Mike Ault's thoughts on various topics, Oracle related and not. Note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are not contributing to the overall theme of the BLOG or are insulting or demeaning to anyone. The posts on this blog are provided “as is” with no warranties and confer no rights. The opinions expressed on this site are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jobs and Degrees

Mike Ault, Copyright 2006

I read an article in the Atlanta paper recently by a young, recent (within the last 5-6 year) graduate who had been let go from their job as a magazine editor and hadn’t been able to find a position in six weeks of effort. This young person is now taking unemployment as they look for a position. It reminded me of another article in a women’s magazine a year or two ago about a young person who decided to take six months off after getting their soft degree in college and sail the Great Lakes rather then pursue a job, they complained that all the good ones where taken when they got back and how unfair it was.

I guess I am lucky in that the longest I have ever been out of work in 34 years was 2 days, over a weekend. Of course I also believe you make your own luck by hard work and planning. I have had over a dozen different jobs and each paid more than its predecessor. Up until 1991 I didn’t have a degree. Of course I had the benefit of military training from the US Navy in the Nuclear Field which some viewed as equivalent to a BS in Nuclear Technology. However, when I left the shelter of the Nuclear Industry in 1990 I realized I would need a degree to validate my skill set and got a BS in Computer Science.

So many young people today are getting essentially low-worth degrees, I call them feel-good degrees. Degrees in the Arts, English, Communication, Biology, many of the sciences and many other “soft” subjects have limited market appeal and unless you can find a job in publishing, teaching or a museum, especially at the Bachelor level they aren’t going to do you a lot of good unless you have some real experience to back them up. I’m afraid the days where there were jobs as tutors for the idle rich are mostly gone.

In order to make it in today’s world you need a marketable skill or degree, something with some meat on it. Degrees in Engineering, Computers, Management or advanced degrees in the Sciences (Doctorate level) are most marketable. However, you also have to be careful about overloading your degree.

An example of an overloaded degree is a PHD chemist applying for a lab position at a power plant chemistry lab. Most of the chemistry done in industry is cook-book chemistry where you follow a recipe and get a result. This is where many of the BS in Biology folks end up. When I worked in Nuclear Power Plant labs we passed over Doctorate level folks for interviews because we felt they would get bored and leave as soon as something better came along.

You also need to show a bit of good old fashioned gumption. You probably need to consider leaving the comfortable nest of places and people you know and go where the work is. I have moved over 20 times if you count cross-town type moves. I hear of well qualified people who “can’t” get a job, later to find out they couldn’t get one because they wouldn’t move to find it. In today’s mobile society I am afraid living, growing up and working all within 5 miles of your childhood home is a rarer and rarer thing.

You need to get a degree in something marketable and minor in something you enjoy. I pursue my interest in writing by writing part time and make a pretty good second income from it, without a degree in English. I make a majority of my income in computers, right where my degree sits. Of course, I enjoy working with computers and databases and problem solving, I also enjoy writing.

In the Navy (back in 1973-79) I made about $500/mo take home to start, after six years I was maybe up to $1000/mo. I guess that was my “trench” time. You have to put in your trench time, earn your dues, whatever you want to call it. You can’t expect to make 60K out of the gate, if you start at the top, there is only one way to go.

Many times it is not a case of not being able to find a job, it is not being able to find a job a person likes. Bills don’t care whether you like your job. Feeding your family (or just yourself) doesn’t mean you are in rapture at work. That’s why they call it work, if it was fun, they would call it play and charge you for it.

There was a show on TV called “Night Court”, in it a young lawyer got appointed to be the Judge for Night Court simply because he was the only one who was home to answer the call. Similar to that I got my first position as an Oracle DBA (at least I believe it to be so) simply because I was willing to show up, in Iuka, Mississippi, for the interview and was willing to relocate there (well, actually to Florence, Alabama and a 45 mile commute.) What I am trying to say is, sometimes just by showing up, dressed properly and ready for the interview, will carry you a long way towards a job. It isn’t selling-out, it’s showing your intelligence to take the time to figure out what the job requires and meeting those requirements.

Am I saying don’t get a degree in English or Biology or something you love? No, but be aware you may not be able to work in that field unless you have an advanced level degree, want to teach, or already have something lined up. College is to prepare you to take your place in society, not to make you better at your hobbies.


Robert Vollman said...

Well said. You should go speak at a University.

I like what you said about trench time. I'm amazed how many people graduate - in ANY field - and expect to get a comfortable job from the start.

Almost everyone has to put in trench time. Crap jobs with long long long hours, grueling assignments and challenging conditions.

And if you're one of the lucky ones who didn't have to go through it - respect those around you who did. Right Mike?

Mike said...

Yep. Try crawling naked except for a paper, lintfree coverall into a drained lube oil sump for a ships reduction gear or cleaning bilges on a submarine for a while. Teaches you to appreciate any job where you aren't cold, greasey and wet and have someone yelling at you.

The Navy also taught me how to learn and have discipline, things sorely lacking in many young people I see today.

Some are great, hard working, thoughtful, want to get ahead the right way, others should be shipped to Iran...

