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Future (& Past) Employment in the Computer Field

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This IAE Blog entry is reproduced with permission of the author granted via 5/3/2015 email to David Moursund. The article was originally published as a 1/30 2015 blog entry in Quora. The original title is:

What Is the Next Big Thing 15-Year-Old Super
Smart Kids Should be Working on that
Will be in High Demand in Say Ten Years?


Christian Ritchie

Student, Innovation Architect, Startup Enthusiast

I'm 40, and a father of two boys in the tween/teen ages. I struggle with this immensely. I am a programmer (among other things) by trade, and I have a great job that pays (very) well and steady employment options. I also have no college degree. When I started working (in 1992), we hadn't even had a dotcom anything yet, and people were still hacking together machines from scratch (breadboard and chipset, not just component assembling) for fun. It was the nascent precursor of the modern internet and the tail end of the home hacker/Altair/BBS era. I learned HTML and Javascript instead of COBOL, so my skills became increasingly relevant rather than obscure and rare.

My high school son knows my "story." He knows that I am successful, as is my wife, and both of us without any education. It's hard to explain to him that he won't have the same options and opportunities as I did. When I was getting jobs, nearly anyone who knew how to turn on a computer without assistance could get a tech support job. When the first dotcom era started, you could practically get a job with a startup if you knew how to IDENTIFY a computer on sight. Those days are done. All of his peers know computers. Perhaps not deep dive, but well enough, and they've all been using Office tools since elementary school for reports, etc. My son types 80wpm and he's never taken a typing class (thanks, World of Warcraft!). Long gone are the days when a little knowledge could go a long way, and many of the technologies that are today in their nascent states (biotech comes to mind) are not the same open access playgrounds that computers were.

On the bright side, programmers aren't going away. They are not a "dime a dozen", as you might believe, and not every company is looking for only rock star developers (and some companies actively avoid them). Large Enterprise companies are just now trying to catch up with the work that startups began, and there will be opportunities for your child to bring today’s cutting edge concepts into medium and large businesses by the time they get out of college. Enterprise is slow moving, and the work isn't the newest, most exciting stuff, but they often pay well and are very stable, and if that's not what your kid is looking for, then none of this matters anyway, because they will be trying to do their own thing.

In the end, our kids just have a tougher, more competitive world to work in. There is a lot more focus on technology, but the competition for those jobs is also fiercer. Part of our job is teaching them that you don't have to have the "American Dream" at 28. In fact, you don't have to have it EVER. You can live a content life from an apartment, driving a small car, and diverting the money you do make into the things that MOST bring you joy, be it hobbies, traveling, your partner, whatever. It won't matter at that point if you're the hot shot or the pool boy. Sometimes the pool boy has more fun.


Comment by David Moursund

I was captivated by Christian Ritchie’ blog entry because it captures the pace of change in the computer field. A smart person goes with the flow, learning new things and building on current knowledge, skill, and experience. Well-developed habits of mind, capabilities in thinking, problem solving, persistence, being a good employee, and being a lifelong learner all persist over time. A good, modern education prepares students to be self-sufficient lifelong learners and provides the knowledge and skills needed to gain an initial start in employment and other “adult” activities.

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