoning often turns into a psychological crutch for chronic whiners. How many posts on Slashdot read something like, "Dammit, I know Logo, BASIC, Pascal, VB, FORTRAN, assembly, Java, C++, and C#... and I still got laid off!" Sure, but how good were you at solving problems? Should an auto shop manager be impressed when a job applicant claims to have worked on Pintos, Novas, Malibus, Mustangs, Explorers, Cavaliers, and Excursions? How many of those cars drove away from the applicant's garage bay with their lugnuts cross-threaded?

      Quality software engineering is more than a resume full of hip languages and buzzwords from the Gamma book. The best software engineering is usually done by people who got into the business because computers seemed like a really powerful and enjoyable way to solve engineering or (in the games biz) aesthetic problems. Those folks -- not the language lawyers, tool fetishists, and epicene gnomes of Unix who still have their home page set to -- are the ones who tend to have the best answers to the question, "OK, why should I hire you?"

    • by Zathrus ( 232140 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:30PM (#4961503) Homepage
      that engineering is the only profession where your value to the company goes down the older you get

      Then he was an idiot.

      Those kids fresh out of college may know current technology, but they don't have a damn clue when it comes to designing systems. When it comes to making a decision most will take whatever path is quicker/easier and not consider the longterm implications -- which means down the road you have to throw out huge chunks of code and rewrite it because it wasn't done right the first time. After all, long-term up till now has meant "next semester".

      Learning the latest technology is trivial. Having the mindset to solve problems, plan out a project, and write code that doesn't break is something learned only through experience, which can't be taught so easily. And yes, you'll pay more for those people. It's worth it.

      Outsource to India? No thanks... I've seen the results of that. My company tried to outsource the GUI front-end of our application to India for a very, very low sum. End result? All of the code was thrown away. The one piece that may have been salvagable turned out to be a BSD-license library that was from an alpha release and had its license violated -- the moron coder removed the copyright and claimed it was his own. It was broken too (hence the reason it was alpha). We hired a Java programmer and he finished in four months what they had failed to do in nine.

      We're currently interviewing for another two positions as well, plus one more sysadmin. And we find the same thing over and over - most of the people applying for the jobs are idiots and shouldn't have been in the field in the first place. They lie about their experience, and we catch them (most are caught in pre-screen -- if you claim to know Unix, you should really know what things like 'pwd' do). The actual interview is more theory than practice, as well as making sure you'll work well in the group. It's really amazing just how many people claim a masters in CS or EE, 10 years of experience, and yet have no idea what a race condition or deadlock is or how to handle/prevent them.

      Yes, I was laid off at the start of the year. And, know what? I found another job. And if it happens again I'll find another one, even if it takes some time. My wife and I have a 6 month cash emergency fund, so we're ok for awhile even if we both lose our jobs. And we can live on a single salary if needed. If you don't have a cash fund, or are living over your means, fix it. Now.
      • Those kids fresh out of college may know current technology, but they don't have a damn clue when it comes to designing systems. When it comes to making a decision most will take whatever path is quicker/easier and not consider the longterm implications -- which means down the road you have to throw out huge chunks of code and rewrite it because it wasn't done right the first time. After all, long-term up till now has meant "next semester".

        And in most cases, these fresh-minted graduates are coming out of an ivory-tower development environment, where it doesn't have to work well as long as it shows that the student grasps the concept that the professor is presenting. And the development environments make them used to writing code as if there's no limit on the amount of storage and memory they can use, so their code is elephantine and slow.
        Outsource to India? No thanks... I've seen the results of that. My company tried to outsource the GUI front-end of our application to India for a very, very low sum. End result? All of the code was thrown away. The one piece that may have been salvagable turned out to be a BSD-license library that was from an alpha release and had its license violated -- the moron coder removed the copyright and claimed it was his own. It was broken too (hence the reason it was alpha). We hired a Java programmer and he finished in four months what they had failed to do in nine.

        I remember a project I worked on involving electronic storage/maintenance of training documents. Because we only had a couple of programmers on the project, part of it was contracted out. When we tested the code on a real set of documents, one of their modules kept blowing up; it turned out that their code defined a fixed-length array for what was an indeterminate number of elements, and the real-world document had half again as many elements as the array had space for. Another module had every single routine allocating the same 3Mb data structure dynamically on entry, even if only 1% of that space was actually being used (3000-element array of a structure with 6 float fields and four 240-character text fields; the text fields were never used). The program I was responsible for, the import-export module, which would pull all of the pieces out of the Oracle dataabase that held them, including all their links, then link them back into the database at another site, was written using linked lists for all of its dynamic storage. When the project was completed and accepted for implementation, the contractor took over maintenance of the code -- and promptly ripped out all of the linked-list code in the import-export module and replaced it with fixed-length arrays -- even though it had already been proven that fixed-length arrays broke on real-world data.

