How did you determine which career path to choose in software engineering?

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Jason Knight's photo

I consider the question itself flawed, but that could be my decades in IT talking. The mere notion of a "career path" is nonsense given the rate at which technologies and needs of the industry change.

The mere notion of setting out on a single path with a single focus is foolhardy given the sheer number of new paths that show up every few years, and the number that die off.

It's like programming itself -- it isn't something you 'learn once and are set for life' -- it is something you have to struggle at and continue learning and growing across your entire work career.

... but that's not what "Career educators" sell their students on to put buns in seats, so we now have an industry where the majority of IT grads end up flipping burgers or working at Walmart by the time they hit 30 wondering how in the blazes they're going to pay off a lifetime worth of student debt. Only a handful of the passionate, the devoted, the determined are able to stay in the field for very long.

Well unless you count the just plain ass-kissing suck-ups who always seem to magically fail upwards into middle-management.

It also leads to the problem we have right now of overspecialization, where most people working in a specific field end up unqualified to do so. At the extreme you have the people so specialized they magically think they're SO great at their one thing they don't have to know anything else... like the alleged SEO "experts" who don't know the first damned thing about HTML, or the PSD jockey artists under the delusion they are "designers" when they don't know the first damned thing about UX or accessibility.

But it plagues other aspects of development too... The front-end developer who knows nothing about art or accessibility nor understand how to lessen the workload of the back-end dev. The back end developers who don't know enough about the front end to even know if what the "specialist" gave them is any good, much less how to slice up what they are given.

Or even the jokers who claim to be network administration "gods" but have to call tech support to come over to hook up a monitor for them and/or can't even figure out how to connect to an already running server via serial. (True story bro)

As such IMHO planning a 'career path' is foolhardy nonsense. It's ok to learn a specific thing and to get good at it, but start learning what goes above and below it in the "stack". Keep learning. Keep researching, and be ready to change path at any point since what you end up wasting money and time on could go the way of the dodo at any time.

See my oh so useful list of certifications like "MacOS ACSP", "Digital Equipment Accounting Certification", "Paradox Professional", and of course "Certified NetWare Engineer"

To go with all that time I spent learning 8 bit machine language, IBM SNA, DiBol, Fortran, Smalltalk, Token Ring, and of course OS/2.

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Jason Knight's photo

The less code you use, the less there is to break

Mark Thing is I look around at people my age and the degrees they have?

Friend with a masters of engineering specializing in nuclear materials handling... stocking shelves third shift at Target in his early '40's.

Another with a bachelors in "Applied Computer Science" minoring in business-- manager at Wendy's in his mid '30's.

Yet another who worked web development for some pretty big names gave up and now mows lawns for a living. (ok, he owns a landscaping company, but you get the idea)

One of the most brilliant programmers I've ever known said screw it, threw it all away for not being worth the hassle, and now runs his own thrift store.

Or my ex with the degrees in marketing and design who got a cushy job right out of college only to be spit out two years later, and spent the next two decades working at one convenience store after another.

Go into a Walmart on a Wednesday afternoon and say hello to being unable to find a single staff member under the age of 30, with most of the crew being mid-40's or later. These aren't dead end people who never worked a "real" job. These are college grads trained to actually do things -- and not stupid shit nobody would ever hire for either like "Women's Studies" or "Child and Family Studies".

But tell me again how these jobs are just for 'high schoolers' as is the current politically popular mantra for the excuse not to pay livable wages.

MOST of the people I know with degrees are working low paying menial labor jobs. Walmart, McD's, local restaurants and convenience stores. Out of dozens of close friends the number still working in the field past about the age of 35 I can count on one hand without using my thumb. If I expand that to acquaintances those who still work in a professional capacity sure as shine-ola don't do it in the field they trained for.

Though those are the POSITIVE outcomes -- far better than my apprentice who neglected his health right into the grave at half my age, another dear friend of some renown who decided he needed to swing from a rope, a former business associate who posted a paranoid rant about how the cops were out to kill him only to be found strangled to death by an electrical cord, or that asshat (talk about jerks) I met once at a convention who I found out had later decided to partition his wife.

REALLY sad part being some of you can probably guess who I'm referring to in that last paragraph..

Mark's photo

Currently focussed on [every programming languages and all of the projects]

Jason Knight Hmm I guess things just work differently in different parts of the world. Sounds bad there, fortunately it doesn't sound much like here.

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