Learning Work

Who Will Do The Actual Work When The Economy Recovers?

I had an interesting conversation today with a few friends about the exodus of young people from the workplace back to school during this recession. It seems as though people in Generation Y are bailing left and right on current jobs and diving back under the safe covers of academia. And who can blame them? You get to work on interesting research (hopefully), you get a stipend (maybe) and you have better prospects when you’re all done (eh, doubtful). But that leads me to ask, “Who’s going to do all the work when the economy is in full swing again?” Let’s survey the current demographics, starting from the top:

  • The bosses — Not to sound deriding, but they aren’t doing the type of work I’m talking about here. The never have and never will…mostly because they actually have better things to do. For real. They have to meet with other big wigs and figure out where to steer the company and where the market is going and hopefully how to react in time. The work I talk about is more a “down-in-the-trenches” kind of work and I never really expected them to do that kind of work, just thought it was necessary to actually start at the top.
  • The elders — The elders are those who aren’t necessarily in charge but those that have been around for a long time and really understand how a company or industry works. They won’t be doing the work when the economy recovers…because they’ll be retiring. Think about it. How many people were likely planning on retiring in 2008 onwards who suddenly saw their investments vaporize? No, they decided they better stick it out. And though they won’t see a huge return to the days where their portfolios were bulging, I would venture a guess that if the conditions are good enough and they feel that they can squeak by on portfolio growth after they retire, a lot will take the out. If you’re pushing into your 70s, I’m guessing you’re ready for a break. Even if they stay on part time, they won’t be doing the grunt work.
  • The smart ones — The smart ones are those that drive ideas and new products. Even though they may have been around and producing good work for a while, they aren’t allowed to go anywhere. They are the geese with the golden eggs. Where would they go anyway? The people in charge of promoting them would have to replace themselves. Not likely. So they will have to do some work still, but you can probably watch for this group eying the social security line on their weekly pay stub longingly and starting to stick a pinky toe out the door. If you’re looking for a technical mentor, get ’em before they’re gone.
  • The middle — The middle is all those people that were doing the grunt work 20 years ago and did a good job. They may have run out of salary headroom and jumped over to management or maybe they needed a new challenge (I can only imagine dealing with engineers or other similar underlings from a management perspective every day). Either way, there’s little likelihood they’re planning on stepping back into lesser roles. No, they have their eyes on the upper management jobs of the elders and the other aging boomers.
  • The lazy ones — They were the ones on the team that did work every once in a while but in general only contributed when the workload really picked up. They were the auxiliary fuel tank of your company as an airplane–useful when you need it but really just weighing things down when not in use. And although we know it’s not really true, we have an inkling some of them got the ax when it fell last year. Even if you were deluded enough to believe that all the dead weight in your company was gone, the ones in this category that aren’t gone are really good at two things: not doing work and looking like they are. Count them out.
  • The young upstarts — This group has a shot at doing some of the beefy work. In fact, this group has the highest likelihood of doing the majority of the work. I should mention I also feel as though I am a part of this group and therefore have a lot of interest in studying it. “What’s that?? Jim, Allison and Mark are all going back to school? Why? Trudy is going too? What the heck? Who’s going to do their work?!?”, you say (the answer: whoever is asking that question). This newfound love of the classroom is the other reason I am interested in my own demographic. We’re all jumping ship hoping to leapfrog into the next part of our career! There doesn’t seem to be any paying of dues, does there? Welp, that’s because there isn’t. But you can’t do anything about it because everyone in this demographic is back in classes learning about managerial accounting or tort law and not actually doing any work. Now the real question: when everyone pops out of school at the end of the recession, who will be better prepared? MBA Marty or Experienced Eddy? I’d be inclined to say the second, but again, I’m biased here. If you’re in this group and not going back to school, expect more work coming your way. Lawyer Larry is busy studying.
  • The new grads — Quick! We’re running out of people that have any interest in engineering and menial tasks! Get me some workers! “Waaaaaait a second,” says Bob the manager. “All we’ve got is the new grads. There’s no way I’m hiring them without any experience.” Well Bob, too bad, you’re running out of options. Just hire these new kids and try and push them to learn faster and work harder. And do this even though those new grads have higher expectations of what employers will give them and the hours they are asked to work. You’ll probably end up giving it to them too, because what other options do you have?
  • The overseas workers — Well, there’s your answer. It’s really been more of a circular process, figuring out who will be doing all the work. Think about what’s been said and how people have reacted. “Foreign labor is taking all of our jobs!”, the workers said at the beginning. Then they thought, “Oh! I better go back to school and learn how to manage people overseas and the remaining labor in the US!”. Then they get out of school three years later, lobby for a shiny new management position and ask “Ok, where are my underlings? Hunh? No underlings?!? Well crap, hire more foreign workers, we need to get this project out the door!”. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I want to be clear about a few things. First, I don’t disagree with going back to school. I plan on doing it myself some day, in some capacity. I just disagree with the timing. I liken going back now to pulling all your investments out of the market at the lowest point back in March (maybe to pay for school?). You remove yourself from the market at a time when the most growth can occur. You remove yourself from situations that include working long hours on hard work but it’s with a team that affords you more responsibilities. I feel that the next few years will provide some great opportunities for innovation and growth in certain positions and companies. Second, I realize that some people are going back to revamp skills, especially when they feel that they cannot find employment. This is understandable and expected based on enrollment numbers from past recessions. I would only remind these people to remember to keep up their real-world skills so they can be hired right out of school. Academia doesn’t have room to hold onto you and they have a similar hierarchy as above except for one catch: those tenured professors don’t plan on giving up their cushy position until they are forced to or decide to leave on their own. If you do choose the academic track, get a comfy couch to wait/sleep/eat/live on. Finally, I’d like to speak to my targeting of MBA and Law degrees. It’s not that I think they aren’t important, because I feel that a lot of really important concepts are taught in both management and law classes. I mostly take offense to the idea of you being my boss in 5 years because of a piece of paper. I respect the people around me who are working hard and have better vision than I do to tell me what to do. If you plan on “managing” me without first working by my side or in a similar position, expect to work extra hard to gain my respect.