        There are morons everywhere; unfortunately, in the programming industry, the morons leave legacies that can survive for years beyond when they depart, with the task of actually fixing those problems hampered by those problems becoming part of accepted corporate practice -- once everybody's gotten used to doing it wrong, you can't change the user interface because all of the non-techies would *gasp* have to learn a new UI...

        I will have been employed full-time as a programmer for 20 years come the middle of next month, plus three years as a student contractor before that, and I don't expect to retire until I've got more than 30 years in (actually, I can't retire on 30 years -- I come up a year short of minimum retirement age when I have 30 years); I've seen people burn out on programming, and I've seen people get pushed into management as the only available mobility option. It may keep me from making The Big Bucks(tm), but I don't ever want to get shoved into management; having to deal with the egos and prejudices where I work resembles a kindergarten more than it does an office.
    • Don't expect this to be maintained.

      Of my IT friends, 5 of six lost their jobs the last year (including me). Now 4 of us are working - and guess what? Our senior experience helps. A lot.

      You may get a kid with the latest technology, but is he going to know how to troubleshoot? To find things on the net? Know the right users? Have a sense of history?

      I just finished building an application in the latest tech (.NET sadly). 80% of what I did had NOTHING to do with .NET and everything to do with my past experience.

      Sometimes it takes 10 new kids to equal one old fart. That's not good economic sense.

      People will learn. The hard way.
  • Seven Years? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by v3rb ( 239648 )
    Isn't seven years an awfully long time to spend in school to be an engineer? Even an MS can be accomplished in 5-6 years if your school has a fast track program.

    I think careers in engineering fields require a degree of career management from the individual. They can no longer expect to be given success and wealth just because they have an engineering degree. They need to guide their career so they can grow into different positions as time goes on.

    While this is no different than other disciplines, I guess it's a new idea for the technologically inclined.
  • 19 years pro for me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by coolgeek ( 140561 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:03PM (#4961311) Homepage
    And 11 of those freelance.

    IMO, the surges in the industry attract a bunch of riff raff, which get purged when times get tough. Not to disparage the articl poster (or is it poseur :-) jest kidding); he may be a great engineer, just too much of the riff raff feeding from the new jobs trough. When it comes to staying employed, it's really about whom you know and your reputation. Anyway, during the slumps is when the real core of the industry gets to innovating the next wave...

  • After slogging 60+ hour work weeks for 10+ years and still not a millionaire, I've learned my lesson.

    If I had to do it all over again I would have joined a monopoly. No I'm not talking about Microsoft. I would have been a premed major and let the AMA monopoly stamp me into a money making doctor machine.
    • "After slogging 60+ hour work weeks for 10+ years and still not a millionaire, I've learned my lesson."

      Alot of people do the exact same, becoming a millionaire doesnt just come from Y number of hours for X Years, expectations sometimes are just unrealistic, the vast majority of people in this world will work their entire life and never have near 1 million in the bank.
  • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:03PM (#4961315) Homepage
    There is no safe career to be had in any profession today. The dream of being a 'company man' that the baby-boomer generation had just doesn't exist. People do not get a job, expecting - or able to - still be working for the same company thirty years later. Transient workers were once regarded as flighty and unreliable; today it's the norm. In some professions (science, programming, some engineering disciplines) it's even seen with suspicion when somebody stays at the same place for long.

    Forget job security, defined skill sets and straight career paths. This uncertainty is here to stay.

  • I still have my Linux Box, my CS degree, the whole nine yards - but I got a trade certification in massage therapy, and I got out of programming. The hours were way too long, and the pay cut from $55,000 a year to $52,000 per year isn't really a pay cut when you look at the hours I work at the hospital. And especially when you look at the amount of education required. Plus, these days I can actually look into the faces of people I've helped. It's so much more rewarding.

    Course, I still read /. and I still program. But I can't imagine going up against the H1-B competition again - those guys were working 80 hour weeks for 35k a year... I just can't compete with that.
  • by msheppard ( 150231 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:05PM (#4961322) Homepage Journal
    Almost every career can be viewed through this narrow minded window.

    Similar reasons can be found for almost any career being short, and statistics can be shown to support that (as well as almost anything you can think of.)

    Problems with the current economy shouldn't cause one to abandon a career.

    Maybe we're too paranoid. I've seen burn-out, and lemme tell ya, it dosen't need to happen, and most people I've heard complain about it are really NOT burning out.

  • by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:05PM (#4961325) Homepage Journal
    What I see disappearing are the median income jobs. It seems like things are becoming more and more polarized w/many many low pay jobs and a few very high paying jobs.

    I don't think this is a good trend for our nation as a whole. In the long run it will hurt everyone.

    I interview for a new job probably about once a month. The last one was for a single opening w/the USDA for slightly lower than average pay. It was to do development and database administration. There were over 100 applicants. They wanted a programmer that had been an accountant and got it. Being just a plain old programmer hasn't been helping me a lot lately.

