What’s a solid, reliable career path for kids to follow?

Obama wants all kids to learn to write code
. As if this is the new sure-fire path to the middle class. Or higher! But this sounds suspiciously like the iconic, terrible career advice Dustin Hoffman received in the movie The Graduate: Plastics.

Women are enrolling in computer science courses at a higher rate than men. This means that writing code will be the new female ghetto, and you will need to be crafty about how you learn to code so you avoid falling into the mire of the underpaid, under-appreciated labor pool.

Here’s a great business. My friend has been moving her site around from one hosting company to another and I thought this was an example of her genius: Always getting a good deal. But then she accidentally let her domain expire and this company bought it up in like six seconds. They must have written some program that finds domains that are getting used a lot but are about to expire and the program lurks to see if the person forgets to renew.

So this shyster company buys the domain, then sends an email to my friend to tell her that they will sell it back to her. And she’s been writing on this domain for like five years, so she doesn’t want to lose it. And they want $2500 for it.

I tell her to call a lawyer because I know you can’t buy McDonald’s so probably you can’t buy her name, either. And the lawyer tells her that they must really know what they are doing because $2500 is pretty much what it would cost to hire a lawyer to get the URL back. Then he points out that the company is offering to finance the $2500.

That is really impressive, the financing part. Genius. That’s a great business model. And you can’t do that business model without knowing how to write code.

Another enticing aspect of writing code: The FBI is trying to hire hackers, and the FBI can’t find hackers who don’t smoke pot. So Congress is talking about how maybe we should just consider the idea that we have to change the drug testing laws for federal employees because all the hackers who the government wants to hire are ineligible and don’t care enough to stop smoking pot.

Other ideas: cutting coupons for a living, being a high-end escort in Vienna, or painting lawns in drought country.

You know what all these jobs have in common? They are entrepreneurial. So, sure, learning to write code is a good idea but only if you can pair it with entrepreneurial chops.

But you don’t need to be a code-head to make a path for yourself. Couponing requires incredible organization and attention to detail, being a high-end escort requires great social skills to have a quality conversation in an unfamiliar setting, and painting lawns requires visionary thinking.

All this stuff seems absurd. But what’s really absurd is thinking you can set your kid established on some guaranteed-safe path. Being a lawyer is not safe. Being a doctor is not safe. Not even climbing a corporate ladder is safe. All the safe paths are gone. They were never that safe to begin with. And all there are now is paths that are true to your child’s strengths.

Don’t tell your kids they can be anything. It’s not true and it’s not helpful. And don’t tell them they need to find a sure-fire career for adult life. Because that’s not true or helpful either.

The safest way to send your kid out into the world is after teaching them to know their strengths and weaknesses, understanding that no path is safe, so it’s okay to pick one that feels true to who they are.

12 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    Right now there just aren’t enough coders. So bring on all the women in college learning how.

    I wonder if we’re in a trough. I wonder if the future is so many coders doing so much that we end up unionizing.

  2. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    In the Philippines, many parents made their children study computer science in the 1990s and nursing in the 2000s so that they can work overseas.

    But other countries made immigration more difficult. As a result, we now have a lot of programmers and nurses working other jobs. Many tech colleges and nursing schools even closed. There really is no safe path.

  3. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    Programming is a valuable skill and requires a lot of problem solving and creativity. I wish you wouldn’t dismiss it like you do.

    But I also wish people wouldn’t go into programming just because they think it’s a well paid job. Think of it like woodworking. If you are the kind of person who could spend a month sanding and staining a wooden desk you have built yourself, and get a lot of satisfaction from that, then go into programming. But if you aren’t that sort of person, avoid it like the plague, because you will hate it.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      Y’a know, I kept trying to phrase a well-thought out response to this post…..with no luck, I kept sounding whiney.

