Choosing the best path
April 10, 2008 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Please help me decide between staying at my current comfortable job, changing jobs and continuing my education, or going an alternative route to live a simple life.

I work at a medium-sized manufacturer in Canada as the sole IT person. I am competent at what I do, appreciated by coworkers and am paid pretty well. I commute 45 minutes from a small town to the city everyday. I have become comfortable with the income that I make and my family is supported solely by it.

However, I increasingly find my work uninteresting and it is becoming more demanding. I do not wish to continue learning skills for and performing work that does not interest me and that I do not love. I have realized I went to school for the wrong thing (I went to college (i.e. not University) for business application programming). I find myself interested in Computer Science and have found a distance-ed University that explicitly gives credit for the program I took at college. Also, I applied for a Business Systems Analyst job recently and they are interesting in hiring me.

Before I take the plunge into more school debt, or accept a job I'm not sure of, I need to know for sure that this is the path I want to take. A lot of the dissatisfaction with my current job is from all the business bullshit that I experience. I find the consumerist, throw-away, quick-fix society that I live in repulsive and am ashamed that I participate in it.

I am not, however, willing to walk away Henry David Thoreau-style. I have a wife and child that depend on the income I bring in (she is on maternity leave and most of her income goes to her school debt). My wife is very supportive of me in my quest to find fulfilling work, but I won't drag her and our little girl up north or something along those lines.

I'm afraid that if I go through for a degree in CompSci, that I'll just end up in the same situation - working to help some business make more profit. All I want to do is make a decent living in my small town working on something I admire and that helps people.

I am an introverted (Myers-Brigg INTP), thinking, humourous jack-of-all trades. I play guitar, am learning the violin, can come up with hundreds of one-liners in day, hate when things get too serious, and love coming up with novel ideas. What do you suggest someone like me do? Has anyone experienced a situation like this that can offer some advice? I'm throwing my problem out there to you, beautiful reader, as part of my quest. Thank you.
posted by AvailableName to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I need to know for sure that this is the path I want to take.

Such is not possible. The only thing you can know for sure is that as a human being you have the innate ability to continue to change paths and to grow, which is all we can ask for.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:16 PM on April 10, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, I can appreciate that. But as I read in a Paul Graham essay, I want to ensure my choices keep me "upwind"
posted by AvailableName at 1:22 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A lot of the dissatisfaction with my current job is from all the business bullshit that I experience.

I don't know that CS will help you escape this, because there's only a few known ways to opt out in general. You can raise enough money/assets and decrease enough expenses to the point where you can retire, or you can try subsistence agriculture. Alternatively, you can go to work for yourself or start your own business, but I'm not sure this really helps you escape the bovine excrement, just control it more.

This said: The difference in BS volume at different employers I've had is very notable. If you're observing a pretty high volume, absolutely look for a new job. If the Business System Analyst job is in a different company, then that might be a point in favor. I think it'd also push you somewhat in the CS direction.

I find myself interested in Computer Science and have found a distance-ed University that explicitly gives credit for the program I took at college.

"I find myself interested in Computer Science" is a great reason to go get more education in it. Career reasons aren't as good a motivation. CS is not a great vocational degree -- you can get a lot out of a good program that will help you in the workplace, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient to produce good vocational outcomes. And CS is also kindof rare in that while a university community can be very helpful in learning it, even solo practice and experimentation is so interactive that being part of a classroom isn't as critical.

However, I increasingly find my work uninteresting and it is becoming more demanding. I do not wish to continue learning skills for and performing work that does not interest me and that I do not love.

One other idea: if demand on your role at work is increasing and your employer values you, perhaps they'd be open to hiring an assistant for you that would free up some of your time to focus on education -- or, possibly, moving up to a new level of problem-solving in your current role. Particularly if you can think of new things you'd enjoy implementing that would benefit the company as a whole if you just had more time, this route is worth a shot.
posted by weston at 1:43 PM on April 10, 2008

I'll try to give a bit of advice as I can nearly relate.
When I posted a somewhat related question, I got answers that helped me to get something of a direction. I am in no way making tons of money nor do I have it all worked out but I will share this link with you in hopes that you'll get something from it.

sorry if my link doesn't work. still learning!
posted by grablife365 at 2:00 PM on April 10, 2008

I want to ensure my choices keep me "upwind"

Well, then, get a Math degree. ;)

In all seriousness, I think Graham's essay is full of good things to think about. But I will pick a few nits, even if it's slightly off topic, if you're using his thinking to guide yours.