  • Anyone considering becoming a programmer should consider getting an easier job as a coal miner.
    • When I was working in the computer labs at school, my girlfriend was working as a certified nursing assistant. They do the shit work (literally) in nursing homes and hospitals and such.

      I came in and bitched about the dumbass students in the lab. She said "well, at least you don't wipe asses for a living!"

      I replied with "I do the mental equivalent of it"
  • I've been an engineer for 28 years. My Christmas bonus from the company this year was to get laid off. In my local area (Phoenix) There are hundreds of engineers who have been tossed out in the last 6 months with no end in sight.

    I'm not sorry I became an engineer but I have no desire to return to the field even if there were some jobs, which of course, there are not.

    All of the companies are moving to small management teams and are outsourcing everything, mostly over seas to Taiwan and India. This country will never learn. First we did it with manufacturing and now we are doing it with engineering. Douglass Adams was right, we are going to be nothing but a bunch of Phone Sanatizers and we will all be in the first arc to go.

  • When my dad was young, mechanical engineer was the hottest thing around. Now, it is computers. Everyone is jumping on the band wagon. I am sure that 20/30 yrs from now, there will be need for computer scientists and engineers, but a little different that what we do now. If I had to do it over again today, I would still choose the same profession. If you ask me 30 yrs later, when some young whippersnapper is trying to get my job because I am too old, then I problably would choose something else.
  • The main thing to consider is that if you want job growth/security, is that you always continue to learn. People that think they are done learning after college are the ones who in 5 years find themselves knowing less than a new hired employee. If you continue to learn, adapt to changes, and keep an open mind you will find yourself in positions to take on new roles inside or outside of your current job.
  • The more people moan and groan about engineering going down the tubes, the more likely it will become reality.

    And don't talk about engineering careers ending...I'm still trying to start mine.
  • Tell me about it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DSL-Admin ( 597132 )
    My gf's friend made 2000.00 on one paycheck (extra on comission alone) in addition to her normal salary. She sells furniture. My gf got a 1000.00 bonus on her paycheck for passing a test and finding flaws in the Doctors rule book. Also in addition to her normal pay. ---I deal with real "genius's" every day, and I get normal pay..... Man, I think I might become a Dental Asst, or salesperson.... stripping's becoming more and more of a draw... money money money
  • After all these years. I'm fourty-seven now, and I still earn all my living from cutting code. I expect to be still cutting code (and still earning my living from it) in twenty years time; I might just still be going in thirty years time.

    The answer to getting laid off is to employ yourself.

  • This article is a bit of an eye opener for me. I am an engineer, but in a "mature" industry. I design petroleum and chemical facilities, mainly oil refineries. In my industry, we have never been busier. Clean fuels legislation has been a boon to us, lots of work getting sulfur out of gasoline and diesel fuel. Early in my career, I looked wistfully at the mega-salaries and bonuses of colleagues in the computer industry. But now, those who I know who still have a job are admiring the stability I have. And that's not to say I'm not well compensated, it's just that my pay has progressed more slowly.

    As far as knowledge having a half life, I'd have to agree. I work my butt off to stay current and know what clients will want before they do.

    It seems to me that there still will be rewarding engineering careers in the computer and programming fields. I just think that the attractiveness of the industry became it's own worst enemy and drew a ton of talented people who would have been good at anything they put their minds to. I think as the tech industry matures, it will grow a more solid foundation that will give engineers good careers, but without the outrageous perks. Sure, they may feel like they have to join a more plebeian "real world". But really, it's not that bad.
  • I am one of the most powerful forces on the planet. I can conjure sets of ordered instructions that can be used to bring down governments, save economies, destroy enimies, save lives and maybe even make me a few dollars.

    I'll never give that kind of power up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:12PM (#4961376)
    There seems to be a common misconception that programmers and often times IT professionals are the typical engineers, similar to how the term "computer scientist" is incorrectly applied to programmers. To me, that seems a broad application of the title, similar to calling car mechanics engineers as well. I many times looked over the classifieds section in the paper in the 90s and saw jobs requiring a BS in computer science when they were simply database programming jobs, for which one really only needed a trade school education.

    Personally, just from looking at the numbers from my high school, I would guess that there will actually be a shortage of engineers (i.e., electrical, material, chemical, aerospace, etc.) in the next couple decades. With the boomers retiring and decreasing numbers in my generation going into engineering (because science and math are too "hard," and they have been taught very poorly in the last 20 years by the public school system so they opt for law), the US is losing its engineering workforce. One of the best observations I have heard was from a professor at MIT who observed that 50 years ago engineers outnumbered lawyers by far, whereas today the opposite is true.

