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Since officially deciding to drop my engineering career, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. For instance, what’s the point of going back to school and what’s my ultimate goal? Of all the questions I’ve been asked, one really sticks out to me: what’s my ideal job?
Table of Contents
Before we dig into my ideal job, let’s talk a little bit about the several odd jobs I’ve worked since I was 18. At just 24, I’ve have had about 7 unique jobs. Let’s take a look!
Until I graduated from high school, I struggled to find a job. Just when I thought there was no hope, I stumbled upon a local reffing gig for the summer. I was not cut out for that job, let me tell ya.
Apparently, reffing U8 is the same as reffing FIFA—or, at least that’s the impression I got from the parents and coaches. I remember one time where a coach yelled at me for called a free kick instead of a penalty kick, so I changed my call. It wasn’t long before parents were screaming at me.
Needless to say, I never reffed again.
Music Library Grunt
When I got to college, I found myself working in a music library. In short, all I had to do was organize music in the music library. Usually the job was worked in two phases: cleanup and setup.
During the setup phase, I was responsible for gathering music for the various ensembles and making copies. When the ensembles were finished with that music, I would sort the music and put it away.
On top of those basic responsibilities, I was often required to help setup venues and stages for concerts. Of course, concerts only occurred a couple times a semester.
In general, I enjoyed the job, but it was extremely boring at times. In addition, I often worked late hours after ensembles which weren’t exactly ideal.
After a year in college, I was fortunate enough to get find a summer job back home pitching tents. Or more accurately, I would setup tents, tables, and chairs for graduation parties and weddings.
Typically, I worked Friday through Monday for an average of 20 hours a week. Fridays and Saturdays were early days (5/6AM) where we’d show up at various locations to setup. On Sundays and Mondays, we’d go in the afternoons to pickup everything we rented out.
During crazy weekends, we’d sometimes find ourselves tearing down tents just to move them to another site in the same day. On top of that, weather played a huge role in the events of that weekend.
On one occassion, I remember renting out three of our biggest tents to a wedding party. Over the course of that weekend, it rained continuously. Almost every day that weekend, we found ourselves trudging through the mud to retrieve one of those tents, so we could move them someplace else. It was a bit insane.
Despite some of the crazy weekends, I absolutely loved that job. Not only was I staying healthy, but I was doing something that was kind of fun.
During my third year in college, I picked up a teaching assistant job for an introduction to Java course that ultimately led to my interest in teaching.
As a teaching assistant, my main responsibilities included running two labs a week, grading all assignments, holding office hours, and responding to emails. In addition, I spent a lot of time working with students who were genuinely interesting in learning how to code.
I spent a full two years in that job, and it was actually quite sad to leave. Of course, I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off in grad school.
With just a year left in college, I found myself another summer gig: an engineering internship at GE Transportation, the company I watched crash in front of me.
When I showed up, I was pretty excited because I was supposed to making $24/hour. Unfortunately, I found out quickly that the money would never be worth it in a million years. Of course, that’s a story for another time.
In general, my responsibilities included sitting in a cubicle from 8AM-5PM, checking emails, attending meetings, and producing useless software. None of which I had any interest in, but I found myself interviewing for the full time position anyway. Did I mention I hate the career convention?
When I finally made my way back to GE to kickoff my career, I found myself in a role working on locomotive video collection software. More specifically, I spent most of the role writing software to verify video files. Does that sound interesting? It wasn’t.
Over the course of six months, I wrote one application to verify video files and display the results visually. In addition, I added some code to the video collection software to distribute load. In both cases, I feel like I was largely wasting my own time, but who can argue with that $70,000 salary?
For my most recent job, I spent the last year or so with GE as a prognostics engineer. Basically, that meant that I was writing predictive algorithms for locomotives. Unfortunately, it was a lot less cool than it sounds.
As a prognostics engineer, I spent most of my time adding unnecessary features to existing Python algorithms. Of course, I won’t go off on that rant; I have a whole a series dedicated to it.
Instead, I’ll just say that most of my time at GE taught me one thing: I cannot be an engineer. It’s not that I lack the skill or the drive. I just don’t mesh well with the industry. I cannot physically sit in a chair for 10 hours a day and write code that either will never be used or will be changed in a week. What’s the point?
As you can probably imagine, moving back to something more volatile like teaching is more my speed.
At this point, we’re over 1000 words in, and I haven’t even mentioned my ideal job. But, don’t worry! It’ll all be worth at.
For now though, I want to talk briefly about my values because they’ll help give you a better understanding of my position regarding jobs and careers.
As someone who follows the minimalists quite a bit, I figured I should at least mention that I live by the same foundational values:
All five of these values are incredibly important. If I’m ever feeling down, I know I need to revisit these values to get myself back on track.
The core values are concepts that make up who I am as a person. Every so often, I like to revisit my core values. But for the moment, here they are:
- Proximity: access to basic needs within walking distance
- Logic: the ability to systematically tackle problems
- Adaptability: the ability to roll with the punches
- Risk: the willingness to make mistakes
- Patience: the ability to remain respectful regardless of circumstance
- Equality: the willingness to make fair sacrifices
- Humor: the ability to take a joke
- Communication: the ability to speak openly
- Uncertainty: the lack of a concrete plan
- Independence: the ability to make choices without the influence of others
- Curiosity: the constant desire to learn
- Skepticism: the ability to challenge the status quo
- Mobility: the ability to travel without the restriction of geography or things
As you can see, a lot of my values center around intelligence and freedom. In other words, I like to learn, share what I’ve learned, and explore. It’s really that simple.
Following the core values, I have a handful of minor values which are things that bring me happiness:
- Video Games
If I had to, I could cut these out of my life, and I’d still be living a relatively fulfilling life. Of course, I do enjoy these things, and I have no plan to deprive myself of them.
