Please give me advice on what I can do to give myself a satisfying future.
July 21, 2006 5:10 PM   Subscribe

WORKFILTER: Input needed on what I should do with my future, immediately (next 5 weeks) and distantly (4 years)? (Long)

Currently I'm going to a college for Computer Science, in Florida, if that matters. I'm in my 4th year (I'm 22), and I stand to graduate in at least another 4 or 5 semesters. I have a very bad GPA. And I really hate what we're doing now. I have about $20,000 worth of student loan debt.

I also work at a large corporation in their IT department, making 10/h, about 24 hours a week. I like this job because of the people, and I have ALOT of free time throughout the day (we're talking I'm there from 8-5, I get about 1-2 hours of work a day). However, this job has no upward mobility.

The Problem:
I'm not very good at studying computer science related material. I don't study very hard in math. As a result, my grades are bad. Truthfully, I don't even care about my classes anymore, I just take them because the only other option is to... not take classes. I don't like where I am going. I don't want to take an easy out and get an IT degree and become some tech support guy, work on networks, etc. What I liked about CS was that I could create. You can take pure knowledge and turn it into something meaningful (personally & $$$), for essentially no cost (except electricity and a computer, I guess). Essentially, its the closest thing to magic, in my mind. Except it takes forever to do anything meaningful. And we're not learning the necessary skills to do anything meaningful in school, as I'm sure many CS people can relate to.

Here is where you come in:
What should I do?
As I stated, I love to create things. I love cooking, I garden, and I'd like to get into carpentry if I had more space and tools than my small college apartment allows for. BUT, in general, none of these make much money. I don't want to cook professionally, having read "Kitchen Confedential". I don't want to landscape, or make furniture for a living.

Here are two options I have pondered:
Working full time next semester at my current job, and finding a second job (pondering Panera Bread position as a night baker). Also, try to find some other money making opportunity I can do at work with my massive amounts of free time in front of a computer. Make money, pay off my debt, save and eventually use my money to invest in something, be it real estate or whatever.

I'm also pondering switching to business administration immediately and continuing going to school around my work schedule. I like making decisions on how to alocate resources, making risk/reward decisions, budgeting time vs money. I don't know what I would do with this, though, and I'd probably be in for another 2 years of school.

Where I would like to see myself in 10 years:
Happily self employed, with little to no debt except perhaps a loan on a house. I don't want to be slaving under some chef's command, learning new IT trends every year, or be living paycheck to paycheck.

Advice? Experience? Ideas for things I can do at work (not freelance programming) to make money on the side?
posted by mhuckaba to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where I would like to see myself in 10 years:
Happily self employed, with little to no debt except perhaps a loan on a house.

Good luck. Seriously, that's a pretty unrealistic goal for someone with $20K in debt who is making $10/hr and has at least 2 years of school left to complete. Figure on making survival wages for at least 1-2 years after school (probably more like 4-5) and figure on being able to pay back only about $2-5K of that debt per year even once you make more money.

You'd be much better off, imho, investing your time and resources in develpoing a career you will really like. You are going to have to work for the next 40 years and you already hate your job. Not a good situation. There has to be something you'd prefer to do- go for it but have realistic goals. The idea of being financially independant/ self-employed at 30 is not something you are likely to pull off.
posted by fshgrl at 5:26 PM on July 21, 2006

The majority of the competent, reasonably happy people I know who work in IT have degrees, but learned much or most of what they do on their own, because they like doing it. This applies to coders, SysAdmins, web dev, graphics people, whatever sub-field.

If you were depending on school to give you some kind of insta-career, with an apparently soft-focus notion of being able to create, you are going to have a tough time, unless you know the right people or have unnaturally good luck.

I would find out what you really like to do, and then find out how to leverage that into a career path.
posted by everichon at 5:43 PM on July 21, 2006

What I can tell you is that IT degree isn't necessary for any sort of programming or testing (which if you're creative, testing is a lot like putting the pieces of a puzzle together) BUT you will make at least 10-15K for the same job as someone with more skill but no degree.

Even though you don't like what you're doing right now, how do you know you'd like Business Administration any better? If you're looking for a creative outlet, that ain't it. I would stick it out, put your head down and muscle through the stuff you dont' like, you're going to have to do that from time to time in any job you take or any career you choose.

Even having a degree in computer science can get you a job in education, which might give you some creative latitude, but I'll be honest, my husband and all my inlaws are IT guys (in Florida) and they're the most laid back and fun guys around, and um they have some seriously sweet working conditions. Stick it out.
posted by hollygoheavy at 5:45 PM on July 21, 2006

Career advice: What do you like to do? Do that. It's harder than it sounds sometimes - know what you actually like. Oh and just because you like it, doesn't mean that learning will be fun. Sometimes you just have to suck it up.

Student advice: Your educational institute is not responsible for your learning, you are. If the course you take isn't indepth enough, go find out more by yourself. You'll need to do that sort of thing as a business person, or as a valuable employee anyway.

Easy out: IT guy. It's not a bad option while you think about what you want your next career to be. You can live in a bunch of different places, and work for a bunch of different firms.