I believe the solution here is what a lot of people are actually doing: sitting tight and getting some work done. You need to continue to show your company you are a valuable and contributing member while maintaining boundaries on how many peoples’ work you are willing to do. It sometimes seems bleak when you see others stagnating in their career progression right in front of or next to you. However, I believe hard work and tangible results will be the true indicator or advancement and success whenever the economy rebounds. If you think your hard work should go towards a more noble cause, strike out on your own. If companies end up short on talent when the economy comes back, a savvy consultant could be flexible and fluid enough to be exactly the solution customers and companies are looking for.

What about you? What category do you feel like you fall into? Take the poll below or leave a note in the comments!

[poll id=”3″]

Politics Work

To break or not to break

Even though I got the capacitors and transistors in for my Wurlitzer 200A, I decided to write about something else before I started documenting the hopefully successful re-build of my vintage piano.

Generation Y has a strong reputation of feeling entitled and wanting to do things their own way. The question I have today is:

To break or not to break?

Should the spirits and ideas of young upstart Millennials be squashed in order to show them the ways of a company? When we bring in new employees into an organization, what is their greatest strength? Is it their new ideas? Or is it their ability to perform the normal tasks, but maybe better than their predecessor? Is it their ability to stand out or to fit in? Is it to buck the bureaucracy or to massage it? Let’s look at some situations.

Any time an employee comes into a new situation, you might expect them to have some modesty or humility. Apparently with Generation Y this is not happening, they instead expect to be placed into positions of authority, without knowing much at all. I know, I was a perfect angel :-).

What are some of the things that new people might shake up when they move into a new job?

