I revisited a post at my other blog from a little more than a year ago. I also re-visited the Google Blogs search it’s based on, and I’m happy to report that Google Blog Search isn’t quite dead yet. I’m also pleased to find that the search (which I hadn’t visited for a few months) returned a couple of actually-relevant results I hadn’t already seen. These are:
- Case series – why and how to learn programming by Ryan Carey
- 10 Secrets You Should Have Learned with Your Software Engineering Degree – But Probably Didn’t by Andy Lester
- Philosophy vs. programming by Dr. Chris “Uncredible Hallq” Hallquist
The post by Ryan Carey is frankly a testimonial for yet another of those “coding boot camps” that have been popping up like toadstools in the last year or so,and should probably be taken with the number of grains of salt appropriate to folks out to sell you something. The post by Andy Lester is about pedagogy, not job hunting per se, but it seems useful as a guide to assembling a marketable portfolio of skills. The post by Chris Hallquist is actually interesting. The question is, is it interesting in a way that is relevant to my situation? Is it “news I can use?” From Dr. Hallquist’s post:
One thing to emphasize is the contrast in the job prospects of the average programmer vs. the average philosophy PhD graduate. I started my first programming job less than a month ago, and I was by no means any employer’s ideal job candidate, with no experience and an irrelevant degree. Nevertheless, I managed to land a quite high-paying job in San Francisco. It took four months of searching, which felt like a long time, but that’s nothing compared to the job search troubles many philosophy PhD graduates have. There’s nothing particularly special about me that got me here—it was mostly a matter of my having any programming talent at all (which, admittedly not everyone does).
I find this quite shocking. I went through a period from about 1990-2000 of trying to break into programming with about a .100 batting average for resume-to-interview and literally .000 for interview-to-offer, over easily hundreds of interviews. More recently, I have decided again to attempt to penetrate Fortress Employment, IT Division. I haven’t yet kicked my current job search into high gear, so I have no statistical sense of how much interest there is in me. So far I’ve mostly been building a portfolio and trying to learn what I can about the overall climate of the job market. I’m trying to figure out what factors might account for the differences between my experience with the J.O.B. market and Hallquist’s:
- Could the main difference (or even clincher) be the fact that Hallquist went to San Francisco? Almost all my job hunting has been local. Add to this that my home state (Michigan) has ranked in the bottom one or two states for employment statistics for decades, independently of the economic cycle.
- Is a PhD in philosophy a far more powerful credential than a BS degree in math?
- Could it be something like Chris being much younger than me? (which of course may or may not be the case)
- Is Chris significantly less introverted than I am, which is to say, less likely to “freeze” in J.O.B. interviews?
- Did Chris put all his eggs in the networking basket and none in the “help wanted” basket (closely related to above)
My best guess is that the first item on this list is the absolute clincher, but it could be a combination of factors not even on this list. As they say, your mileage may vary. The last item is also plausible as an absolute clincher, much to my dismay. For what it’s worth, surveying the job boards and the equivalent today has exactly the same look and feel as it did ten years ago or twenty years ago. One gets the distinct impression that entry level programming jobs either (a) don’t exist, period, or (b) are filled exclusively through non-published venues.
What’s even more interesting about Chris’ post is the rationale behind choosing a career in programming. In my case it’s simply something I enjoy doing, although the embarrassing fact of not yet having done it professionally leaves me wondering whether there’s something inside the black box of programming careers that I’d prefer not to know about. Chris is a philosopher; specifically an effective altruist. Basically, Chris has decided that making and donating money is a more effective route to changing the world for the better than doing whatever it is that professional philosophers do. This approach to change agency is referred to as “earning to give.” Curiously, the appeal of earning to give is also one of the selling points in the salesy blog for the coding boot camp. I’m still not 100% sure I want to go into coding, but I know I’d better do something for money, and soon. I’m 100% sure I enjoy the subject, have a deep interest in the concepts involved, and a firmly held belief that programming has the potential to provide real solutions for real problems. But I have reservations, and my poor philosophical background notwithstanding, they at least seem to my untrained mind to be philosophical in nature. It seems apparent even from my outsider perspective on the world of commercial software design and web design that virtually all monetization strategies are based on assumptions that seem to be downright cynical. Maybe that means I’ve lived an overly sheltered life and just need to get over myself. But too many software or web monetization strategies look to me like the moral equivalent of stealing candy from a baby.
The “earn to give” principle, whether called that or not, is a subject I’ve been struggling with for a few years now. Few things in the media mock me as effectively as the Wall Street firms’ ads for retirement products (I watch a lot of golf on TV). The ones that feel the most like an indictment, not only of my life strategy, but even my life philosophy, are the ones that depict someone retired from being some kind of yuppie or professional/managerial elite, and who now has the luxury of pursuing an “altruistic” vocation or avocation such as teaching or the arts, and I think one commercial even referred to “ski bum” (altruistic because ski instructor to differently abled folks or something). Maybe the true nature of life is accurately depicted by the old right wing-ish saw about having to fill your own cup before being able to add to others’, but I can’t seem to shake that sneaky suspicion that “earn to give” is more about “buying one’s soul back.”
I’ve only taken two undergraduate courses in philosophy, but to the extent that I’ve glommed onto a philosophical faction (or “school”?) it would be negative utilitarianism. Maybe I should look into this effective altruism. Maybe it would be less self-paralyzing for me and then I would be able to achieve some comfort in life, if nothing else.