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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Programmer, Lawyer, Medieval Weapons Expert, Let Them Choose.

When I was 15 years old, my Dad brought home an Apple IIe computer he had bought used from a friend.  I convinced my parents to buy a book on BASIC programming and was soon impressing my friends and younger siblings with programs that would print my name on the screen over and over again (by copying the code verbatim from the book).  Obviously I was a prodigy.  It was not long after that I decided computer programming would be a great job.  I could play with computers all the time and make cool games and then play more. I can still remember my Mom's response to my sharing this career revelation with her.
"Larry, computer programmers spend all their time sitting alone in dark rooms typing away at the computer and never see any other people.  It is a lonely job.  You are so good with people and you will not like it.  You should do something where you are dealing with people all the time, like sales or psychology."
What could I say?  My Mom was awesome.  I knew she loved me and she was always saying that I could do anything I set my mind to.  And of course, she was older and wiser than me so if she thought I would be miserable typing away in the dark then I should follow her guidance.

Years later, today actually, I am a successful recruiter, my job is definitely about people, and I truly enjoy what I do.  But, I still love sitting at my desk and fiddling with my database, creating scripts to automate tasks, organizing the way the interface looks, linking data.  I think I would have enjoyed the computer life.  Contrary to my Mom's impressions, programs are not written in isolation.  At least not anymore.  There is a tremendous amount of collaboration that goes into creating software and a "people person" programmer is extremely valuable.  

If we are raising our kids right then they are listening to what we say and maybe even considering our advice. We will have built up a relationship of trust where they believe we actually do have their best interests at heart.  Even if they don't show that they understand this all the time.  When someone our kids trust and believe in (us, the parents) tells them that they are not suitable for a certain career, chances are they will take that advice seriously.  They might give up on it altogether like I did, or still pursue it but with enough self doubt as to make it very difficult to succeed. 

Support your kids interests, no matter what that interest may be.  Instead of pushing them away from a career that you disagree with or towards one you prefer, help them to make the most of what THEY want to do.  If they are intent on becoming a professional soccer player but do not have the talent, help them to investigate related careers like physical therapist or sports agent.  Don't just tell them to give up.  

Passion for one's job and career is something I rarely see in the workforce today and even with the best intentions it is a shame to take that away from our kids.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Bunny Whisperer

He gently lifted the shivering and frightened rabbit up out of it's box and settled it on his lap.  He was careful not to squeeze the young animal too tightly but at the same time using enough pressure that it would not jump away or feel that it was in danger of falling.  As the bunny peered nervously around, whiskers and nose twitching rapidly, the boy began to calmly stroke it's back and scratch lightly that sweet spot right between and behind the long, soft, furry ears.  Almost immediately the boy could feel it's tiny heartbeat slow.  With the same patience and care he lavishes on his little sister, he continued to hold the small life in his hands until finally, the bunny drifted off to sleep, safe and secure in the arms of it's guardian.

Kids have 21 years (more or less) to figure out what job they want to do when they graduate college.  If you are like me and think that they should try to clarify that before choosing a college (since it is going to cost them more than the value of your house to attend for 4 years), they are now down to 17 years.  Assuming that any real discussion about what work means is not going to happen until they are almost in high school they have a grand total of 5 years to narrow down the almost infinite possibilities.  We should also keep in mind that in those 5 years when our kids are trying to figure out what job is right for them, they have ZERO work experience and know almost nothing about what different jobs are like.  If only there were an experienced, older person in their life.  Someone who has been watching over them the whole 21 years and knows their strengths and weaknesses.  Someone who has 30 or 40 years of adult experience in the workplace.  Someone who could advise these young men and women on what "might" be a good career choice...  Wait a minute!  That would be us, their parents!

"I want to let them find their own way" is a nice sentiment but not practical unless our kids are independently wealthy.  You can read more about "Choices" in my No Choices for Kids! article.

So what career would you advise for the young man described in the beginning of this article?  A job that requires patience, sensitivity, a love of animals.  Rabbit Rancher, Kindergarten Teacher, Veterinarian?  Since the average salary for a Vet is about $84,000 and a Kindergarten Teacher is $37,000 (not sure about Rancher) I am going to push for the Veterinarian.  A small note here, if the young man says, "No, Dad, I don't want to be a Vet, I want to be a Teacher." that is great.  As long as he has a direction.

