Career Advice – Don’t ever become a typist and struggle like me

Updated 6 Apr 2010 – My nephew, with who i had the discussion mentioned in this post has commented.

Updated 29 Mar 2010   RK has written a nice rejoinder to this post on his blog. Please check it out.

Prolog

Recently, i was talking to a nephew of mine, who is studying to be an engineer,  about career choices and he was saying how he didn’t like programming and was going to stay far away from it. I didn’t think he was making the correct decisions, and i wanted to tell him a story and a lesson from my own life.

Never become a typist

As a middle class family man, my father worked extremely hard to put food on the table and to get us educated at decent institutions.  When the money was tight, aside from his regular government job, he would go out and do job typing and earn something like Rs. 0.50 per page or something like that (this is 30+ years back, don’t remember very clearly).  Obviously, a lot of back breaking work.

One day, he told me, Son, “you should never become a typist and struggle the way i do”. I would have been a 10 year old at the time he told me this.

Now i took that as the gospel truth. I have developed such a deep-rooted prejudice that i am yet to even step into a typewriting training institute.  Believe it or not, every time, i pass by a typewriting training school, the image of my father advising me comes into my mind and i don’t enter the school.

I learnt programming in the 1st year of my college and i entered the software industry soon after i finished college. I have worked in it since then for nearly 22 years now. But i am still to learn typewriting formally. I can type at a pretty good speed thanks to the donkey’s  years spent using the QWERTY keyboard.

Had i learnt typewriting formally, it would definitely have helped me with my job. The thing is, i completely misunderstood my father. He only asked that i don’t become a typist as a career choice. He never said i shouldn’t learn typewriting at all.

Programming is also a Tool

Through this story, I told my nephew that, had i thought of Typewriting as a tool and not as a career choice, i wouldn’t have made the mistake.

I told him – “In the same way, programming is a tool. There is no job on the planet that doesn’t use computers or information technology in general in some way shape or form. So, no matter what career you end up in, learning programming/computers would help you in your career.”

He seemed to understand and agree with me. Hope he will follow through and not treat Programming with the same prejudice i treated Typewriting.

Epilog

What did you think of my advice? Do you all have similar types of ill-founded prejudices in your life or am i the only one? Please chime in with your comments.


Comments

  1. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 29, 2010, 9:54 pm:

    Ashok,
    Thanks. Just to be sure, i wasn’t trying to make my nephew take up IT. I only urged him to learn programming because it helps no matter what career he chooses.

  2. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 29, 2010, 9:57 pm:

    Thanks RK. look forward to your post.

  3. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 29, 2010, 9:58 pm:

    Thanks Tonmoy for the kind words.

  4. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 29, 2010, 9:59 pm:

    Thanks Natarajan. Interesting that your father gave the same advice.

  5. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 29, 2010, 10:01 pm:

    Senthil,
    Your comments are off topic. Your question is good – why do some professions become unprofitable? I don’t know the exact answer but I think you should look at history and learn from it. There are plenty of professions which fell out of favor over time.

  6. Quote
    senthil (subscribed) said March 29, 2010, 10:17 pm:

    Ashok,

    /** I rarely seen people in Services Industries with 6 years experience or more doing programming. This is not the case with the westerners I still see Tim bray programming as like before. And he is still successful earning more than what the Senior / Group Project Managers do.
    **/

    Westerners NOT just do programming.. rather they design software systems where programming is a major part.. I am still wondering how they could design frameworks, products, in a systematic manner (like Versioning, bug tracking, IRC etc).. the reason i feel is their decades or experience & inherent skills in designing various other systems.. (like economic system, political system, social system, government system).. their thought process is systemic..

    and we lack that kind of approach which is NOT taught anywhere..

  7. Quote
    Karthik.Pk said March 29, 2010, 10:46 pm:

    Very Good post Sukumar .

    I totally agree with u on ur advice to ur nephew.IMHO no knowledge goes waste so i think ur advice to ur nephew was right as he will use this knowledge some time down the line in one format or the other and may not actually become a software engineer.

    I do agree with u on the teacher part where teachers’s make us lose interest in the subject but in my case i would blame myself for not taking up Archeology/History as i felt back in school that only duffers take history in graduation(sheer prejudice and peer pressure),so i would not blame my tracher wholly here:)

  8. Quote

    Sukumar,

    This is a very good post and coming in the right time for people who are about to take decisions about their career. Fortunately or unfortunately not many people are able to visualize the branch of engineering or the career that they want to pursue. But the point that you have highlighted is very very important in the current scheme of things. I will share it with my nephew who is getting into 12th Standard this year!