2nd job option: if putting in the effort in class is a struggle, how will a second job be? (I only ask because I'm struggling with my own laziness).

Self employment: eeek! people who are self employed often work more hours than the paycheck people. It's their business and if it fails, they're fired. Often the first year or more, they live on a pittance. Most business fail in the first 5 years. It's not an easy option.

Good luck.
posted by b33j at 5:50 PM on July 21, 2006

Response by poster: Its not that I hate my current job. I like my current job. I hate school. I just don't want to do "maintanence" IT forever. I don't program at my current job, I do tech support and stupid shit that a monkey could do, which is why I have 7 hours of free time. I had a previous internship programming, and I enjoyed it. Unfortunately that was only rudamentary web programming stuff. I don't have the motivation or interest to get into the functions and syntax of even a handful of script languages.

And I agree that 10/h isn't going to pay off 20k quickly. Especially not 24 hours per week. But if I put in 40 during the day, find a second income, and find yet another thing to do instead of surfing at work all day, I will have plenty of spare money.
posted by mhuckaba at 5:55 PM on July 21, 2006

maybe a good balance would be to cut down on the IT courses and see if taking less at one time would be more manageable and thus reinvigorate your interest in the field, and at the same time take introductory courses in a few other topics of interest...and also keep an open mind to combining the parts of IT you do like with a different field of interest (with the idea of using IT skills not for their own sake but to enhance your interest in another line of work, like business administration, if you go that route; basically, you're reframing it from 'learn IT skills and then figure out later how you'll use them' to 'find something you love and then use your IT creativity to excel in that field')...

...a lot of people in college use the time to do career taste tests and don't necessarily have it figured out when they start off...
posted by troybob at 6:01 PM on July 21, 2006

Well, it sounds to me like you do want to have the computer science career. You just don't want to pay your dues to get there. Guess what, mhuckaba! Everyone who gets a degree has to take tons of bullshit/rudimentary classes that they don't want to take. I'm a writer. I love reading and writing and had a double English major as an undergraduate. I still had to take literally tons of English classes I didn't want to take. Just because I love writing and reading doesn't mean I want to read and write the stuff they're telling me to!

By your own admission, you're still 2.5 years out from getting the degree because you're unmotivated and don't want to study. Honestly, if you want to be competitive in your field, make a decent living wage, and finally get your hands on all that creative programming, I say suck it up and do the work! I suffered from the same kind of lack of motivation you did until I finally found a goal for myself. I decided it was worth doing the work I didn't necessarily want to do to in order to do something I did want to do. You'll have to make that decision as well.

This is not to say that it's utterly impossible to work in your field without a degree. My husband is in software and has a decent paying job. He doesn't have a degree, though he does have lots of experience. It's not impossible. It's just harder and it takes longer. In this country, it seems a BS is the minimum education these days. It's like the new HS diploma. I may be wrong, but I think you'd regret not finishing your degree while you had the chance -- debt and all.
posted by theantikitty at 6:22 PM on July 21, 2006

Self employment: eeek! people who are self employed often work more hours than the paycheck people. It's their business and if it fails, they're fired. Often the first year or more, they live on a pittance. Most business fail in the first 5 years. It's not an easy option.

Seconding this, strongly. The realities of self-employment can be very harsh --- my folks just retired after 15 years of owning their own (successful) business, and they worked pretty much 10 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. In all that time, I can count on one hand the number of times they both took a few days off together -- a long weekend for my sister's wedding, a long weekend for my wedding, and a handful of Christmases. That was it. They had to meet their overhead costs every single month, year in and year out -- so a good month in sales could essentially be nullified, income-wise, if it was followed by a couple of bad months. I don't mean to discourage you, and this isn't exactly what your question is about, but it's important to understand the the pressures of self-employment can be extraordinary. (Heck, I tried to make a go of it just as a freelance writer/editor when I first moved to L.A., and it was so rough I went back to having a day job within 6 months.) If you are serious about owning your own business, it might be worth it to take a few classes (even at a community college) on the topic so you can understand better what you might be in for, and begin to tailor your planning/goal-setting accordingly.
posted by scody at 6:31 PM on July 21, 2006

How about taking a leave of absence and such from college, work full time to get your debt down and rethink where you're going. I assume that you are a young person without a lot of commitments and there's nothing wrong with taking a break.

There is no point in racking up even more debt getting a degree that you're not sure that you want with bad grades to boot!

Give yourself some breathing room to ponder where you are going. After many years of working, though, I have to warn you, though, that your expectations for employment may be a bit unrealistic. Every job has its shortcomings, regardless of whether you work for yourself or someone else.
posted by bim at 6:34 PM on July 21, 2006

There are a lot of people in similar positions to you. I was in somewhat the same boat, although what frusterated me about CS was the amount of hours all my friends that graduated were having to work. The software industry can be very tough. It is very competitive and the way you talk about not caring about your grades and have a low gpa you will find it very hard to make use of your CS degree unless you change. So many of those people I met in your same position ended up working in a job similar to yours or some ended up in retail.

Your job is NOT a bad job though. If you are like me and value free time more than money then your job is quite nice.

