Wed 7 May 2008
One of my friends lost his job this week. He worked in the chem department of a pharmaceutical company, doing something that went completely over my head while he was explaining it to me. What I got from his description was that it was not the kind of work that’s particularly easy to find and he’s really worried about how he’s going to find another similar position, or what he’s going to do to stay fresh if he has to take something in the meantime outside of his specialty.
I worried for him while he was telling me about this, and at the same time my mind was half zoning out thinking about my own career. I’ve been in a similar situation… it’s not uncommon for companies to just run out of funding or to have massive sweeping layoffs. The last company that I was at out ran out of money and we all showed up at our office one morning to find movers disassembling our cubes. No prior warning, nothing. Let me tell you, there’s no cup of coffee that can wake you up quicker than the sight of that.
“I just don’t know any other company that’s doing this kind of work,” he continued.
Apparently chem development is not the kind of generic skill that can be easily ported from company to company. I forget sometimes just how lucky I am to have a skill set that is so adaptable. Programming work is so readily available it’s ridiculous. A quick search on monster.com or dice.com will show that there’s a constant need for decent programmers. I say decent because you don’t even have to be a top shelf developer to enjoy this kind of programmer’s market. Most companies are looking for a programmer that can just get a job done. Now, ideally, I try to look for a lot more than that in a job position, but if it came down to being a worker-bee programmer, the money is still good for those jobs and you get to stay on point with your skills. It’s not a bad deal, and there’s always a need for this kind of work.
“The only other pharmaceutical company that has the kind of equipment I work with is two states away, ” he told me.
Again, my brain is thinking about this and wondering what things would be like if my work depended on some niche, specialty apparatus. As a programmer, I’m spoiled by VPNs, remote desktop, portable laptops, 4 gig flash drives and a whole arsenal of gear to help me work from wherever I need to. My friend would have to buy some multi-million dollar research equipment to do his work from home. However, I can connect to my desktop and work from home like I’m right at my desk. The kind of flexibility that gives me is just incredible. How many people are fortunate enough to be as productive from home as they are at work?
“Without being around the lab every day, my skills are going to fall apart… this just isn’t the kind of stuff I can keep up with outside of a workplace,” he told me.
Software developers don’t need professional work to keep their skills up to date. There are many online communities, sites dedicated to providing samples for all aspects of programming, open source projects, and endless opportunities to stay on the cutting edge of software development. Staying current in this way is something many developers do on top of their normal job anyway. It’s not very often that I realize that without those resources, it would be much harder to keep up with all of the change and fluctuation that the software world goes through.
Of course, after all of the things my friend had told me I couldn’t say any of these thoughts I was having. But in the back of my head, I had a real face-to-face moment with the fact that I may be one of the luckiest people in the world simply because I write software. Do I ever worry about losing a job? Sure, everyone does to some degree. Nothing is certain. But I do know that if I ever lost a programming job, I’d have another within a week. No worries.
What does make me lose sleep some nights is what would happen if software development simply went away. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s something that I think about from time to time. Industrial workers in the early 20th century probably never imagined being replaced by robots, but it’s happened on a large scale. Without software development, I would be in a lot of trouble. I wouldn’t be able to work from home if I needed to. I might have to do something 8 hours a day that I didn’t enjoy doing. I might have to wear a suit.
Even worse, I might have to take a job that didn’t allow me any creative thought. That would be worse than the suit. To have to work at a job where I performed some task over and over, or had some responsibilities that didn’t allow my mind to wonder “What if?” would kill a small part of me. This may be the biggest perk of all in this career choice of software development… the freedom of creativity.
I’m going to spend the better part of today reminding myself of just how lucky I am that there is such a thing as computer programming and that I just happen to absolutely love doing it. When I think about what my life would be without programming, I realize that the stars have aligned in some miraculous way for me.