Of work (part 1)

… and other disasters. It’s something one learns only when it’s almost too late to change the outcome. If you’re looking for a summary, here it is: “Don’t work for companies who make a habit out of hiring managers from the outside and look for jobs in technical areas, doing things that aren’t changing over the years or with every gizmo or fashion trend”. Now go back to your pictures of cats, you’re safe.

               Going above and beyond the call of duty, when working for somebody else, is a sure way of placing yourself in the spotlight. All work and no play makes one manager in 5 to 10 years, or so they say. They do say, because it’s in their interest, even though it’s also a stupid thing to do from where I’m standing. No, they don’t teach that in school – you’ll get it only after more than 10/15/20 years of hard work and only after you’re neck deep in mortgages, car payments, college funds, Iphone, Ipad, Iwatch, Ipaid and more. You’re hooked. Unless something really bad (or good) happens to you, nothing can make you change that reality. It’s not a popular point among the fashionable media sources. But it’s the horrific reality of now.

               A decade ago, young men were at the top of the world. Now, it’s young women’s turn. Notice the common part – young. No, I don’t care about studies showing high unemployment among young people, that’s not important. Most young people are also dumb as a brick, but it’s also why they’ve got the biggest advantage yet – most don’t major in things that use math. Being dumb or arrogant is one thing keeping unemployment high among young people. Also, your major is rather big when deciding which way you go. Every technical job there is is rather taken by .. well.. tech majors so that leaves everything else. You can sell coffee with an accounting major but you won’t be seeing an engineer go for one of those unless he or she is really desperate. All tech folks want tech jobs – and it’s a rather limited number available. Depends on the type of tech, too.

Everything’s rather specialized, a very good programmer can’t do stress testing on car components, for instance. This is why the biggest battle isn’t in tech, it’s outside of tech. Design, sales, services and everything to do with human interraction, that’s where the battle is. Engineers, like doctors, know for certain what life will be in 5 or 10 years from now. Their careers are almost set in stone – what really matters when going up the pay scale is experience, followed by quality and adherence to certain principles like punctuality and not missing the deadlines. Everything is growing rather linear, with just a few exceptions here and there, depending on luck and the field or work. It’s really not that way if you’re on the outside.

               If you’ve done finance, accounting, law, arts, languages, marketing or anything similar, you’ve wasted your money if you didn’t choose your field by virtue of what’s the easiest and cheapest way to get a diploma. Everything is accessible, you know. You could be a bank manager or a CEO, it won’t matter if you’re fluent in latin or can recite all the work of Keynes from memory. All you need is a piece of paper we call a diploma, welcoming you to the herd. Don’t let anybody else tell you it’s not true – talk to any fellow who’s been working for more than 10 years. After the first hire, nobody will care where you went to school – they’ll ask for references if you ask for a job or don’t ask a single thing except “how much you want to come work for us?” if they’re asking you to join them. Everybody assumes you know your shit if you’ve been employed for more than three months.

               The point I’m trying to make here is you have to separate everything from the areas needing math. It’s like Ebola. You know math? Away from me, you filth. No way, right? Try sales if you’re an engineer or a doctor – unless you’re selling to engineers or doctors in which case you’re safe. We won’t speak of those areas, they’re easy to understand. What is contrary to everything from common sense to historical evidence, it’s everything else. I’ve seen kids, fresh from university, jumping from jack-of-all-trades to manager within the span of 4 years. Bank managers even, for some. Regional managers or key account managers or well, similar stuff, for others. Each leading teams of 2, 5, 10, 200 people, and their salary matched. You think they were genius level? Hardly. You think they all kept more or less that trend? None of those I knew. I was one of them, come to think of it. I didn’t make it, either. No, it was all my fault. All of it.

               You see, it’s the sort of epic-scale con you’d think films picture – only in reality it’s bigger. Think about it. What is everybody suggesting to new employees, everywhere, every damn time? You want a promotion? Go above and beyond your job description. Work more, work harder, do things that weren’t in the contract – and you can be a manager. It’s true, it works. But once you get to be a manager, then what? You think the company wants you to keep that chair for ever? Do you really think they’ll keep increasing your salary? No, son, that’s not how it works. If the chair can’t change owners, they can’t tell those below you to do what you did. They have to outperform you because that’s the ticket to replacing your sorry arse. They want new blood at the top – it’s cheaper to keep doing that than to keep you motivated. You have to be replaced for the system to work. It’s a law or something. Either you’re keeping your head down, always the employee and never the boss or you’re looking for other places to work. In other cities. In other countries. Across oceans. You can’t go too high – you actually can’t, unless you’re the owner. Let’s face it, it’s the truth.