    Just because Microsoft and Oracle are hiring foreigners to do the programming doesn't mean that the other traditional engineering fields are waning as well. Think of how much software engineering is design versus implementation. The implementation workers are really akin to skilled factory labor, and that is why they are replaceable by cheaper foreign labor. Erecting barriers to immigration will just cause companies to leave the US.
  • May be the only place left for American citizens. Can't outsource those jobs over seas or hire visa holders.

    Go War On Terrorism!

  • by webword ( 82711 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:13PM (#4961384) Homepage
    I am not a programmer. However, I work with several programmers, engineers and designers. We have discussions about work all of the time. A couple of years ago programming and engineering seemed like great careers. However, with global competition (e.g., China and India) my colleagues are under a lot of pressure. You can cut the stress with a knife. Here are some of my thoughts on this.

    1. These people enjoy stress. They spend so much time at work, it is insane. Yet, at the same time, this type of stress is different. It is inter-work stress, not intra-work stress. That is, it isn't stress related to solving interesting and complex problems. They are having a hard time dealing with it.

    2. The impact of offshore competition is really starting to gain ground in most companies. Small companies, large companies, high technolohy companies, low technology companies. Especially if you are in IT, this is no joke. The global economy has arrived. Many workers never thought it would hit them, but it has. This means adjustments in salary expectations, job prospects, networking with others, and more.

    3. In my opinion, most development companies outside of the U.S. don't realize the economic and social impact they are having on U.S. workers. They are relatively ignorant of how they are extracting money and jobs from U.S. workers. This isn't a complaint against these companies. It is merely an observation. (I'm curious what others have to say about this, especially developers from India, Eastern Europe, and other such places.)

    4. The main competitive advantage for U.S. workers is their "sfot skills" in areas such as business analysis, communication, creativity and project leadership. A friend of mine recently interviewed with a company. They were entirely uninterested in his Java, Lotus / Domino, JavaScript, CSS, HTML, etc. skills, but they were very interested in his ability to communicate, his analysis skills, his writing skills, and so forth. In other words, they cared that he had a clue about how people actually work, versus just being a code monkey.

    5. Most technical workers I know don't enjoy technology. Instead, they enjoy the challenge of technology: creativity, problem solving, analysis, puzzles, etc. Therefore, leaving technology wouldn't be such a big deal for most folks I know. One guy wants to be an English professor, another guy wants to drive a truck, still another guy wants to build houses. This is amazing to me because these guys are diesel. I mean, they are seriously good with technology and it would be a shame to see them go.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:13PM (#4961387)
    to the unemployed phyisicist?

    "Would you like fries with that?"

    It's a bit of cruel, sick joke, but the more so because of its truth. In some respects you should be greatful if you get several good years in your major field. Most people don't you know. The real crunch is going to come in about 4 years as the univerisities are really just cranking up the "mill" to turn out programers and CS grads.

    Odds are these people will never work in the field at any high level capacity. Code grinders maybe, if they're good, and if they're lucky.

    An education is still a good thing you know, for its own sake. Really. And just because you end up in the plumber's union by the time you're 30 doesn't mean you can't still code and enjoy everything that the *act* of coding gives you.

    If you didn't get into CS because you love it, *that* was your mistake. Coding is one of the few remaining fields in which you can still do top grade work in your "spare" time and with the internet even in cooperation with groups of like minded individuals.

    Real hacking is like poetry really, a creative art form. Guess what? The poets have been used to having to be plumbers for thousands of years.

  • Well, during the hight of the dotCom era, I said many times that I would be doing this whether or not the pay was good, and it's still true today during the layoffs and recessions.

    It always seemed that there were two types of people in my Computer Science program, those that would be there no matter what and those that thought it was a ticket to a higher salary. Even if I was working at a minimum wage job flipping burgers, I'd be spending my evenings tinkering with Linux and a junked out 386 :)

  • This article is 99% fluff. Skip it. I do wonder, however, how much of the percentage of out-of-work engineers are simply "between projects"? The End-of-the-Project (and, sometimes, the Project itself) seems to be something many companies do not handle well. (Speaking from experience...) I will say that getting laid-off was the best thing that ever happened to me. During the 9 months I was out of work, I reevaluated just about everything in my life, reworked priorities, and, essentially, woke up to the real world. And survived.
    First thing you need to do is to be absolutely honest with yourself. On everything. You are simply who you are. Work from there & have fun. Good luck to all who are in tough times. :})||
  • by TerryAtWork ( 598364 ) <> on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:22PM (#4961443)
    In the CS business they have this weird fetish for youth. It's like they were recruiting for a football team, not an engineering department.

    I think it is because we are at the same stage in software engineering that medicine was in when the guy who cut your hair was the same guy who set your bones.

    We don't know shit about how to program computers, you know. Not SHIT.

    Software engineering is so grossly inefficient that only kids have the stamina to weather the hours that it takes to do anything robust and useful.

