When I was in high school, I intended to be a .com boomster, and ride the digital era into that $1m jackpot. After I graduated from the illustrious Churchill High School, I went to community college and studied for a few terms – and then dropped out and stayed out for 5 years.
During that time I worked for several social service agencies, volunteered at the local library, peddled goods at a Spencer’s Gifts, designed web pages, did odd job hardware repair, and generally fiddled around. Eventually I ended up settling on case management for five years, working with people with severe mental illness. If you want to learn how the mental health system works, try case management. I have a sneaking suspicion that many doctors have little to no idea about how the health system actually works on a day-to-day level.
Then I returned to college, finished my Bachelor’s, attended Drexel for my Masters, and went back for a second MS in Information Systems. At this point I am 2/3 of the way through, and am going to take a few months off so I can push through the last of the academic doldrums and be done with the MSIS.
Importantly, I transitioned careers. This is something that the USA is forcing people to do – retrain, regroup, and reorient for a new career. It is in the news every day, about new fields and opportunities. Newspapers are dying, but social media is hot. There is so much data that we are drowning in it. Severe IT shortages are leaving companies desperate for skilled staff. All of this while factories are shuttering and entire cities are devoid of the traditional work that has sustained the American way of life for decades.
First, a caveat: If you want to retrain, make sure that you have the capacity that you will need. Computer science isn’t easy, and will never be simple. Too many people get desperate for a good-paying career, and sink instead of swim. If you are bad at mathemathics, study before you even attempt college. A huge bulk of the students at my community college couldn’t grasp advanced algebra, and hence never graduated. It was depressing, and showed me that the educational system was failing our students in a gross and negligant way.
Transitioning is difficult. My Masters is in Library Science, and libraries have become a new target for budget cuts – but thankfully the skill set transfers well into other fields. Do your research on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, as well as Glassdoor.com, Monster, Dice, and any other place you can get a good, unbiased workplace opinion. Read about your over-arching field and your options for three or four months before deciding on your short list of possible careers. Even within IT, there are differences and sub-domains – the array is wide.
I am not going to say that IT is the only option – but to be honest, technical skills are your only option. The USA doesn’t need more fashion designers, and you will be back to starving if you pick liberal arts or English. Learn math, learn science, study the technical fields. Grasp how to write, firmly and completely.
The world has become the Shifting Land, and keeping on your feet is like riding the hurricane wind. It has also become a world where intellectually, technically, and skill-wise, ‘those who can’ have become ‘those who have’, in many senses. Yes, the technical world is hard, but the unemployment rate for IT is far lower than it is for people with only a high school education, or even college grads in non-technical fields.
There will be no going back to a simpler era, and William Gibson’s cyberscapes becomes more real every day. We have a barreling bull before us as a people and as a nation, and the only way out is to grasp both horns and ride our challenge. Don’t be trampled by the hooves of the world.
- Reasons to Consider Community College (education.com)
- Initiative to support, empower women STEM faculty – College of William and Mary (wm.edu)
- Foreign enrollment skyrockets for UW (seattletimes.nwsource.com)