    Thank you very much!

  9. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 8:51 am:

    Senthil,
    That is a good observation. Not sure, we can say “it is not being taught anywhere”, but yes we do seem to lack that systemic perspective in many spheres of life.

  10. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 8:52 am:

    Thanks Karthik. Yes, we can’t completely blame teachers. I also wish i had taken history more seriously in grade school.

  11. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 8:52 am:

    Thanks for your kind words Rams. Glad you find it useful.

  12. Quote

    Sukumar,
    My comments / sequel / cross-post at http://bit.ly/93HIPT

    I welcome all other readers as well to see alternate views at http://bit.ly/93HIPT

  13. Quote
    Arvind Chandran said March 30, 2010, 11:03 am:

    Thanks for sharing this , Sukumar….Great advice to your nephew on not getting prejudiced about programming…The predicament that your nephew is facing reminds me of the time that I was passing out of college …being a mechanical engineering student and that too making the qualifying cut for all the mechanical as well as the IT companies, the words that kept ringing in my ears were that of an excellent prof , a man we all respected a lot. He said ” IT professionals are glorified clerks”. He asked us not to join IT companies. My choice was a very conscious one indeed and that too after talking to many people including my uncle who has been in IT services for sometime now. Of course there is a lot pf pressure to follow the software dream…..

    What i understood from the different conversations that I had was that IT offers its challenges too, in different ways…and that being in IT was not just about programming….There are so many more things that one can do, including pursuing your own dreams….It also about what you think and feel, you can always ask others for advice but ultimately it boils down to what you want to pursue and what you strive to do…..

    An interesting recent development is that, most friends are keen to do an mba/ms (actually most have already quit to study), here strangely the reason is not being happy at work….but I guess people who do things for the wrong reasons might end up regretting the decision….Guess you have to take a long hard look at life and then make the decision….

  14. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 1:15 pm:

    Thanks for the post RK. i have linked to it from this post as well.

  15. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 1:18 pm:

    Arvind,
    Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your personal story. Yes, career decisions have to be made based on what you want to do in life. You are absolutely right.

    To that golden advice, I would add – just because you made up your mind on a career, that doesn’t mean you should ignore or refuse to learn skills from other domains atleast while in college when the said subject is part of the curriculum already, no special effort required.

  16. Quote
    Arvind Chandran said March 30, 2010, 2:25 pm:

    Thanks Sukumar.

    I totally agree with you, learning skills from other domains is very important. But dont you think that it should be a continous process and not stop with college? I guess you meant that it is difficult to learn skills from other domains when you have a full work day and that it is better done whilst in college….

  17. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 2:30 pm:

    Thanks Arvind.

    Yes, learning is a continuous process. However what i meant is, “programming” is already part of the curriculum. No special effort is required other than attending the class. When you are out of the college, you need to take extra efforts to learn outside your domain. As you say, we should continue to do that also though it may be difficult due to lack of time.

  18. Quote
    Arvind Chandran said March 30, 2010, 2:37 pm:

    oh ok, thanks for clarifying Sukumar!

  19. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 4:06 pm:

    Sure Arvind.

  20. Quote
    senthil (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 9:04 pm:

    Sukumar,

    Just my personal story..

    Right from my childhood, my father often insisted, that even rearing donkey is not a bad profession and that i can choose that profession later in my life .. but we have to study well at the school age.. (in tamil.. எந்த வேலையும் கேவலமில்லை.. நீ பின்னாடி கழுதைய கூட மேய்.. ஆனா நல்லா படிச்சுட்டு வந்து அத செய்) .. It created a lasting impression in me .. i believe, as long as any job is honest, genuine, and out of our hard work, nothing is wrong or shameful, even if its the night soil cleaning..

    Due to my family background, i had the opportunity to do all kinds of jobs, right from dirty jobs to white collar ones.. I would sit in computers doing civil planning for my father in autocad, and i would also join the labourers carrying the concrete mix.. and at another time, i would do irrigation in our fields, level the fields, harvest and all kinds of farm works..

    I went for typewriting class, computer class, yoga classes, music classes in my 7th std itself, during the annual leave.. i did not do any exams in type writing, but i am able to type very fast, which many of my friends in my college often wonder at 🙂 .

