I’ve had a few hair-tearing ultra-frustrating moments recently in regards to some of my programming work. At times like that I sometimes wonder if I’ve made a “career sucker bet” and gone into the wrong line of work entirely.
After a glass of wine, a good night’s sleep, and successfully delivering the latest iteration of the project, things don’t look so dark. Freelance programming, while it has its challenges, also has massive upsides.
But there are plenty of career sucker bets out there, and if you’re a young person evaluating your career options, here are some things to watch out for:
1. A career that promises low compensation, no equity (ownership), no pension, and no benefits. Shoot for at least two out of four. Equity is only valuable in a business or property that produces income, or has a very good chance of producing income in the future. If you have high compensation then you can pay your own health insurance and save aggressively, even with no potential pension and no benefits.
2. Severe risks to your health, for a long time. If you want to go catch crab in Alaska for a season, you’ll probably survive. Do this year after year and you’re tempting fate. Same with night shifts (which will mess with your circadian rhythm and increase your risk of cancer), working in dangerous neighborhoods, high stress work (especially if you don’t deal well with stress), and so on.
3. Any career that doesn’t demand honing and expanding your skill set. Work should be challenging enough to keep you engaged and on your toes at least part of the time. If you can do your job while half asleep, your brain is rotting a little every day.
4. No good stories. Does your line of work produce at least a few good stories? This is worth a lot. If it doesn’t, your life is boring, and people will avoid you at parties.
5. No real value for society. Wall Street quants who use high-speed automated trading to extract money from market slow-pokes and trading n00bs, I call B.S. on your “creating market liquidity” rationalization. You are a parasite, plain and simple. Go teach math (or programming) at a public school instead.
6. Socially isolating. A huge part of life is who you know, not just for success and upward mobility, but for life possibilities and having a good time. Your line of work should expand, not limit, your social life (even if you prefer working alone most of time, as I do). People underestimate how much social time they need to feel happy. Even introverts need at least five hours a day.
7. Low demand. If people don’t want what you have to offer, then you’re gonna have a bad time. Students who were considering applying to law school have recently figured this out.
Did I miss anything? Did you end up in a sucker career and get out? Tell me your story.
Afterthought 1: It’s rough out there for young people trying to find work … sometimes you gotta take what you can get. But keep the big picture and long-term in mind.
Afterthought 2: If you would do the work even if nobody was paying you to do it, it’s never a sucker bet (except maybe for the person paying you).