pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
[personal profile] pktechgirlbackup
I had two trains of thought that started in very different places but may have arrived at the same station. Let's examine.

The first was reading gawker's Tales From The Unemployment Line, a good chunk of which are college educated millenials saying "I'll do anything, I'll work so hard, just give me a job." On one hand, that's much better than "I'm going to sit here and play in the mud until the perfect job is delivered to me by gold plated unicorn". On the other hand, there's a creepy fatalism in there. Have you played the Sims 2? There's two different ways to keep yourself economically solvent. The first is the very traditional "get some skills on your skill bar, get a job out of a newspaper, get in the carpool at the appointed time, get a promotion, work to fill up the skill bars so you get your next promotion." It's a conversion process of character itme to character rmoney. But some of the later expansion packs added entrepreneurial options. There are a couple of skills involved that you can build up, but they're tracked differently, and you can't study them. You get better at haggling by haggling. Meanwhile, the amount of money you make is by and large dependent on player choices about what stock to buy, what hours to work, etc.

I think the people asking for ditch digging jobs are looking for traditional sims careers. They'll do anything, but only after someone tells them to do it, and with a guaranteed pay off. This isn't entirely their fault: it's what we were all told would happen and it's what American society rewards. But I think those people in particular and our society in general would be happier if there was less of that and more of the entrepreneurial path, where people feel like they're creating value rather than trading time for money.

The second came when I was complaining to a friend about my job. My employers spend a lot of money on me and every other engineer. So do a bunch of other companies that want us to work for them. Most software companies are size-limited by the number of people they can hire (for the amount they want to pay), not by the work they want these people to do. And yet, they're incredibly resistant to small changes that would make me vastly more productive. I couldn't figure it out- if my work be so valuable to them, why aren't they willing to invest a little bit to get a lot more out of me? Or more personally, if I'm so valuable why aren't I worth a few accommodations?

To which my friend said: "you're a rare earth metal", a metaphor it's taken me at least a full day to appreciate. Rare earth metals are valuable, but the things they are valuable for (which include computing) require a lot of processing, a lot of capital investment, and a lot of other inputs (other metals, chip designs, poor Chinese factory workers). To simplify, they're only valuable in the presence of an extremely expensive system. You wouldn't attempt to justify changing the system to accommodate an atypical batch of rare earth metals with the phrase "they're so valuable", because the system is what makes them valuable.* Similarly, me and all my programmer peers are not valuable (in the sense of producing economic value to the corporations who traditionally hire us) unless we fit in to their system for producing value.

Contrast with precious gems in the pre-industrialized world. Jewelers added some value to them, and there were capital costs to add that value, but since every piece was handcrafted anyway, and gems were so rare, you worked with the flaws of whatever gems you managed to acquire. You'll notice I had to go back to the pre-industrialized economy to get a really good contrast for that analogy. I'm sure there are still craftsmen jewelers out there, but I'm also sure Zales designs pieces and then looks for rubies to fit them. Jewelers are probably more tolerant that chip manufacturers, but less than they used to be.

Hell, you see this with clothes. When every piece was hand sewn, it didn't cost that much extra to get clothes that fit you, relative to baseline. Now that we have mass production, the gap between "fits okay" and "fits well" is much larger, which I think puts a lot more pressure on people to conform to the dominant body type.

I think the career track/entrepreneurial track difference in the Sims corresponds to the rare earth metal/precious gem differences. Career track/rare earth corresponds to fitting yourself into a system someone else designed, and to whom you are valuable only insofar as you fit into the system. Entrepreneurial track/precious gem is about participating in many different exchanges, each of which is their own decision point.

In many ways, I lucked out in that I showed up at the job market with a set of skills that plugged me into a very nice official career. I'm very glad I had that option. But moving forward, I think I want to move more towards creating value as I define it, and away from trading my time for money.

*Like all metaphors, this one has its limits. Presumably if there were enough of a particular deviation, it would be worth tweaking the system for or refining the metals.


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May 2014

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