    Having all these experience, i could not have any prejudice against any profession.. but there are exceptions.. During my childhood, i had been attracted towards communists ideology, thanks to the soviet books, that my father had bought during his college days. At that time, i believed, that all managers are exploiters sitting comfortably while the labourers were working hard physically.. I felt this as grave injustice and hence i had this prejudice against supervisors, managers and all white collar jobs.
    But later i realized how wrong this prejudice was..

    Another prejudice i have is against share traders & brokers.. Still now, i feel, share broking is unethical & unfair..

    the end result of all these is that i did not have any focused career path… i am more a jack of all trades, than king of few trades.. i dont know if such a situation is beneficial.. Can any one with such diverse interest have a proper career path?

  21. Quote

    Thanks Sukumar for the link to my post.

  22. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 10:24 pm:

    Thanks for sharing your story Senthil. Only requirement for a proper career path is a plan aside from the requisite talent, which you already have. Decide on what you want to do and create a plan. All the skills you have learnt will stand in good stead. Having diverse interests is a good thing.

  23. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 30, 2010, 10:24 pm:

    Sure RK.

  24. Quote
    Kumaran said March 30, 2010, 10:51 pm:

    Senthil,

    /*
    the end result of all these is that i did not have any focused career path… i am more a jack of all trades, than king of few trades.. i dont know if such a situation is beneficial.. Can any one with such diverse interest have a proper career path?

    */

    An architect is one who needs those skills. He needs to have 60% depth in one domain and 40% spread across. In IT the architect profession is very immature but growing. In construction it pretty clear. So if you are in IT then architecture is the profession that should align with your skills/interests.

  25. Quote
    Siva Guruvareddiar (subscribed) said March 31, 2010, 9:49 am:

    Excellent piece of advice Sukumar….

    Esp, when the developers tend to think the programming language as their life and forgot the notion that “Programming is just a tool” to solve our problems in a domain….

    Thanks
    Siva Guruvareddiar

  26. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 31, 2010, 12:53 pm:

    Kumaran,
    That is a good career suggestion for Senthil. I already see him do that type of work. I think it will be a good fit for him.

  27. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 31, 2010, 12:55 pm:

    Thanks for the kind words Siva. Yes, we often get too identified with things instead of treating them as tools.

  28. Quote

    Great anecdote Sukumar. I remember many such advices that still continue to shape my life. Since we are older now, we can take a more pragmatic approach. In the US, they teach typing skills as a part of the school course work. Hence, kids learn automatically. Regards.

  29. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 1, 2010, 8:52 am:

    Thanks a lot MD. I didn’t know US Schools taught typing as part of the curriculum. smart.

  30. Quote
    somasundar (subscribed) said April 2, 2010, 1:43 pm:

    Sukumar

    Well said and well put indeed.

    Nurture can never match Nature. But It can still produce greatness.

    It is 100% true when we take examples for Nature we take only the greats like Illayaraja for music and likes. We often forget how much hard work the others have put in to compete with “Nature”.

    Does your blog have the Nature vs Nuture debate ? If so please point me to the link

  31. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 2, 2010, 5:55 pm:

    Somasundar,
    Thanks for agreeing with me. We have not tackled that particular topic specifically on this blog. You may want to read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell for some ideas on this topic. I would say one of the best books is Mindset by Carol Dweck. It is a brilliant one.

  32. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 6, 2010, 8:59 pm:

    Here is a comment i received from my nephew. I have masked his identity since he is still a teenager.

    Thats a wonderful post! Sorry for the late reply though. I was not able to access the net for a couple of days.

    I now agree to what you had said. 🙂 In fact right after that conversation with you, I realized how important programming is; even in the electronics field. Hardly do engineers ever start to first experiment with the tools and components these days. Its all simulation. Simulation saves time, removes errors, avoids wastage, and cuts costs. And simulation involves programming.

    Like prem had pointed out, MATLAB, CAD, LabView are all very vital to an engineer. Programming requires logic. And the best way to learn how to develop logic is to learn C, C++ and Java. They might not be exactly related to my field but I’ve found that all electronic engineers know programming in these languages. I’ve taken OOPS as my elective this sem. And I must say, I’m enjoying learning C++ and Java.

    I was very surprised when I found out that the best way to program a Texas Instruments Digital Signal Processing Kit is to program it with C. I also plan to learn MATLAB and LabView in the sem holidays. In a recent conference, the group that had won the first prize had not physically made their device. They made a simulated model of it. Even international conferences these days accept simulation; in many cases even recommend it.

