Where The Good Jobs Are, (Part 1)

January 4, 2020

One time, when I was in college — at some point in the dreary middle, so let’s say 2002-2003-ish — I asked my Dad what I should try to do for a living if I wanted to maintain the ability to step up or step down my work. This was mostly because (at the time) I was looking for a way to be in a touring punk rock band without having to mooch off my parents forever, but it’s actually a pretty reasonable question for a lot of more practical concerns, even if I wasn’t really thinking about them back then. Careers and the ability to sustain yourself financially (let alone do what you want) come into conflict with raising a family, continuing education, getting involved in your community, etc.

This is a really hard question to answer, and now that I have kids (albeit ones who are not worried about this in any way whatsoever yet) I realize that a lot more. I was asking my Dad to take knowledge of both me and the world as it was, project how both of those things would grow and change over the next decade or so, and prescribe some kind of method for how they should interact. It’s a big ask, but I guess that’s why we have parents.

In my case, my Dad gave what in hindsight was a pretty amazing answer. He said a lot of people were obsessed with everyone gaining skills in “technology”, but the real thing that was going to become valuable was the ability to sort through a lot of information, sort out the good stuff from the junk, and summarize what in the hell was going on to people who were both busy and unable to parse that same information as quickly. This was a problem everyone was sort of skating past at the time, because they were relying on the benefits of a 20th century infrastructure for thinking, evaluating, and validating claims, and assuming the benefits and status quo of that structure would scale as everything went online and everyone became deluged with every possible claim and perspective at once. But that scaling of our ability to make sense of things wasn’t going to happen by itself (or maybe at all), and that was where Dad thought the skill gap would be. He also thought I could be good at this sort of thing (this is something old millennials aren’t universally good at, but in my experience are disproportionately good at compared to other groups), and that I could do it in bursts, in between traveling the world playing songs about how I refuse to wear a tie or whatever.

Imagine this awesome, disgusting idiot asking you for long-term career advice.

Good thing we have parents

So basically, Dad predicted the fake news apocalypse of 2016 — among other things — well over a decade before it happened, whether he intended to or not, by simply trying to give his skinny, hoodie-wearing son some direction in life. That’s pretty good, and it rivals his mid-90s prediction that really, really good flat panel displays would become unthinkably cheap within twenty years.

In addition, one of the great things about my Dad’s answer was that while I was looking for him to say something like “learn to operate a CXZ-2202 lathe machine, you can make $80 an hour and work seasonally” and make my immediate problem go away, he actually gave me something that opened up far more possibilities than that. Those possibilities became clearer over time, especially as I worked several technical writing jobs, moved from there into technical product marketing, and from there into more general business and organizational roles. All this stuff stacked; no matter what my job title or day to day was, I never really stopped spending most of my time inhaling information and trying to spit out a coherent summary and maybe some sort of larger perspective that put multiple problems and/or opportunities into proper context.

Like I said, I have kids now, and I’d really, really like to give them as good of a launching pad as I got from this conversation. So I spend a lot of time and brain cycles looking for the larger trend of things, in the hopes that I have that (and my kids’ inclinations) figured out well enough to give them some direction if they ever ask.

I can’t stop her, I can only seek to contain her.

So what’s my answer? That’ll be part two. Unfortunately, it’s a little dark, so I want to think it through a little more. Maybe that’s 2020 talking (or the remnants of 2019), but I’m more than a little worried I might be as prescient as my Dad in this case.

But I can’t wait too long. Knowing my almost four-year-old daughter, she might ask me this in a couple of weeks, so I better be ready.