  1. Offerings from employers – We see this happening in preparation for the new employees of the younger generations. Look at Google, Facebook and any other young software company. The culture is  a more all-encompassing experience and more is being offered to younger workers. What they don’t tell you though, is that even though there may be all those great perks like free meals and dry cleaning, they expect you to be working…a lot. A friend of a friend who now works at Google claims he has been there for months and still hasn’t plugged in his refrigerator at home.
  2. Methodology/Paradigm – This is the change that requires the most caution. Sure, sometimes the methods have been developed because one person or another wants to keep their job or because “that’s how it’s always been done” (no one remembers why). But sometimes, things are done a certain way because they are keeping it simple and it just happens to be the best way to do something. It is also possible, it is the lesser evil among many other options. It is in these situations, where it seems glaring that changes are required, that newer employees might be tempted to shake things up, but in fact would be disturbing things. (Completely Random Side Note: who doesn’t love the word paradigm? If you say it like it’s spelled, you sound like you’re calling out the mascot for Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks Cereal!)
  3. Workplace Culture – More and more young people entering the workplace have seen Office Space and read Dilbert before they’ve experienced it. As such, they have certain biases and are immediately looking to make workplaces more laid back areas where they feel comfortable doing work. There could be an entire discussion regarding the idiosyncrasies of Gen Y, but I’ll leave that to others.

These are not necessarily bad things for any of the generations involved. But a lot of people already in these jobs will be inclined to “break in” or “season” some of the new recruits, especially when it comes to point 2 above. Of course hazing comes to mind, but really I think a better way to say it is “institutionalize” or “teaching”. There are often certain ways to do things that are better than others. One example might be teaching a newer employee how to best measure the current of an op-amp. The new employee might have TONS of ideas of how to do this (probe the voltage across an output resistor or capacitor, crack open the case and probe the tiny silicon chip, simulate the entire thing in SPICE and try to correlate it to a real world model, etc). However, the learning could have been guided by a senior adviser who might know the fastest way to do that task.

In my first job, we were consistently told that we were brought in to shake up the organization. They wanted to hear our ideas and for us to give our input. The problem was that we had never done anything like what we were tasked to do, so much of our input was either ridiculous or ignored (I will point to my own examples first, I was crazy!). I believe the reason they brought us into the company in the first place as inexperienced new workers was to quickly acclimate us to the new environment and type of work. Sure, there won’t be too many great new ideas from the new employees, but they had shown us how things should be done from the beginning. The asking for ideas of the new employees was instead a really great way to appease our needs to contribute, even if it was never implemented.

Is it bad that younger people want to try something new at a job? Should their ideas be squashed if it is “known” that there is a better way? (quotations imply there might be a better way that had never been found)

I’d say it’s fine to try stuff out and even to try and change things at a new work place. The important thing is to remind the younger and new employees to consider all of the costs involved with changing something. It can be expensive and time consuming to do something a new way and in the end might make it a worse solution. If anything, Generation Y needs to know that their ideas are alright to have and even to act on, but that sometimes the best thing to do for a company and for ones own time is to use solutions that are readily available.

What do you think?

Life Work

New Year’s Resolutions

I’m not one to make resolutions. Personally, I think many times people are setting themselves up for failure when they pick a random day to start doing everything they meant to in life, especially the big broad goals. However, in the spirit of the season, I’m going to throw everything I just mentioned out the window and list some stuff I want to do this year, mostly so I have these things recorded somewhere I’ll view them again.

