My brother writes to tell me of an unnerving experience, involved with hiring someone to manage a computer lab. It’s more than just a little tough out there. [Update: A Boxed pearl.]

This would be a public-access/education computer lab with a couple dozen machines, and they need someone to configure the Internet and LAN and keep things ticking along and do education. My brother writes (excerpted):

...the last few times I’ve run job ads I’ve gotten like at best 20 replies each, more likely about 8, so I ran the standard sort of ad, no mention of salary, made it sound cool to attract people, though I was clear that I was looking for someone to teach very basic applications ... I was also advertising some basic social servicy kinds of jobs ... [it] was a bit better than usual, I’m averaging a bit over 15 apiece, and the deadline is Friday.

I have 136 responses as of this afternoon... Most of these guys are fairly heavily qualified network engineers with major certifications all over their resumes, tons with heavy programming experience, and so on and so on. Over half with B.Sc.s maybe 15 with Masters, and even two Ph.D.s. ... I knew times were tough, but holy shit batman. You can pick a pretty heavy network guy for like $12/hour nowadays, I mean I didn’t list salary but they’re so desperate that they are advertising to me how low they'll go.

I feel basically stunned, is all. Its all kinda sad. ...

And still, the community colleges and career colleges are STILL turning these guys out by the thousands every year. Frightening really.

Kinda sad? Frightening? No kidding.

I’m wondering if I should be gently but firmly guiding my little boy away from this profession.

Update: Don Says · Don Box reacted (I think) to this note in a posting that contains what I’d have to call a pearl of wisdom.

I would be very hesitant to encourage anyone to pursue this career path. Like writing a book, the only people who should do it are those who can't not do it. I'm hopeful however that there will be many generations worth of funding for those few people who absolutely must live in the world of executable abstractions.

Yep, and here’s a story: I qualified for a Math degree because I was going to be a high-school teacher. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, there weren’t any teaching jobs. Fortunately, the University didn’t graduate you automatically, you had to apply. So I didn’t apply, and worked in hatmaking and rock & roll for a while.

I didn’t want to lose touch with the University, so I took a course or two per term, and a couple of them were computer courses. Somewhat to my surprise, while in Math I worked like a dog and got B’s and C’s, I sailed through the CS courses and got high A’s and didn’t notice I was working hard because I was having fun.

Then one day in class the prof (who was the Department Chair) said “You, know, I’ve noticed that over the last couple of years, everybody we graduate is getting lots of job offers at really good salaries.” You could have heard a pin drop. It had never dawned on us that you could get paid for doing this.

But I’d fallen into Don’s Box, firmly lodged in the world of executable abstractions.

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August 21, 2003
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