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Must our degree determine our jobs?

June 17, 2008

Remember what your parents used to say? Study engineering / IT / law / medicine so that you can get a good job in engineering / IT / law / medicine. So you studied your ass off, got a degree and became an engineer / programmer / lawyer / doctor. Then one fine day you run into a classmate from college who had gone into real estate and is earning 10 times more than you.

I’ve been through that, having studied mathematics and computer engineering and becoming a system engineer. By the time I became an application architect, some of my classmates had moved on to business or had left the IT field alogether. One became an airline pilot. As far as I can tell, all are happier and driving nicer cars than I was.

Today my work has nothing to do with programming. People ask why do I waste my parent’s money studying one thing and then doing something else for a living? Am I not betraying them? Aren’t I stupid to pour 4 years of study down the drain? The funny thing is, I don’t hear this from the Americans, only from Asian kids who are fresh out of college or Asian parents who had spent a large chunk on their child’s education. Apparently you don’t talk about other options if the investment hasn’t paid off and as far as you’re concerned, only morons talk about studying one field and working in another.

So that’s the unspoken rule. Return on investment decides one’s future, not personal aspiration. I guess that explains why so many engineers and lawyers act like they’re in loveless marriages and why the Asian passion to innovate is close to zero (we rather copy, thank you very much). You can’t grow something you do not love. Sure, most students study what they study because their parents wanted them to. Maybe they got swept up by a fad like the IT craze of the 90’s or it was the only option left given one’s finances. Upon graduation, they cling to their comfort zones by rubbishing alternative careers. Only a crazy few, people like me, would choose to break out and pursue their calling, degrees be damned.

Now If you’re happy with your career and its also your field of study, then you’re one lucky son of a gun. What I don’t understand are professionals who moan and groan about poor work conditions and low salaries when there is nothing to stop them from getting out and trying something new. An engineer itching to become an airline pilot or gym instructor? Why not? There’s 1,001 ways to make a buck. So who gets to decide how much pain you’re going to trade for that buck? You or some old piece of paper?

Lousy salaries mean only one thing – there’s just too many of you out there chasing after too few jobs. If you really dislike your line of work, do yourself a favor. Stop groaning about what a wretched industry you’re in. Pick up the frickin bat and try to knock it out of the park – this time in a different direction.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2008 10:06 am

    The thing is, a lot of people don’t know what they want to do in their lives until after they’ve lived a few more years, by that time then, they’re almost done with their degrees. Most Asians grow up in spoonfed environment where money, not dreams is the objective. Far cry from people in western countries that know what they want even though it’s some skilled labour. Funny thing is, skilled labour can earn people 70-100k a year if they are experienced in it.

    So it’s not about different ways to make a buck, it’s about being the best at what you are and with that has to come love of your job.

  2. LC Teh permalink
    June 17, 2008 10:24 am

    First, perhaps it’s that frigging ‘boxed-in’ mindset. Then maybe it’s the ‘Go where the money is even if you don’t like the bloody job’ attitude. And there’s the long standing ‘bread & butter’ thingy that dates back to your immigrant parents, where you learn first to take care of the rice-bowl.

    In a way, most people have multiple talents or skills, likes and aptitudes, which gives us that edge to survive. Sometimes it’s not the job kills our joy but it’s the management or system that runs a company that turns it into a hell-hole. That’s when other options have to be taken.

  3. June 17, 2008 10:28 am

    Definitely true! I grew up studying totally two different courses, one which is of my parents choice and the other of my own personal preference but currently i am working in a industry which neither make use of the both education.

    I think many of us are just uncomfortable to move out of our comfort zone and unwilling to explore the greener pastures.

  4. June 17, 2008 11:55 pm

    Degree is a stepping stone. Frankly speaking you do not need a degree to be rich. Lots of hawker ppl are millionaires. Question is what are you happy with and go for it.

    By the way, IT is not always equal a programmer.

  5. Damien permalink*
    June 18, 2008 8:34 am

    @edrei, yeah it took me 3 years after graduation to decide that programming is not for me.

    @LC, that’s true, beggars can’t be choosers although nowadays a beggar has a choice between becoming an engineer or a management trainee. Most parents will disapprove the latter because they feel their money would be wasted.

    @mj, haha your parents must have had a fit to see you go ‘off tangent.’

    @mybabybay, parents probably also think its faster to get rich with education than without. They’ve put happiness aside to provide for the family so they may expect us to do the same. Yup IT is a lot of things. I traversed from programmer to application architect in software r&d in 3 short years.

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