The New Yeoman

Thoughts on Making a Living

Category: Higher Education (page 1 of 2)

Coding is the New Average Job, Not Blue-Collar

Article: Coding jobs are the new blue-collar jobs

​Wired writes that ” The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding”. Aside from the odd use of “blue-collar” to simply mean “average,”I generally agree with the idea that coding will become a strong field for middle class employees. It really is just another form of doing the things we already do with a new kind of language.

Blue-Collar or “Average”?

However, why substitute “blue-collar” for “average?” As Mike Rowe as repetitively shown us, blue-collar does not mean average. A master carpenter is blue-collar, but far from average and a really good one with ambition can be far above middle-class too. So, in my humble opinion, coding will become the new average job, but we need not redefine blue-collar to make the point.

Does everyone need a computer science degree?

I think this article makes a valid point about the educational requirement to get the necessary skills,

Anil Dash, a technology thinker and entrepreneur, notes, teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-­science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school.

On another note, for all you parents out there, simply getting your kid to dabble in programming for fun is not enough. When something becomes the new normal, it means that it is a minimum requirement, not a guarantee. Coding is becoming more like writing – a basic requirement.

On still another note; Although, I agree with much of this article, I worry that we are in the process of moving this wonderful tool (coding) of self-employment, independence, and self-enrichment into the next bureaucratic and organizational “job.” I would much rather see us loan kids $50K to get $5K worth of programming training and use the $45K to start a business with a mentor rather than using it on worthless university degrees spread over 4-6 unproductive years.

The IMF, Foxes, and Hedgehogs

This article about the recent failures of the IMF in relation to the Greece/Euro problem is instructive about a lot of modern bureaucracies and civil service “expertise” capture, I think.

Groupthink and mechanistic analyses based on principles that are not widely understood and ground out with singular variables are common in modern bureaucracies of all types. Those variables that are politically influenced are especially problematic. How many states and cities in the USA are facing insolvency based on a single pension fund return assumption?

There is such confidence in the layer upon layer analysis that every bureaucrat is trusting 10 expert analyses to be right when only one being wrong is enough to scuttle the entire project. Has anyone else ever seen an entire business case fail/succeed with the slight change of the discount rate?

I think this problem is roiling across many areas of our society from government to business to public policy to education.

Increasingly, I feel less like the Fox and more like the Hedgehog.

Image credit –
By attributed to Johann Friedrich Grooth (1717-1806) (Dorotheum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is no secret that I like Mike Rowe. Here is an interview with him at the National Review from 15 June. This article just repeats his main theme of education comes in many forms and a university education is not right for everyone, but one of the links led me to a commencement video he made which talks more about passion and how to use it. “Do not follow your passion, but bring it along with you.” Good advice. The video below is worth 5 minutes and 18 seconds of your time, especially if you are 17 years old.

Beautiful Questions in a Target Rich Environment

“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” ― ee cummings

In A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger makes the case that in a world full of easily accessed knowledge, the real skill is to pose better questions. I like the title wording of Warren Berger via ee cummings. Our new world is not bereft of questions. I get tons of them. Most of them could be solved by the person asking them with a DuckDuckGo search.

In fact, our new world is full of answers and full of questions. However, the answers often have no context and people don’t often frame the questions well. Part of this ties in with what I wrote last week in Deep Work and Self Education. The ability to think of a really good question is often what separates true understanding from mere collections of fact. What keeps us from formulating a good question is often not thinking about it deeply, because we are busy and awash in information. Its a vicious circle, but one we must break.

Elegant questions are what make our work meaningful and give us real priorities, rather than artificial deadlines to do something. Taking the time to answer the basics, understand them, help others understand them, and put them in context before posing an intelligent question is what separates the professional from the amateur. Insightful questions are also what gets the attention of the experts you may be seeking to involve in your project or cause. The best way to be ignored in professional circles, and social circles too, is to ask simple questions that show no understanding or empathy for others’ time or concerns. What intrigues people is when you ask something that shows you spent some time trying to understand the subject and you are looking to them for a deeper understanding.