    I am a software engineer but I'd be ashamed to show my face at a mechanical or civil engineer convention - the buildings and machines they make don't blow up all the time, repeatedly, for no reason at all.

    I am right now on the eighth floor of an eleven floor building. I'm eight stories up and there's still a thousand tons of concrete and steel over my head. I have a great deal of confidence that if I don't make it out of this building alive it won't be because it collapsed on me.

    BUT - if this building were a computer program I'd be freaking terrified at all times UNLESS it had been around for a long time (and therefore rebuilt over and over after falling on other people.)

    Also, this business, which no one understands, is changing at a high rate of speed.

    It's as if you became a doctor and 2 years later no one had a liver anymore. They all upgraded to a new organ, about which you know nothing. All the learning about the liver you did and the exams you passed on it mean nothing.

    Now all the hospitals are hiring young new doctors who know all about the new organ, never mind your years of experience.

    Now you get to sit around in unemployment, watching these kids make all the intern mistakes again. Swell.

    Of course, you can go back to medical school to learn the new organ, but two years from now you're going to have to do it again. How long can you keep this up?

    The fact is - we are screwed. The industry has not seen it's Newton yet, so all is in darkness.

    The creating of Doctors is a science. MEDICINE is an art but CREATING DOCTORS is a science. They go to medical school, they serve an internship, they pick a specially etc.

    If a Doctor and his Grand Dad the Doctor and his Grand DAUGHTER the Doctor all got together to discuss becoming Doctors, they'd find they all had things in common, the toughness of medical school the greater toughness of internship etc etc.

    Computer programming on the other hand, is like hiring a poet. You never know what kind of poetry you are going to get, so everyone wants an EXPERIENCED poet so someone else paid for the bad poetry they do in the beginning.

    There's lamers with PhDs and great coders in high school. What to do?

    The fact is, in Software Engineering if you are over 30 you had better be in management or a legacy maintenance program like me with Clipper, or you're out.

    This hurts CS. Can you imagine where chemical, mechanical or civil engineering would be if they got rid of all the engineers over 30?

    When CS is a mature discipline you'll see older guys dominating it.

    Until then, CS, like Trix, is for kids.

    • by blamanj ( 253811 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:45PM (#4961603)
      In the CS business they have this weird fetish for youth.

      This is primarily the fault of those who work in the industry. I once worked for a very large chipmaker and they loved hiring new college grads. It was way better for them than competing for existing engineers in the job market.

      Why? 1) NCGs tend to be single, so they don't have as much of a social life to pull them away from work after 5pm. 2) NCGs tend to be still be in that "obsessed about the computer" phase of their lives and would work longer hours just for "fun."

      Those two items, plus the "go public" gold rush led to a burn-em-up-and-spit-em-out mentality. As long as we in the industry allow it, both as hiring entities and as employees it's not going to change.

      What can you do? Leave a 5pm. Say "no". Don't sign on to schedules that can't be achieved without overtime. Don't expect work to be your life. If you're a manager, kick people out when they work late too often, and make them use their vacation time.

      Believe me, if everyone in the industry went home after 8 hours of work, the industry would change.
    • by Strange Ranger ( 454494 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @04:37PM (#4962015)
      Well said. I'd like to add a thought placing some of the blame on our schools. Which is:

      In a mature industry like medicine students are taught a broad understanding of all concepts. A student studying to be an ear, nose, and throat doctor must learn about the nervous system, the heart, nutrition, cancer, bacteria, and broken bones before said student ever gets to be an intern. This helps ensure that the doctor understands his/her specialty as an intregal part of a whole system. That way the ear doctor can refer you to a neurologist if you need one, or tell you to drop the caffeine from your diet and the ringing will stop if that's the case. Even though s/he's not a nutritionist or neurologist s/he knows enough to treat the human system and not just treat the ear as an insolated phenomenon.

      So why are so many CS graduates going out into the work force with a few OO languages under their belt and maybe a general idea of what a NIC does and THAT'S IT?? It's crazy. We need developers who can see and understand whole systems, who can discuss data modeling, image rendering, archive methodology, user interface, Ease of Use, compression, the L2 cache, hyperthreading, know volts from watts, and be able to muster a little respect for the accounting department. Then with experience use that broad knowledge to understand existing infrastructure, legacy systems, and future trends so they can look intelligently at a given business model and write project proposals based on ROI. Then defend their methods vs. others. To me that is a Doctor of CS. Our schools need to spit out far less Code Monkeys and start making far more Code Wizards.

      Currently the above is most often accomplished via committee. A committee of PHB's and Code Monkeys. No wonder it's a mess.

      Well, hopefully that last bit isn't seen as being trollish. I think it's one of the major issues we face.
      • moving target (Score:3, Informative)

        by ragnar ( 3268 )
        I agree with what you said (enough to mark you as a friend in my prefs), but I think the main difference is the type of moving target. Fundamentally, the body doesn't change, but our understanding of it expands. Computers and software (or rather the set of problems which software should solve) are constantly changing. The parent thread (whom you responded to) made a nice analogy supposing if the liver were replaced by a new organ.