Here is what I suggest, but it all hinders on the fact that you actually do like programming. If you don't like programming do yourself a favor and get out. A lot of people that even love programming get burned out in the industry.

Do what some of the others did is take a semester off while working at your current job. While there try to figure out the creative parts of the computer that you like. Also find your programming niche and work on some open source projects. Then after you do some open source work continue back with classes. Doing the open-source work will make the class-work quite a bit easier. Companies do really value people who have proven open-source work and they also understand those that start off bad in college, but finish up well. If you finish your last couple semesters with a high gpa, preferably 3.5+ combined with your open-source work, some companies will take notice.
posted by Hypharse at 7:19 PM on July 21, 2006

Kids nowadays (said half jokingly...only half).

If you are going to be in school, suck it up and put in the 100% effort. Study. Or, drop out. Do not waste your hard earned loan money and build a bigger debt if you are not getting anything out of it or are not at least liking it.

What you should do if you like risk/reward decision making and creativity and have free time during the day is trade. You should look into becoming a trader of stocks or futures. You would be self employed, pushing your creative buttons, making as much as you deserve based on how good you are and you would need no degree.

Bright Trading or Schonfeld Securities - Opus
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:41 PM on July 21, 2006

Indeed, your 10-year vision and your current assessment of your motivation level are rather at odds. You have to make a decision: you can sacrifice your time and energy now, pay your dues, and achieve (or at least approach) your 10-year vision, or you can pick the easy slacker route in the present and sacrifice your vision for the future. But you can't have both.
posted by markcholden at 12:06 AM on July 22, 2006

(Note: working hard and paying your dues now includes paths other than CompSci. I don't mean to imply that it's do-or-die with the CS path, although it seems to have come out that way in the above post. Sorry, my mistake. The point is this: you have to make some sacrifices now to achieve an even better future.)
posted by markcholden at 12:09 AM on July 22, 2006

Just a quick note: do not do anything on your work computer that you will eventually want the copyright's pretty much a given that anything you produce using your company's equipment belongs to the company should they want it, unless you've gotten an explicit waiver. They may never know and never care, but it'd be a hell of a shame to get bitten that way down the line.

There is a bit of a workaround, in which you edit remote files via ssh or whathaveyou; in this case you're still not home free, but at least the legal ground is a bit more uncertain and if push came to shove you'd be able to have an argument, which you wouldn't even get if you'd done the whole thing entirely on work computers.

Trading as per mr Gunn's suggestion is an interesting one; 95% of people who get into trading quit in a year or two because they're at best breaking even, but it can be lucrative...and it's the kind of thing for which it's easy to dream up very complicated programs to try and get an edge, which can in turn be motivations for you inside or outside of class -- good luck building that hybrid expert system, web spider, and opportunity-finder if you're only a few steps beyond the hello world stage.

I do think your current job is a deadender that you should seriously look at dropping: unless you really need an extra $200/wk free cash it's just taking up too much time for you to really hunker down and ace your classes. Basically, at this point you want to do one of two things: either find a real it job and just go the college dropout route, or go back to school without the job and do substantially better -- 4-5 semesters is plenty of time to pull your gpa up, and lots of employers will be very understanding if it took a couple years to get serious about college.

Speaking from experience the opportunity cost of spending 20hrs/wk working in college is huge if it's getting in the way of getting good grades, and it's especially huge if it's in a job that's not really going anywhere.
posted by little miss manners at 2:56 AM on July 22, 2006

On the other hand, if you do want to get serious about your grades and keep the job, you could take those 5-6 hours a day that they pay you to do nothing, and get some serious study done. To me that seems like the best of both worlds.
posted by jacalata at 5:43 AM on July 22, 2006

Besides switching your major to something that will never make you any money but is more fulfilling and creative, like art?

Quit. College. If you're so unfocused that you're not going to exert the effort to get passing grades, stop getting deeper in debt. Sell everything you own and try to cut down on your debt as much as possible. Buy a backpack and a plane ticket. Give work your two weeks notice. Stay in hostels for a year. Visit third world countries. Live on less than 5$ a day. Get people to pay you to practice their english. Live without the internet for months. Teach yourself to draw. Give someone the shirt off of your back. Read the books you've wanted to read. If you refuse to travel, or can't, then go do *something* for a year that isn't sitting in front of a computer for 10 hours a day, dicking around on the internet.

When you figure out how very important it is to give a shit about the work you do, come back. The classes you don't care about will still be there, and your dead end job will be there, too, if you think you should start them up again.
posted by enfa at 3:40 PM on July 22, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the personal touch there, enfa. And as for this:

When you figure out how very important it is to give a shit about the work you do, come back.

The school work work I do isn't important to me. I want to find something I enjoy and care about, give a shit about and do that. I don't want to waste time at my current job surfing the internet, but I'm not going to quit when it is paying well for a job that affords me plenty of free time, and the possibility that I could do something of monetary value during that free time. I want to do something meaningful in my classes, where I learn something I will enjoy doing for the rest of my life. If CS doesn't afford me that feeling, I'll do something else.

I will keep everyone updated with what I've decided to do in 5 weeks.
posted by mhuckaba at 4:43 PM on July 22, 2006

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