There is some credence to the idea of manditory public service (military, Peace corp, something) for a year or two right out of high school, then let them go to college.

Of course I also believe that you should have to have done military or public service to be able to vote, Heinlien wasn't so far off in Starship Troopers (the book).

Robert Vollman said...


There we disagree!

1. Although it may seem nice if everyone were hard-working and disciplined, the truth is that everyone has been blessed with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. I'm sure there are people that look at us and might wish, for example, that everyone was graceful or poetic.

2. Soldier, both past and present, gave their lives in wars so that we would have freedom. Part of that is the freedom not to fight. To take away that freedom is to undermine the accomplishments of those who fought.

3. Democracy is based on the principle that all people are equal, and thus are each entitled to a vote. Being in a particularly favourable or respected group should not earn you extra privilege unless you feel the premise of universal equality is wrong. Do you?

Mike said...

Unfortunately many folks who vote are ill-equiped to do so. You have a high percentage on both sides who always vote party lines no matter what the issue (they usually cancel each other out) then only about 10-20 percent of those who vote actually know anything and belive it or not, they get trumped by the crazies so the actual vote is decided not on issues but on who is most popular for that particular day or week.

Yes, if all people took voting as seriously as they choose their next shampoo then an equal vote for all people would work (in the beginning it was such a novel idea, it worked) unfortunately people don't really utilize this most important part of their citizenship. The next important is probably jury duty, but we all know that we don't take that seriously either.

Does a non-english speaking recent imigrant know the issues at stake for the USA for the long term or are they going to vote for whatever makes their life easier right now?

Putting ones life on the line for the country in which they live gives one a perspective different than those whose sole risk in life has been the choice of what to watch during prime time TV.

Sacrificing a major portion of your life for your country for a period of time tends to focus you on what is important.

I spent 6 years (others of course have spent more and sacrificed more) giving my best to the USA, and have paid all taxes due for 33 years, should my opinion count more than some willingly jobless person living off the public dole? Hell yes.

Should people unwilling to defend freedoms with their lives be given those freedoms, good question, notice I said, serve in the military or some other public service. If they are unwilling to serve at all, then no, they should not be allowed to decide how the rest of us live.

Pete_S said...

I have little of experience of education on your side of the Atlantic - a few American academic friends, but they would be hardly typical. But from the UK prospective I am appalled at the surge in degrees that do not relate directly to a vocation. In part there is this belief by students that a first degree is just a ticket to getting any managerial job, and a soft topic that only requires a student to read the texts, submit papers and perhaps show up for two hours a week of lectures is preferential to having to put the hours in class, lab and study. So we end up with generalists who are only capable of generalist jobs and a consequent devaluing of the worth of first degrees.

My first degree was in Chemistry, then an important industry in the UK, since that time the number of UK universities offering Chemistry as a first degree course has plummeted - if students don't want to study the subject then supply and demand kicks in causing colleges lose funding and close faculties.

The only bit I really take issue on is whether Biology is a soft degree - perhaps it is because my daughter is thinking of that subject in 3 years time when she goes to college ;-) but I am sure biologist get worked harder than those studying media with psychology

Mike said...

A good exercise is to take the best local paper (or online joib site) and take a look at what jobs are there, what they pay and what degree they desire. I know some will just say "degree required" but you can usually extrapolate what degree from the job itself.

Biology degrees at the BS level are pretty common, she should go for an advanced degree in a specialty like microbiology or biochemistry.


Noons said...

Heinlein covered the subject of "soft" degrees perfectly in "Have spacesuit, will travel". So many years ago, it was already a recognized problem.

Recommended book, but you folks probably already know about it.

Indeed, biology can be a "soft" degree. It was my first choice as well at the end of high school. At the same time I read the book above.

The result was giving up on biology and taking electrical engineering instead. Which later became a specialiasation in electronics. And a career in IT, mostly software.

Can't help wonder where I'd be now, had I stayed on course. Probably the same place, or a bit further North near the Barrier Reef: I wanted to take Marine Biology anyway! :-)

Richard said...

Biology a soft degree? Er, I don't think so! It may be the most oversubscribed science (because it's "cute"), but I found it just as difficult as Chemistry or Physics at school (A-level). The real problem is (in the UK at least) that all academic qualifications are easier to get. There is a bit of a "war" over this in the UK, with adherents and detractors at each other's throat. I suppose it's a bit hard to admit that Johnny's 5 A-levels at grade "A" would have been 5 A-levels at grade "C" or "D" 20 years ago! I do think that an international grading system would help, and that vocational traing should be better understood and graded.

Ben Prusinski said...

I agree. As a good student in high school I took AP courses in math, science and foreign languages. In college I took chemistry, biology, advanced math and ended up with a degree in physical anthropology because I enjoyed the blend of hard and soft sciences. Of course now, I would probably have went into the Air Force and studied a double major in business accounting and computer science with a minor in Chinese or Russian!

Mike said...

I agree. I think we need to add more stress on languages in the earlier grades and keyboard skills. I never took typing, I wish I had (who knew in the 70's that everyone would soon have a computer or computers in their home?)