Back to the Veterinarian.  My curiosity peaked, I did some research on what it takes to become a Vet and what he can do now.  The first activity meets 2 needs.  Volunteering at a veterinary clinic or animal shelter.  It gives the child a chance to find out if they really like working with animals all the time and the experience will be valuable on their college application for vet school.  Next, science (particularly biology) is important so getting good grades in this subject and keeping up with the curriculum will make the undergraduate degree easier.

According to a few sites I found, there are a limited number of graduate veterinary schools (28).  This makes for very competitive admissions.  Standing out with good grades, letters of recommendation, and specific, focused internships and volunteer activities both in HS and college will make a difference.  Finally, recognize the commitment it will take.  A vet needs a 4 year undergraduate degree, followed by a 4 year graduate degree (Doctor), then you have to pass the licensing exams for both national and state and often start with an internship after all that before getting full time work.

Now I just need to find a place where he can volunteer with animals over the summer!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Do iPads build confidence in 2nd graders?

The other day I learned that my daughter's school will be moving to a one-to-one environment for technology from 2nd grade.  My son, who is now a 7th grader is already a part of this program as middle schoolers need to have their own MacBook when they begin 6th grade.  The new policy will require all 2nd graders to have their own iPads to bring to and from school.

I am sure that we are looking at the future of education with tablet technology.  Laptops and netbooks are already common in every class at the college level and visible all the way down the line through high school, middle school, and elementary.  It is simply too efficient having your textbooks, library, and notebook all at your fingertips in a neat multimedia package the size of a piece of paper for it not to end up that way.  So, I am not arguing against that introduction of technology into schools.  But, what are we losing and how will it affect my kid's chances of getting a good job (since that is what this blog is about)?

The influence (interference?) of technology in education is not limited to the gadgets the kids and teachers are toting around.  Blackboard or Moodle (enterprise level education software/service) along with intranets and blogs are allowing teachers to share information with their students 24 hours a day.  My son often has no idea what his homework is until he gets home and checks online at the end of the day.  This is great for everyone involved as it eliminates the excuse of forgotten homework assignments.  How can my daughter claim that she forgot when it is on the website every night?  The only challenge we have in our house is that sometimes my son will check his homework, do the first subject and then forget that he had more.  For that we created the printable to-do list you see here.  He is responsible for writing it all down so it is all in one place as soon as he gets home each day.  This is an open source to-do list by the way so please feel free to use it if you like.

The problem I forsee is that when our children head off to work, their boss is not going to post their assignment online.  I worry that along with all the other distractions that come with growing up these days (iPhones, soccer, puberty!) that knowing you can always check online to see what you missed will impact our kids efforts at paying attention.  Like everything else, concentration and attentiveness improve with practice and deteriorates through lack of use.  A common reason for companies to turn down applicants after a 2nd interview is because that candidate forgot what was said in the 1st interview or asked the  exact same question to the next interviewer!

For the iPad, MacBook, and technology overall, my Headhunter Dad mindset is asking, "Will my kids be more competitive or less competitive in the job market because of this early introduction of technology in their schools?"  There are some common technical skills that most companies will expect of new employees such as: basic typing skills, able to find their way around a computer, Word, Excel, PowerPoint. Early use of these tools of the trade will certainly help to increase the comfort and confidence of our kids so in that sense I would agree that technology contributes to their job-seeking competitiveness.  However, there are more critical virtues which will affect not only getting a job but succeeding at the job. To answer this question I referred back to a brief study I did about what the world's most attractive employers are looking for in our kids.  It came down to four common attributes: problem-solving, teamwork, maturity, and confidence (the articles can be seen by clicking on the maturity or confidence links).  So, does technology add to the opportunities to build on any of these four recruiting points? No, it does not.  Yes, you can exercise your problem-solving abilities on an iPad. You can collaborate electronically and learn how to work as a team. Technology, when taught properly also teaches responsibility when interacting with others and also about protecting that expensive hardware. Any achievement whether technology based or otherwise can help to build confidence.  But, I do not believe technology teaches problem-solving, teamwork, maturityand confidence any better than it can be taught without an iPad.

There is a need to learn how to use the tools of society but at the same time there is also value to getting away from the screens and keyboards. Each of our kid's will be different and the challenge is finding the right mix for each of them.  My conclusion?  Balance.  As the Headhunter Dad's Dad is fond of saying, "Life is all about balance Larry."