Friday, May 14, 2010

Education and Careers

I just saw this article posted up on Slashdot, and it cuts to an issue I've heard come up repeatedly ever since I went to school.

Of my cohort coming out of High School, I was one of only a few to go to college. Rural Oregon is a pretty blue-collar place, and many of my friends were either joining the military, going to technical school, or launching themselves directly into the workplace. One even had started his own business and was looking to do it full time come graduation. At the time I thought they were just taking the easy way out; after all, it took good grades, test scores, and a hell of a willingness to delay gratification to go to college. In fact, it seemed like the key to success was education--the more the better. People with money are Doctors and Lawyers, people who work a McDonalds are those with GEDs.

Almost a decade later, the world looks a little different. Friedman pegged it nicely when he said what you really need for success is to be one of four things: Adaptable, Anchored, Specialized or Special. I hit specialized pretty nicely; there are only about 2 million RNs in the entire country, and only a couple thousand of those work in Informations Systems.

I actually took the slow path though, since I could probably have been exactly where I am right now about three years earlier if I'd gone to community college, picked up my RN there, and worked for two years. Two years is really the golden number when it comes to Nursing experience, because from there people assume you know the ropes. At the time I was going to school, IT at hospitals had just started picking up Nurse Informaticists, and the iron was blazing hot. You didn't even need computer skills, they hired people with no training and threw them into training programs, or just hoped that they'd pick up the skills on the job. No one anywhere was making less that 60k a year doing that work, and most were closer to 80.

My family would have made me a pariah for doing so, since the expectation was that I wasn't achieving my potential. Potential, however, seems to be related more to networking, desired field, and timing. I'm not any good at networking (social media always seems like another chore), but my desired field was a perfect fit with the way the economy is going short-term. It's striking that my decision to go on for graduate education after undergrad pretty much blew my timing to hell though, landing me fresh out of school in the worst economy since 1932.

I'm actually working in Informatics now, but I can't help but think that my friends who went to community college and picked up skills in basic engineering and CAD who now have houses (while my wife I are trying to decide whether we'll ever actually be home owners) didn't have a better plan. I liked college, and I love my graduate program, but I think I would have liked spending my weekends having fun somewhere warm rather than freezing to death in Cleveland banging out 20-page essays in APA.

1 comment:

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