    To tell you the truth I’ve now developed a liking to programming. Its after all going to help me pursue my career. 🙂

  33. Quote

    Sukumar

    Excellent post and the one laced with an advice that is very much needed for everyone.

    Ramesh Ramaswamy, who used to be my manager 10 yrs back used to give me one advice which I think is very relevant one. He used to say that our primary skill is like 1. We must possess it, or learn it and excel in it. The secondary skills are like programming, soft skills, tools, networking with peers, community participation etc. These are like zeros. We need them as well. If we keep them next to the 1, the more we have the larger the number and value. If we just have these, then it is pretty much 0.

    Other comments are really great. A learning experience.

  34. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 11, 2010, 2:19 pm:

    Thanks for the kind words Vamsi. I really loved Ramesh Ramaswamy’s analogy of 1s and 0s. I am going to use this analogy. Thanks for sharing.

  35. Quote

    Nice post, very insightful analogy.

  36. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 16, 2010, 2:41 pm:

    Thanks for the kind words Archana.

  37. Quote

    Nice post.

    I passed out Mechatronics engineering with flying colours. In fact being a Gold medalist, I always aspire to do R&D work.
    I was flooded with job offers before leaving my college. I choose to work in an IT company.

    I learnt programming which was dumped as extinct tech..Mainframes !!!

    I quit that IT company because my aspiration was to do some R&D kind of stuff. When I applied for my PhD in Australia, because of my programming expertise, I came top among other candidates.

    Now eventhough I dont like programming in COBOL, the concepts which I learned made me excel in programming FPGAs & DSPs.

    Indeed programming will help to develop algorithms and great thing to learn

    Cheers,
    Selvaraaju Murugesan
    http://selvaraaju.wordpress.com

  38. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 17, 2010, 8:06 pm:

    Selvaraju,
    Thanks for confirming my findings with your personal experience.

  39. Quote
    Srinivas Badekila said May 2, 2010, 6:55 pm:

    Sukumar,

    Guess this post serves me best at this moment – now that I am making a transition from a work to studies. Not that I had any prejudice against this job, rather would say that my stay in this company and the IT industry did enrich me. Again, its only now that I realize this.

    First few days of my work in Cognizant, I wasn’t all that excited, perhaps because IT was an alien field to me having graduated in chemical engineering. I joined cognizant because this was the first company in our campus – and having qualified this put me out of contention for any company hiring thereafter. None of the other core companies that I tried would hire me – tried many oil/petroleum/fertilizer/industrial chemicals company in the country. Perhaps this led to a frustration against the very company that hired me – cognizant.

    Over a period of time, perhaps I got a little wiser, or the realization just sunk in; anyway, I slowly found my peace with myself. Now I venture out into an MBA – this time again the IIMs wouldn’t take me, so its gotta be NITIE Mumbai – but this time, I don’t have any regrets. It’ll all turn to our own good!

    Never will I undermine any work! 🙂 Thanks Sukumar!!!

  40. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 2, 2010, 7:20 pm:

    Thanks Srinivas. Good luck with your MBA. NITIE is a good institute. I am sure you will make the best of your studies.

  41. Quote
    Anusha said May 10, 2010, 5:59 pm:

    This is one of the best post i have read and will always remember this story to tell it to all my coming generations.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  42. Quote
    Ruchi (subscribed) said May 2, 2011, 3:15 am:

    Priya, your advice to your nephew was spot on. Whenever, we set out to achieve a task ( varying from simple to complex ) , i believe , we require 3 sets pf things .

    1. Toolset
    2. Skillset
    3. Mindset

    This concept can be applied to Choosing a Career ( complex task ) as well. We wont be able to do a task effectively and efficiently if we lack either one of them. You touched upon importance of both tool set and ( to have an open) mind (set). Mindset and Skill set he will further acquire from his/other’s life experiences , Engineering school and application of learning on the job.

    Your nephew is lucky to have an aunt like you , who can guide him through his early stages of career 🙂

    Regards,
    RB

  43. Quote
    Ruchi (subscribed) said May 2, 2011, 3:29 am:

    Sukumar, i later noticed, this article is from you and not from Priya. Aplogoies for the mix-up. 😛

  44. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 2, 2011, 12:19 pm:

    Thanks Ruchi. Nice way of categorizing into toolset, skillset and mindset.

    No issues with the mix up.

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