               A young wide-eyed bushy-tailed graduate gets a job – an entry-level job because that name tells you exactly what to expect, low pay and long hours for the priviledge of experience. An’ love it, by god. Then everybody tells him he’s good, he’s manager material – and show others who’ve done exactly that. Work like two, sleep like half a normal human and soon you’ll be a manager. And the big part is – it’s happening, they keep their word. You won’t ask questions, you’ll see people going up every day, good hard-working people. You’ll see paychecks go bigger, you’ll taste power to alter other people’s lives – and it’s very good. You’ll soon start to think all this is because of you, because you’re worth it. You’ll get loans for big flashy cars, mortgages, have kids, have high price Mediterranean vacations and luxury cruises around the Carribean. This is the life, it’s just what you’ve always dreamed for yourself. Then the hammer falls. You see, either you keep moving, staying ahead of the hammer, or you’re hammered down. You can’t really go higher than manager – you don’t own the company. The company owns you, instead. There’s fresh blood up for promotion. Sure, you can jump from place to place until you’re out of the country – but how few actually do that? They’re the best of the best. After you’re 45, it’s all downhill. Corporate wars are real. If you don’t have a personal relationship to the owners, you’re toast. You ain’t the sharpest cookie in the bunch anymore.

               If you’re working for somebody else then you’re making them money. It’s what you do, it’s what they pay you for. You get big paychecks and think you’re on top of the world because you can hire or fire people but only while you keep making your owners more money and there’s nobody around to do it better. Your paycheck is small change for them. And while you’re busy stroking yourself over the thought of hiring or firing people, they know for sure they can fire you. They have the power, you have the illusion. Don’t flatter yourself, you’re always replaceable. Always.

               If you’ve reached the point of no return – the highest position you can achieve for your area and company – it’s either change country, become a business owner yourself or find the cushiest job you can find without being a manager. Most will do the latter because it’s the safe option if you’re neck deep in loans – even if it’s professional death. I know somebody who went from one of top 50 accountants in the country, working for entities like the State Treasury or National Bank or Federal Reserve – all the way to cashier of a small bank and after that, being humiliated and fired by a 30 year old kid. It’s not pretty if you’re almost the age for retirement. So you’ll bend over and say thank you. You’ll take less money but you’ll be safer, as safe as one can be. You’ll manage small teams or you’ll be managed by people half your age, and worry. Every bloody day you’ll worry about losing your job or getting a pay-cut. You can’t do anything else, you’ve got kids to keep in school and mortgages to pay.

               Why do you think young people – as in below the age of 45 – keep changing jobs and companies so much? The average time in one place is less than 5 years. It’s also true that time is going slowly up, but it’s to be expected – people want safety especially considering the economic events of the past decade. They might lack the opportunity for changing jobs. Still, it’s not where it should be. Job hopping is a big problem. Young people want more and they’re being told they’re worth it. They’re not. High employee turnover keeps costs low. Technology allows that. Everything but sales and marketing gets centralized and automated. Experience isn’t necessary, those in sales are given a script to follow and that’s that. Hire new graduates, fire those that burn out, promote one or two to replace those who left. The system is designed that way. You won’t get more money if you stay with the company on the same job, but you can go up the ladder somewhere else for a tiny increase and a bigger title. It’s true and encouraged. You won’t see many jumping ship for the same job but more money because they’re all citing “industry trends”, what you’ll sometimes see is people jumping ship for bigger titles and more responsibility but the same salary (or even less). Illusion of power, innit? No good comes from working for the sort of people hiring managers from outside the company.

               I keep growling at the job market, at corporations and employees – but I know for sure if somebody had told me this stuff 20 years ago I’d have thought he’d lost his marbles. It took a brush with bankrupcy and unemployment to wake me up. No way, man. You’re crazy. But it’s also real. Hurts like hell too. What I’m really trying now is to steer my son toward engineering or medicine, to show him math is fun and not to be avoided. If he starts early, he’s got more chances than I ever had. Technical expertise has very high entry barriers but once you’re in, if you’re learning, improving and don’t yell or curse everybody you meet, you’re set for life. Engineering won’t change because of fashion. You know, I really wouldn’t mind even if he didn’t go to college – good, reliable welders, for instance, make more money than most managers I know. But I would never agree to him working in sales for somebody else, even if I can’t change his decision. I’ve seen hell first hand – the first sounds I’ve heard upon entering were:

“Hello, I’m <insert name>. How may I be of service? Can I help you?”

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