        Maybe Doctors have more longetivity and market value because they are inherently respected as learned people. Our profession(s) still have the public image of code slingers. Software development is an infant discipline and we may be comparible to the barbers who also did dentistry on the side. I don't mean this as an excuse in any way, but rather as an observation and hope that software development finds its footing like other professions. Afterall, the need for software isn't going away.
  • The Trends (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pyrrho ( 167252 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:30PM (#4961504) Journal
    I used to be very picky, in hiring, choosing people that really wanted to work in the area we were in (games, etc.). You ought to be really sparked by games. Then I came to appreciate proffesionals that just know how to do their job. It's not my worry how they are motivated, if they can do their jobs.

    But still, I think the internet boom had an incredibly bad effect of attracting people that were only in it for the money and the idea that they could pull it. I still suspect that you need to have logic geeks for good software engineering, smart-but-not-into-it really doesn't tend to be good enough in a field where we are still trying to figure out the best practices and everything is controversial. You have to care, because there is no way for an automoton to solve the harder problems.

    There was a glut of new engineers, many not really interested in software engineering, though maybe they do want to do a good job. But no one knows what entails "just" doing a "good job" is in software engineering, so I think they are at a great disadvantage because they are not into really working out what works by experimentation and perfecting their practices.

    One other thing: the half life of technology is an illusion. Logic is the tool. It's timeless. Software engineers are applied logicians, and it's the same logic forming a substrate underneath all technologies.

    If build up a learning curve cost, you have to take a salary cut because you are asking your employer to help educate you, it's worth it for all involved, and if you understand logic then you can be sure that when you do learn, it will be with expertise.

    However, I know in the real world people that hire don't always know that.

    Frankly, I hope people that like software stick with it. But a lot of people who were so-so on it probably do need to vacate the industry.
  • by mgrennan ( 2067 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:34PM (#4961523) Homepage Journal
    I started in 1981.

    I meet computer programmers/enginers every day that are working on a dead end project and can't see it. I see Cobol programs that refuse to learn JAVA and hardware techs that refuse to learn DSP.

    Watch whats getting hot. Learn XML, JAVA, the Linux kernel, encryption systems.

    If you are holding on to something is this business your dieing and schools can't teach you this stuff. You have to go it alown. If there are more then two books about it on the book shelf at Barns & Noble its too old.

    I was an electronics enginer. Now I run the web site for a F500 company.

    At one time you wanted to learn the tech stuff. Don't stop. Never stop learning. That is what makes you good.

  • by br00tus ( 528477 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:35PM (#4961525)
    Not that I advocate a union, but when someone does the skeptics reply no because we are a "profession". Are we? Every profession I know has a professional association. Lawyers have the ABA, doctors have the AMA and so forth. Where is our professional association? (You could reply the IEEE, but only if you were answering the question comically). If we do not have a serious professional association, of one sort or another, we are not a profession. Doctors and lawyers have associations, even janitors have the SEIU, what do we have?

    The attitude towards recent changes in employment and wages have been massively passive-aggressiveness. The things done during the 1990's to help sow the seeds of derailing the profession, like the ITAA's legislative (and PR) lobbying, were not met with and now that things are bad many people simply want to walk into some other profession, where, for less pay and possibly much self-financed education, they will be walked all over by the plutocrats in that profession as well.

    Some IT people still say "My wages are the same, I have a job, everything is fine except $100k HTML coders are laid off, they're cutting the chaff from the wheat, I'm *happy* this is happening". Well, these people have a very poor view of economics usually. For one thing, in a market economy, unemployment is ALWAYS the decision of the unemployed person (although the minimum wage creates an exception when it cancels a few potential less-than-minimum-wage jobs). This makes rational sense many times though, it is often better to collect unemployment and look for a decent paying job than to get paid part-time minimum wage, leaving you unable to pay for rent, food etc. Another thing about the ridiculousness of this idea by some IT workers is that surveys show wages recently dropped industry-wide - even if you feel you will always be employed, which anyone who will take any wage WILL be (unless it goes under minimum wage), can you explain why wages going down is a good thing? People talk about it like it's the weather "well, it was inevitable wages would go down". Like some alien on another planet pulls the levers of the economy and regulates the IT profession. People truly interested in economics and how they pertain to the IT labor market, and who read and study this will not see these things as alien, like barbarians who saw thunder and said it must be gods who made it since they had no understanding of it.