      But Bostonian, I believe you nailed it. :)

  4. YesMyKidsAreSociakized
    YesMyKidsAreSociakized says:

    Why does something have to turn into a “ghetto” simply because females are engaged and successful at it? Could it be that more women are enrolling in programming than men because more women are going to college than men? Even when one enrolled in a stem course does not mean that they will complete it. Many students couldn’t pass the prerequisites when my husband was studying mechanical engineering and had to drop out or change majors.

    I agree that knowing strengths and weaknesses are very important and that nothing is guaranteed. Many futurists hypothesize that our kids’ generation will be working in jobs that don’t currently exist. But learning programming is like learning a new language. There are benefits for those who truly immerse themselves. Some of these classes for kids are a joke.

    • bea
      bea says:

      Learning to program helped train me to think algorithmically. It made me 100% better at problem-solving. I’m a really crappy programmer, but I can get by in a pinch if I have to, but I don’t have to. I work with a programmer who is a genius and between us, we can develop any program/application/software that solves our “big data” problems, which are “text as data” natural language processing matters exclusively in my line of work.

      I tell you what I can do like a wizard: code troubleshoot/debugging. I attribute that 100% to learning to program, even though I certainly don’t kid myself that I should do it for a living thought. But being able to think through a problem algorithmically (tech related or otherwise) to arrive at some sort of logical conclusion? I do that in my work every single day.

      My daughter is learning to code bc she expressed an interest. I’m all for it knowing how much it helped me, conceptually speaking. From that perspective, it’s a win win, in my opinion.

  5. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    In teaching our kids to do what the care about and are good at do we need to be concerned about their earning potential. I have a daughter who really wants to go into a field she will never be able to support herself with but it certainly is her. What then? I don’t want to mislead her telling her she should just do what she loves and the money will follow and I would be wasting lots of money on her education as well. Plus I want her to be able to support herself should she need to one day.

    • Pirate Jo
      Pirate Jo says:

      What if she studies something she loves AND something she can earn a living doing?

      When I was young and trying to determine what kind job I should get, I disqualified anything that wouldn’t pay me enough money to support myself. I think some of that was probably due to the way I was raised. In my family, money was used to control others. I didn’t want to be a grown-assed woman and be controlled, so I thought I needed to make my own money.

      I don’t really enjoy work that much, but I am so glad I have made decent money – it has saved me a lot of trouble. (And now that I’m older, I don’t have to work as much anyway, so win win.)

  6. Sue Michaels
    Sue Michaels says:

    I don’t understand the shortage of programmers. I’ve been in the software development industry for many years. The pattern I’m seeing is a move to outsource the coding to other countries, while keeping a select few in house – leadership, architects and few genius programmers – to define requirements and approach. The off-shore team executes on the detailed plan provides to them. It’s a painful process, but I haven’t seen it letting up.

  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I like this article ( http://www.techrepublic.com/article/6-ways-the-robot-revolution-will-transform-the-future-of-work/ ) I just read which speaks to “the global impact AI and robotics will have on the future of work”. I like it because AI, robotics, and many other fields rely on programming expertise. It’s not as if every child has to learn programming to the extent it will eventually become their career. However, it is necessary to learn at least basic concepts to understand how it will continue to fit more and more in the workplace to some level. There will be more and more people interacting with some code to some degree.
    The above article is an interview with Alec Ross whose book – The Industries of The Future – is applicable to business leaders as well as parents from what I’ve read. The book came out yesterday. It has already been reviewed and highly rated by Eric Schmitd (Google), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), and some other well known people and sources. Alec Ross has a pretty impressive biography. And I think he had children in mind when he composed the book as he started his career as a sixth grade teacher through Teach for America in inner-city Baltimore. He has a B.A. in history with a lot of government experience.

  8. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Just think of all the ways we are tempted into safety:

    Ruling class: give us your money and we will make you safe.

    Government schools: give us your children and we will make them safe.

    Campus activists: we demand safe spaces.

    Corporate CEOs: join our big corporation and we will make you safe.

    Safety is an illusion. But what you can do is make yourself “anti-fragile.”

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