Such hard work

For most of high school and part of University, I worked for an ISP called Interlog, which no longer exists[1]. I was a glorified end-user support monkey, which by the way is just about the best job out there if you want to test the limits of your patience. I relished every available chance to look over both the literal and figurative shoulders of the system/network administrators – they were the Gods.

My dream job at the time was anything related to network design/architecture. With what little experience I had, I was incorrectly confident that programming would be child’s play, and had this bleak picture in my head of a 40-year future, 9-5 every day in a windowless, non-descript cubicle, forever programming according to someone else’s specifications. In fact, not unlike this.

There’s something called the Peter Principle, which I think holds quite true. The bleak future I pictured would really only happen if I absolutely sucked at programming – if you’re good at what you do, people notice and the scope of your responsibilities magically expand whether you want them to or not.

It’s interesting I think, how dream jobs frequently involve the word “design”.

  • I’m want to design cars when I grow up.
  • I’m want to design video games.
  • I’m want to design networks.
  • I’m want to design software.
  • etc.

It’s also interesting how people think they can immediately jump into designing something just because they’re a user of said thing. Just because I drive a car doesn’t mean I’m automatically qualified to design a car. I have absolutely no experience with the nuances involved in balancing the technical and non-technical tradeoffs that make a good car. Such experience is gained only by “working the front lines” so to speak (i.e. the chief engineer for car X probably started out doing something simple and mundane like choosing the nuts and bolts used to hold car X together). The exact same principal applies to video games, networks, software, and just about anything else.

Going back to my dream job from high school, I realize the folly of it now. If by some weird chance I was suddenly a network design engineer at some tier-1 network provider, it would have been a bad scene. Putting together a good design requires prior experience with poor designs, which would have come from working my way up, not jumping in at the top.

Something so completely logical now is difficult to comprehend at the time though. After all, offspring of the North American middle-class is raised with the mentality that they will exceed their elders in every way possible. It is expected, they are simply entitled.

Our grandparents endured decades of back-breaking physical labour just to feed our parents mouths. Our parents toil away at mostly white-collar work for 50 straight years just to feed, clothe, and educate us. Naturally, our lives should be just so much better. A high paying job that challenges us but is not too difficult, paying well enough to say, retire at 30, maybe 35 at the latest. Perhaps a brief stint of fame and fortune, if it’s not too much trouble.

The facts don’t usually hit until the first full-time, permanent job. Just as our grandparents and parents were, we are bound by the same 24 hours in a day, the same wonderful thing called inflation, the same stresses on our lives from familial and other inter-personal relationships. Until it becomes obvious that “exceeding our elders” really ends up meaning driving a nicer car, eating better food, living in a bigger house, and wearing moderately swankier clothes. We are not the chosen generation, not special at all. Just as they had to, we must work our way up the food chain. It isn’t going to be fun, easy, or short. I just wish they hadn’t gotten our hopes up.

[1] They were purchased by PSInet Canada, which later went bankrupt, and shortly thereafter their entire Canadian user base was bought by Telus.

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