    Anyhow, what's the solution? The solution is organization, be it an association, a union, a guild, an advocacy group, whatever. What is needed is about 2% of the profession to be actively involved in organizing, educating, fighting against bad legislation (like H1-B visa cap raises, FLSA exemptions only for IT workers, section 1706 of the IRS tax code pertaining to IT consultants etc.) which is pushed through Congress by the ITAA, which is paid to do so by IBM, Intel, Microsoft etc. You need 2% of IT workers working on this stuff, and majority support of IT workers for this stuff. I say 2% and majority because that's what a survey of sociological studies says is the percentages necessary to have something successful get done.

    Do these organizations have to be created out of thin air? No - these organizations already exist, the forums for education and coordination already exist and so on, they just need more critical mass, more people coming on board. People already have compiled all the information [] you want to know about, say, the H1-B visa issue, you just have to look for it. Campaigns are already working on the issue, you just have to join them. And with more support they will have more successes. Or you can turn tail and run when kicked to another profession, where you will be treated exactly the same way.

  • Dual Tracks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Didion Sprague ( 615213 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:39PM (#4961559)
    Well, as someone who actually thought a little bit about this potential problem *before* the dot-com bubble burst, I'll add my two cents and that students these days could do worse than to do what I did:

    BA in English/Comp Sci
    MA in Comp Sci
    MFA in Fiction

    The result? Lots of jobs. I switch between technical writing, article writing, and programming. I've published stories, am working on a novel, and just sold a one-act play to a regional theater. I code in ASP/CF/PHP and C#. And I love every bit of it -- coding, writing, and thinking. It all comes from the same place deep inside my brain, and I often tell folks that there's not much difference between writing a short story or coding a project under a deadline. The adrenaline flows, the creative energies get harnassed, and the subconscious does some wild and wacky shit.

    And all of this came about because of an off-hand remark I once heard in a VAX assembly language language class by the prof: he assured us (eager college freshmen) that math and science students in particular should put their egos in check and their noses in books -- non-science books. Stuff like Plato and Milton and Dante -- the so-called "useless" stuff that most compsci students poopoo and claim they don't have time to read. Four years spent reading the "boring" stuff can lead to all sorts of minor and major personal epiphanies.

    I'm not saying this is the answer, but it certainly is a solution. The coolest part about it is that people are actually impressed when you tell them you can code in C# and are writing short fiction as a "side project".

    Everybody in the tech industry seems to want writers -- folks who can understand the technical side and then explain it simply and clearly. In fact, people go out of their way to express their admiration for this sort of talent.

    Now, I'm not here to fan the flames and start another liberal arts versus sci-tech debate. But I will say that having my feet firmly planted in both sides has made things a *lot* easier. There is no shortage of jobs, people respect me, pay me well, and call upon me when the hardcore compsci folks can't get their brains out of "tunnel-vision" mode and their creative energies revved.


  • by Sludge ( 1234 ) <slashdot&tossed,org> on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:44PM (#4961594) Homepage
    I hear a lot about the export of jobs from reading slashdot forums. It hasn't directly affected my bottom line yet, but it seems that one would be foolish to think that it won't anytime in the next few decades. Decades in which I plan to be writing software.

    For those who would brave the storm, have you thought about how you would stay valuable in this market? I would be interested to hear if anyone has tried to learn an Indian language in order to communicate with their intercontinental coworkers.

    If this becomes a major resume item in the next five to ten years and/or an aspect of computer trade school programs, I would be interested in getting a head start in case the issue becomes reality for me. Now may be the time to buck the trend of securing your job and/or career by simply learning one language and a couple APIs per year, and get down to following the twists and turns of the business that funds the IT industry. You know. For those who are up to it.

    PS. I'm Canadian, and I have work from American firms already. To some degree, getting Canadian work is a lesser version of getting Indian work: there may be timezone and communication barriers, but the work is cheaper. When you're from a country with a much smaller economy than the US, it 's often necessary to get American work. Canada's economy makes up for 3% of the world's. Not that much, for the second biggest mass of land in the world, eh? :-)

  • by 7String ( 537730 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:47PM (#4961616) Homepage
    I've been doing this since '84, and my career is stronger and more lucrative than ever. I've managed to dodge the "moved to management" bullet, yet now make more money than many V.P.s and C.E.O.s ... The problem is that those entering college are encouraged to study engineering and computer science, yet because of this, there is now a flood of so-called engineers entering the workplace. The majority of these are "academic" engineers, with no real-world experience, and who don't have a real love of the craft. They're just looking for the big paycheck. I'm sorry to burst the bubble, but unless you have a passion for this, look at it as a creative endeavor, and would program computers with or without a paycheck, you're simply not going survive for long against those of us who DO have these traits.
  • by HotNeedleOfInquiry ( 598897 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:53PM (#4961649)
    I'm a self-taught engineer and firmware programmer with no degree. I started out fixing minicomputers in the early 70's and I've never been unemployed longer than 2 months. I look forward to a comfortable retirement in my paid-off house with a full shop/lab in the garage. I'd do it all over again in a second, with the only regret being that I didn't get a degree.
  • by shreak ( 248275 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:54PM (#4961657)
    I've been a degreed software engineer since 1990. "Back in the day" software engineers/software developers where those wizards that knew how to talk the "Crazy moon language" of computers.

