atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#325: Bleah

Steven Den Beste comments about this MetaFilter thread:
Why didn't you study something useful? Of course your university doesn't have any "post-graduation resource bank"; except for people like Amnesty International I can't imagine anyone needing someone with these qualifications (sic).

Where do you find a job? How about McDonalds?

If I actually posted the above as a response on that thread, I'd probably lose my membership. But I was sorely tempted anyway, I was.
I don't blame him at all. Years after graduation, a friend of mine with a combined English and Philosophy major said, "What do you do with a major like mine? You DON'T!"

Okay?

What do you do with a "human rights and social movements major"?

YOU DON'T!

(Damn, I should edit the "gut malf" entry. Make it blink in red. That would be awesome.)

I know someone who got a scholarship to a university with an excellent reputation. It is not an ivy-league university but it's big, well-known, and highly respected. And what did he study?

Medieval European History.

And so the last time I talked to him he worked as a medical courier.

But I was thinking about all this and I realized that I don't have a leg to stand on. I went to DeVry University and studied electrical engineering there--good major, bad choice of school. I learned about as much electronic theory as anyone from a real school does, but most employers seem to regard the place is regarded as one step better than correspondence school.

The point being, I made approximately the same mistake as the rest of these bozos. I just made it along a different axis, is all. I'm a fucking stockboy for Christ's sake.

(No one calls it that, of course. But let's be honest about it; that's what I do.)

Before 9/11 I was doing a job that suited my major, that earned a moderately good salary, and which had decent career prospects. The only problem was that I was an avionics writer.

Technical documentation has taken a serious nosedive in the past decade, anyway. Paper manuals have given away to PDFs and SGML documents. Rather than hire dedicated writers, companies simply do the "Pointy-Haired Boss" thing and pile writing onto their engineers' "to do" lists. The engineers are salaried, so the added costs are incremental at best.

The company I worked for--Rockwell-Collins--was strategically removing all requirements for technical knowledge from its writing teams, anyway. Most of the technical work was being required of the engineers; technical writers needed only to know how to write--knowing anything about circuitry or technology was strictly optional.

One time I was given a task: write a theory of operation for a GPS navigation unit, to help another writer out. Time was very short, and my boss told me to get it in as quickly as I could. She didn't give me a hard deadline; but in one week I went from zero knowledge about GPS systems to a finished and polished theory of operation. One week.

In the end I really don't know what to think about it. Being smart, capable, and skilled obviously wasn't enough. Consistent performance--never missing a deadline, staying at or near the top of my team in terms of output--counted only as "meets expectations". For all of this, I found myself being shown the door a bit over a month after 16 terrorists singlehandedly brought the American airline industry to its knees.

And in the aftermath I could not find a technical job. I had bills to pay, so I became a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) and worked at a nursing home. And then I broke a finger--at home, worse luck--and couldn't work for three months...and when my finger was healed, the job market for CNAs in my area had saturated. There was no work for me at my employer, and no openings elsewhere.

The technical industry is well-known for its unwillingness to give a person the benefit of the doubt. If you lose your technical job, for whatever reason, if you find yourself having to take a non-technical job in order to pay bills, you might as well plan to make a career of it, because from that point onward you are tainted. It doesn't matter what your qualifications are or how the industry has been doing; your career is over.

I haven't even been able to get a job working at a help desk doing software support. I was an on-site computer technician for eight years and have an extensive customer-service background--all of which does me absolutely no good whatsoever since I worked as a CNA and then as a stockboy.

I make a point of not complaining about how life has been over the past six years, but it's hard not to get depressed about things once in a while. I can't do anything about the past, so pissing and moaning isn't going to do squat, either; but these days I find myself wondering what I could possibly have done differently which could have prevented me from being where I find myself.

I could have spent more time at the office, I suppose. (They say that when you're on your deathbed you won't regret not spending more time at the office, but I'm hopefully still several decades from that.) I could have moved to Kansas City and taken a job working for Garmin--they were advertising in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I could have done a bunch of things, I guess...but I made the best decisions I could with the information I had at the time. That's really all anyone can do.

Part of my problem is that I started my technical career in a different world. When I first became a computer technician, in 1990, there was still a USSR. The USSR just went away; and then there were a few years without much real difficulty. I moved upwards and landed my dream job, technical writer--but the entire world changed on 9/11; and the changes made me as economically useful to the airline industry as a Wright Flyer...and similarly useless to the technological field in general, apparently.

I guess I don't have the right to be critical of anyone's choice of major.
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