Berger’s theme is that more beautiful questions are what is needed to increase innovation. To tie in Steven Johnson’s assertion that good ideas are derived from the chaos at the edge of current knowledge, the glut of information and lack of good questions present a target rich environment. For those who can grasp the context and continue to push out the knowledge with perceptive questions, the adjacent possible comes into view.

I also think that stimulating questions make for better plans. What I really like about the Minto method and the Army Operations Order is that you start with a fully acknowledged Situation and Complication before you decide what you should do and how you should do it. Using modern Army parlance, “The enemy gets a vote.” By making this understanding explicit, one gains the confidence of the people one will eventually ask to do something. With that confidence and an expectation that those involved will also be expected to ask compelling questions, the network mind is activated.

If you are looking for your next professional read, I highly recommend Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.

Deep Work and Self Education

In his new book, Deep Work, author Cal Newport goes in to detail about why the ability to focus on work that requires deep thought and multiple levels of inquiry has become a competitive edge. No doubt, this type of work has always been relatively rare. However, it is more so these days due to the much discussed proliferation of technologies that nip at your attention like a pack of hyenas trying to pick off the weak in the wildebeest herd. Sadly, in our world, the attention-hyenas have grown fat and don’t even have to give chase. We sit in our chairs and wait for them every morning.

I think Newport’s thesis is correct. The ability, not the time, is actually what is missing. Lots of people say that they just don’t have the time to set aside and think deeply on things that are important to them. However, I don’t need to quote specifics –about the billions who use social media all day long or the people who respond to emails in seconds like it is some lab experiment to grab pellets when the bell rings– to make the point that we are not using the time wisely. (yes, I see the irony in this article… get back to work 😉

Because we have been doing this now for one or two decades, many of us have lost our ability to do the deep work even when we have the time. Stare at a blank document or project plan for twenty minutes, meet the first obstacle, and freeze. Send an email to Fred to see if he got that new data. Text Mary for an update on how the meeting went. Read our “professional” newsfeed for the fourth time this morning, etc. We are all talking about talking about talking. We’re just doing it on new and different platforms.

The ability to think deeply and present new ideas on how to tackle problems is now the rarest of things. I often see this in the board room. The conversation flies around, but nothing is tackled in depth. No one brings deep critical thinking to the table. Every one just brings the latest data, report or presentation. None of it sticks to the walls and becomes deep conversation.

I agree with Newport on career development too. If a person wants to make themselves valuable to themselves or to an organization, they need to develop the ability to go into a quiet room, think deeply on an issue, and come out with either a new option on the issue or deep analysis of which known options are better and actionable. Either output is far more valuable than anyone else is likely to bring to the table.

When one ties this ability with the other rarity of the modern world which is the ability to self-educate, a person will have a formidable set of skills. In fact, I’ll go further. Teaching yourself to A) work deeply and B) self educate is the whole education that most should be seeking. If one develops the discipline and skill to work deeply on any topic and develops the skills to educate themselves with the near-universal amount of knowledge available today, there is no need to predict what comes next. One with these two capabilities doesn’t care. They can analyze any market, make deeply considered choices, and educate themselves to tackle what they choose. If they are wrong, they can start again. They are not one-trick ponies. In other words, strive to be adaptable, not prescient.

Finally, I think this is New Yeoman territory too. Any trade is susceptable to improvement in these skills. Don’t waste time in the truck on Facebook before the next customer call. Read the trade journal and come up with new ideas for your customer. Consider how your invoices and receipts may help you convert more sales. Develop that nagging idea you’ve had for a new specialized tool. Think deeply, turn it into digestable chunks of work and take action.

Another Reason to Choose Your University Carefully

Clear and spectacular answers to questions about which university to attend are hard to find. However, a recent study published in Contemporary Economic Policy by academics Eric R. Eide, Michael J. Hilmer, and Mark H. Showalter has done just that when speaking about financial returns on STEM degrees. In an article in The Wall Street Journal they state,

What we found startled us. For STEM-related majors, average earnings don’t vary much among the college categories. For example, we find no statistically significant differences in average earnings for science majors between selective schools and either midtier or less-selective schools. Likewise, there’s no significant earnings difference between engineering graduates from selective and less-selective colleges, and only a marginally significant difference between selective and midtier colleges.