    Now everyone and his brother can develop and maintain computers, and so can there kids. Add to that the fact that industry caught on and has created a number of technologies that allow for cookie-cut software development.

    Most software problems are VERY simple. Get info from DB, Present to user, allow input, perform calculation, put info back into DB. This describes 90% of the software solutions out there. This is EASY. If it's hard to you, you're in the wrong industry.

    Most of the SW jobs out there are for maintaining and small incremental features on the above type of software. This is where the commodity programmers live. If this is all you are qualified to do, life is going to suck for you until there is a greater need for that kind of work. This work does not pay very well (It used to, during the boom, but no longer).

    The remaining 10% of the work has to do with innovation or Very Hard Problems. Innovation is where you get paid to think up new things. This describes 50% of what I've been working on for the last 6 years (VOIP for me, there are plenty of other innovations out there).

    This is HARD work. Enjoyable, but not easy. You get asked daily, "What's today's bright idea, smart guy?" or "Do you have the prototype complete for your GREAT IDEA?" If you can't keep 'em coming, you're out the door. The pay can be very good.

    The other 50% I've worked is the pure "Hard Problem" stuff. Multi-Treaded debugging (deadlocks, data corruption, etc...) Performance, Reliability (5-9's), etc and the testing/verification of all these. These are problems that "regular programmers" can't solve. They are HARD. Most projects today created so that these don't happen and the regular programmers don't need to debug them. The projects that need these type of SW engineers are willing to pay for them and respect the capabilities of those engineers. These jobs pay well.

    If you're a commodity engineer in today's market, life is not good. If you are a seasoned engineer with a proven track record, finding a job may take a little time, but won't be that hard. But then, if you're a seasoned engineer, you probably already know this and aren't too worried...

    • Most software problems are VERY simple. Get info from DB, Present to user, allow input, perform calculation, put info back into DB. This describes 90% of the software solutions out there. This is EASY. If it's hard to you, you're in the wrong industry.

      Unfortunately that's what managers who build their prototypes with Access over the weekend think.

      The problem becomes more diffcult if you have to find the data in a 100Gig database, while 10,000 other people are trying to do the same thing.

      While another 2345 users are trying to update the same records. Oh, yeah and all the access if over a wide-area network, with the users expecting sub-second response.

      Think of credit card verification system. Each transaction is trivially simple - get credit available, subtract payment, store new balance.

      Alan Kay once had a nice analogy for this issue. Anybody can build a doghouse. You can get some wood from Home Depot and put a usable doghouse together.

      However, the ability to build a doghouse does not qualify you as a builder of sky scrapers. The doghouse methods do not scale up.

  • by HotNeedleOfInquiry ( 598897 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @04:00PM (#4961692)
    Did you know what you wanted to build things for a living when you were 8 years old? Did you constantly get in trouble for taking apart your toys? Did you have a burning desire to understand things and build them? If not, you are at a disadvantage. Like atheletes, engineers are born. If you picked the field for the big money and not getting your hands dirty, you will never be able to compete against those of us who were born to it.
    • by Badgerman ( 19207 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @04:03PM (#4961716)
      Did you know what you wanted to build things for a living when you were 8 years old? Did you constantly get in trouble for taking apart your toys? Did you have a burning desire to understand things and build them? If not, you are at a disadvantage. Like atheletes, engineers are born. If you picked the field for the big money and not getting your hands dirty, you will never be able to compete against those of us who were born to it.

      Amen. There's a certain spark for programming and engineering. It can be cultivated, perhaps even induced, but for many, you're either born with it or you aren't.

      Your quote takes me back to when I was 5 and playing with my legos. Should have thought ahead, and I wouldn't have had my career detours until I wound up in the embrace of programming.
  • by bennydtown ( 163428 ) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @06:37PM (#4962915)
    Something that's very dishearting is that industry groups are still claiming that there are tons of engineering and IT jobs going available, despite what the rest of us might think. Last May, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) released a study [] claiming that 578,000 IT jobs would go unclaimed in 2002. Yeah right.

    After getting quite a bit of well deserved criticism, including one guy [] who offered ITAA a $1000 bounty to find his unemployed programmer buddy a job, they released an update [] scaling back their optimistic outlook. They still spin the industry as an under-staffed career option among other rosy interpretations. The problem is, these reports are relied on by all sorts of people who have a very real effect on my career opportunities:
    • executives trying to decide whether or not to save money by outsourcing workload overseas
    • Legislators looking to justify the continued availability of H-1B visas
    • College students trying to decide on a career path

Due to lack of disk space, this fortune database has been discontinued.