  1.  Gain 10 pounds of muscle by April. Achieve this by going to the gym at least 2 times per week and doing high intensity lifting workouts.
  2. Be able to play a Chopin piano piece. Also, be able to improvise with piano over a simple chord progression (ii-V-I)
  3. Join a band and play 1 gig in the next year (drums)
  4. Increase my investing prowess by reading annual reports of all currently held stocks and doing thorough analysis of any new stocks that interest me.
  5. Finally and most importantly, I would like to find work that is more fitting to my personality and needs. However, I would like to make sure this position leaves me enough time to live life and spend time with those I love. I am willing to sacrifice money and possibly even my future career prospects to achieve this goal. This means I desire to:
    1. Work roughly 40-45 hours per week (the most negotiable of these desires)
    2. Have flexible vacation time and some amount of assurance that I will not be working on major holidays.
    3. Given responsibility and be judged on merit, and not time spent at the office.
    4. Be driven to create value and something of use to the world and my company
    5. Enjoy spending time with my co-workers

The last item about work is indicative of my generation. We realize that work is a main part of life and want to integrate it with all other aspects of living. To do so I think I need many of the things listed above. To end this post, I will paste in a story that I have sitting by my desk at work and read just about every day. I must admit, I found the story on the wall at Jimmy John’s first (my favorite sub shop), but it was too good to pass up. Here it is with the link where I found it. I hope it helps to illuminate how I think about work.

An American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.

Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The tourist complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.”

The tourist then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”

The Mexican said, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s needs.”

The tourist then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The tourist scoffed, ” I can help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat: With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

The tourist replied, “15 to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the Mexican.

The tourist laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions?…Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Reposted from


Lesson’s learned on Christmas Eve

I worked Christmas Eve at Samsung.

This was and is an unfortunate side effect of having an odd schedule, and even more so of being scheduled to work Tuesdays when holidays happen to fall on said Tuesdays. Regardless, I could not take off work because when we were scheduling the holiday season I was working by myself and had to be there. Fine, no problem. My counterpart on the opposite end of the week was kind enough to cover for me on the evening of the 25th, so I got to go home on Christmas morning after work.

However, after all of this, I found something sad and sweet about being there. It’s really touching to see people working Christmas Eve; not because they want to, but because they care so much about the people they leave at home on those evenings. Those same people that are so understanding about the situation their family members’ are in, and how they must work these days as part of their job.

I was particularly touched upon hearing one of my female co-workers talk to her family on Christmas Eve. She works the day shift and was not getting home until around 8 pm. She had left her kids with her parents and was calling to wish them goodnight. This would possibly be fine in my mind if she was going home to them, but the knowledge was particular heart wrenching for me.

Another instance was my counter part on nights, Jason. He was distraught and in a similar situation as me (I’m not married). He left his new wife at home on Christmas, and they were both hurting being away on the first major holiday they had as a married couple. My heart goes out to them, as I know how hard it is being on nights with a loved one at home.

Yet another co-worker on nights with me took Christmas eve off, but only because his wife was working that evening. They had to have Christmas on the morning of the 24th (hardly a travesty for the kids I’m sure). However, work coming in front of family is a rough thing for anyone, especially when there are younger children involved. This is a sad reality of many families today, with credit cards and house payments. Doubly so at Christmas.

And lastly were those crazy people I work with that didn’t take (or get) any time off. These were mostly the people my age who are working day shift. Granted, some of these unfortunate individuals are workaholics, others were forced to be there, and that’s just not right. I don’t care who you are or what you do, nothing is really getting done on a major holiday, especially Christmas. Paperwork, maybe, but that can usually wait.

So why this rambling post? I guess to offset my current situation from my sheltered childhood. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, with parents that stayed together, loved me, showered me with too many gifts and made a big deal of the holidays (they still do on all counts and I love them for it). I guess it’s just weird to see how others have to deal with work schedules and tougher situations. I never have had to experience it or even really think about it that much. So even though I did not particularly enjoy working on Christmas eve and not spending that time with my loved ones, it gave me a unique perspective on how people deal with holiday scheduling; moreso, it helped to show me that holidays usually are not as important as we make them out to be. Everything generally worked out fine, what with coming home on Christmas morning (and probably would have been the same if I had to come home 2 days earlier or later). The idea is to spend SOME time with those you love, around the holidays. This has been helpful to me also, because I have to work New Years Eve. Thumbs down.

Anyway, I hope this perspective was helpful for all who read it.