This is huge for two reasons:

  1. If a person is going to major in a STEM discipline, his local state school may be just as good as Stanford or Harvard, if financial return is the most important issue to them. So, unless the person is killing it in school, has a perfect SAT, and/or is a recognized genius (and in that case, they are probably going heavily subsidized anyway), why should they spend the price differential between Vanderbilt and the University of Tennessee?
  2. It is a great way to get a kid to wake up if they are looking to do a humanities or business degree at a less than stellar institution. If they are not doing very well in those disciplines and cannot get into and elite school, then the financial math is hard to justify.

This is really good information for those about to spend or borrow an enormous amount of money to go to an elite school to study a STEM discipline. Expect the push-back from the elite universities to be fierce and quick.

College Alternatives Are Gaining Acceptance

When CNBC starts taking non-college education seriously and discussing the options with its largely upper middle class readership, you know an idea is gaining traction.

Significantly, the biggest con mentioned is stigma over getting a trade qualification. It is a sad, but true, state of affairs. However, it is also a stigma in not finding a job and holding a large debt burden from going to university when one would have been better suited to a trade.

The New Yeoman’s advice is follow your interests. Get an education in that field, but it does not have to involve a university education and the ridiculous cost served up at many universities. As a great mentor said to me once, “There is always room for another good anything.”

Formal Versus Informal Job Market

Michael Ellsberg makes some excellent points about the “Formal” versus the “Informal” job market and the cost of each. One requires an enormous amount of money and the other requires you take responsibility for yourself.

The informal job market comprises all jobs that are not filled through someone responding to a job advertisement.

In this article on Tim Ferriss’ website (Highly Recommended and his podcasts too), Ellsberg explains how to go about tackling the informal job market and how to make one’s way in the world without following the herd, especially when following the herd will cost you a fortune and still land you in a crappy formal job market. The key for this and all other types of advice is to understand that it rests with you to do the work. The reason that  university, then applications, then job at a big corporation is so alluring to many is that it requires so little thinking and so little real effort. Does it take a lot of time and manual effort to perfect your resume, network your LinkedIn profile, and upload applications to what Keva Dine calls Deep Space Mining? Sure, but it is largely senseless and mind numbing work.

What Ellsberg so clearly lays out is how to decide what it is you want to do, how to develop your skills, how to display your skills, and how to sell your skills. Readers of this blog will recognize some of this from the Seth Godin post a week or so ago.

Well worth a read.

Udacity’s Nanodegree Plus is a Game Changer

A guaranteed job or your money back? What’s to lose for a young person? Take a gap year. Travel and study for your Nanodegree at the same time. Come back to a job. If it doesn’t turn into a job, get your money back ($299 per month), and  join the rest of the drones going to “the best school they can get into.” I’m sure that you’ll really impress that academic-wannabe admissions officer… As long as you and/or your parents cough up $25-$50K a year.

Even if you complete the Udacity course and decide that that type of work is not for you, you have a valuable skill that will help you in university and your future career. For parents, you also get a good look into Junior’s work habits. If your child cannot work through the Nanodegree, what are the chances of them doing well, and finishing university? It is certainly not definitive, but it might it be a good sign, that they will attend 2 years of university, flunk out, and tote $35K worth of un-dischargeable debt around for the next 30 years of their adult life.

Conventional Wisdom is only Conventional

“Get into the best school you can” is the conventional wisdom given to many university bound students. In what I thought would have been parental common sense, but obviously is not, Jillian Berman lays out the decision making that should go into choosing a university.

When parents and children talk about applying for colleges, they consider all sorts of factors: the school’s prestige, the location, even the food in the dormitories.

But often there’s one thing that never is on the agenda: How are we going to pay for this?

Even people who over-buy on cars and homes normally know what the monthly repayments will be and how much of their take-home pay it will constitute.

In my mind, a parent who does not have this discussion, including the alternatives to university, is committing parental gross negligence. And for high school guidance counselors who negligently parrot the university administrators’ marketing lines and platitudes from the 1980s; fire them.

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