For one thing -- to the extent that "staying upwind" means starting with a more generally applicable kind of education, be wary. I'm a person who picked math for an undergrad. It's true, I can probably go to grad school in econ more easily than someone who picked econ for an undergrad can go to grad school in math. However, people understand what differentiates an economics major more readily, in no small part because of its more specific focus. The math major does provide great general skills, but they're so general (as well as being abstract and beyond the experience of a good chunk of the world that's doing hiring) that it doesn't help people differentiate you (and where it does, a lot of people get it wrong).

And in general, I'd say this is true: until you reach down the later of abstraction and practicability to some activity where you can provide specific value they understand, other people don't know what to do with you. This is less of a handicap if you're going to propel and distinguish yourself largely on your own creativity and efforts, but most of us really do need to cooperate to advance.

I'd also quibble with his idea of picking hard problems. There are hard problems that can end up being tar pits for effort and spirit, and you have to watch this. You also can't fill your life with nothing but hard problems or you wear out. Intelligently picking out a few difficult problems that your strengths can outmatch (and better yet, where your weaknesses may actually even be an advantage) is better advice. Be sure to consider rewards you're interested in (this Greenspun essay has some relevance).

All this said, Graham's basic idea of thinking "How can I make choices that open the opportunities I care about?" is worth examining, and thinking about your question in these terms actually makes it make more sense. Even though I've panned it a bit, the CS degree will be worth something if the opportunity you want to stay upwind of for sometime down the road is something like graduate school or if you're shooting to work for a company that values that particular kind of education. And if you're looking for one way to make the acquaintance of smart people who like talking about CS problems, well, a degree is certainly one way of finding that. I mostly panned it because of it's limited general vocational value, but if you have specific goals that involve it, spend the money on it -- or see if you can get an employer to spend the money on it for you.
posted by weston at 2:22 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I also got tired of job politics and consumer culture, and I'm also an introvert. For awhile after I dropped out of full-time work, I worked part-time at miscellaneous jobs and did the back-to-the-land thing (huge garden, heat with wood, make it do or do without, etc.). However, my lack of savings and health care was a problem for me.

My compromise has been to start a business of my own in which I work from home and can charge a lot. The business provides services to corporations, but only to corporations that want to act halfway human, so I like to think I'm helping in a tiny way to change corporate culture. I'm also doing well enough, thanks to my frugality, that I can turn down work that I don't want to do.

I buy little, I have a simple house, and I still heat with wood but my garden has shrunk to give me time to work. So the short version of my answer is, "Find something you enjoy doing that you can do at home and for which you can charge a lot." I don't know if a CS degree will get you there. I'm a little skeptical of higher education, especially if the goal is self-employment.

A side benefit to starting your own business is that if it does well, you might be able to hire others in your town.

Another approach could be to try a partial disengagement. For example, maybe your current employer would let you telecommute a couple of days a week. That would reduce your commute time and your exposure to politics and others' consumption. Or maybe the new possible job would allow some telecommuting.
posted by PatoPata at 2:34 PM on April 10, 2008

All I can say is change is good, and almost always results in something better than what you had, even if you don't expect it. Stagnation is death. Be adventurous.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:08 PM on April 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

My husband and I were adament right out of school that we would not work for companies that were only about making money. Is that what you mean about the busness bullshit? If so, work for a non-profit/socially aware organisation that is contributing positively to society (personally, I work in a public library, a friend that is a CMA works for a Toronto organisation that intergrates people with mental health issues into society and loves it). Look at the social service/government organisations in your town - they are usually starved for quality IT people because they can not offer the financial compensation the big business can (non-financial compensation is greater however - shorter/normal working hours, paid education upgrading, six weeks of vacations per year in my public library). We also live in a small town and the fact that my husband can walk to work in five minutes and we are part of our community (because we live and work here) is such a wonderful feeling for our family (and finacially works out so much cheaper than a 45 minute commute to downtown Toronto). Definately make a change!
posted by saucysault at 8:24 AM on April 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your helpful answers. After much deliberation, I've decided to stay in my current position and continue my education in computer science. I took a long look at what I want to do, and while I don't like that I have to commute, staying at my current job is the best path. They are paying for a good portion of my education, and I can improve my feelings about the job by putting more into it. I have some more questions for the hive mind, but those will be in a new post! Thanks again!
posted by AvailableName at 9:27 AM on April 16, 2008

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