Overall, my values make up who I am, and they help guide me when I’m lost. As you can probably imagine, they’ve become quite important when it comes to finding my ideal job.
While I’m not one for silly personality quizzes, I do like to mention my StrengthsQuest strengths. After all, I feel the descriptions at least align closely with who I am.
If you’re not familiar with StrengthsQuest, it’s basically an assessment which gives you a profile of your top 5 strengths from a list of 34 themes.
Of course, that alone would be pretty lame. Instead of providing a generic set of horoscope-style responses, the assessment provides a description of each of your strengths within the context of your responses. Pretty cool, right? Let’s check out mine.
Of the 34 possible strengths, my top strength is restorative. Rather than trying to explain what that means, I’ll share the exact phrasing:
People who are especially talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
When I took the assessment, I was also given a personalized description of “what makes me stand out” within the context of that theme. Here are some of my Restorative highlights:
- “Chances are good that you have an insatiable — that is, incapable of being satisfied — appetite for information.”
- “By nature, you may be an individual performer.”
- “Sometimes you are determined to conquer your limitations without the support or help of others.”
Even though I took this assessment in 2014, I still feel like many of these statements apply to my current life.
Following Restorative, my next strength is Strategic:
People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues
As for the personalized section, here are some highlights:
- “Because of your strengths, you may be a self-reliant person who needs time alone to think or work.”
- “Perhaps you can identify certain recurring configurations in the behavior of people, the functioning of processes, or the emergence of potential problems.”
- “You might consider numerous solutions before you pinpoint an appropriate course of action.”
With this strength, much of the personalized description talked a lot about my vocabulary. Honestly, I don’t buy into that too much, but I will say that I do a lot of systematic problem solving.
As fate would have it, my third highest strength is Developer:
People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.
Unfortunately, the strength has nothing to do with coding. That said, there are a few solid personalized highlights:
- “Because of your strengths, you realize that sharing information, resources, talents, and even time provides you with experiences to grow as a person and as a professional.”
- “By nature, you occasionally take time to discover some of the likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, or idiosyncrasies of individuals.”
- “It’s very likely that you value financial security, but you refuse to think about it as much as many people do.”
- “You place a higher priority on spending time with family and friends than working overtime to make extra money.”
In general, I’m very satisfied with this strength. It seems to describe me when I’m at my best, and I think it aligns closely with my values.
Following Developer is a strength known as Adaptability:
People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
I couldn’t agree more, but let’s dig into some of the highlights first:
- “Because of your strengths, you occasionally can let today take care of itself.”
- “You might think being cooperative is not only sensible and efficient, but also less exhausting.”
- “Chances are good that you avoid individuals who work non-stop, never taking a break.”
- “While you appreciate schedules and plans, you recognize when it is wise to deviate — that is, turn away — from them.”
Much of the personalized description seemed kind of odd. It paints me as the type of person who takes the easy path whereas I picture myself as someone who does things my own way. Or as I state in my values, I like to roll with the punches.
Finally, we have the learner strength which I think is a great way to cap off this list:
People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
While I totally agree, let’s take a look at some of the highlights:
- “By nature, you feel rather good about life when people answer your questions and keep you well informed about topics that affect you personally or professionally.”
- “Receiving only bits and pieces of information is likely to raise your level of anxiety, suspicion, or frustration.”
- “You are apt to become upset when individuals forget or refuse to tell you something you think you have a right or a need to know.”
- “When you are familiar with the topic, problem, or people involved, you are quite comfortable expressing yourself.”
Fun Fact: I once got pretty upset that one of my best friends didn’t tell me they broke up with their girlfriend. Now that I think about it, they never told me. What the heck?!
My Ideal Job
At this point, you’ve been wading through a ton of personal fluff, and I apologize for that. However, I’m a firm believing in providing complete context before tackling any serious problems. At any rate, let’s get to the big question. What is my ideal job?
When I think about this question—and, I think about it a lot—I have to define the terminology properly. After all, there are some elitists out there that will say that many of the ways I used to make money were not “real jobs”. So, let’s dig into some of the definitions.
What is a Job?
Understanding what a job is and what it isn’t is an important topic to cover. According to Wikipedia, “a job, or occupation, is a person‘s role in society. More specifically, a job is an activity, often regular and often performed in exchange for payment (“for a living”).”
Alright, I can work with that definition. If a job is anything that can be done in exchange for money, then I’ve worked tons of jobs.
But, wait a minute! Would we consider playing a sport in exchange for money a job? How about being an entertainer? Are these more glamorous fields still categorized as jobs?
I ask because there seems to be this derogatory term that continues to float around known as a “real job”. If I had to guess what a real job is, I’d assume it’s just an edgier term for a career. And, we already know how I feel about careers.
For now, let’s throw this idea of long term employment out the window. Instead, let’s explore the realm of jobs.
Don’t Follow Your Passion
When it comes to finding a job, a lot of people will tell you to follow your passion. Unfortunately, what that usually means is: pick something that you kind of like and pray that it’s your passion.
For me, that trajectory looked something like this:
- Find an interest in music and video games
- Pursue a combo degree in music and computer engineering
- Drop one because two is too hard
- Realize that I dropped the better one in favor of money
- Commit anyway
- Eventually burn out in frustration
See why I don’t like the “follow your passion” slogan? In reality, I find that passions change, and you should feel free to follow them as they come. Don’t be forced to commit forever to something that is going to slowly wear you down.
Follow Your Passions
With that in mind, I can finally tell you my ideal job.
As someone who loves variety, I can’t stand the thought of climbing the corporate ladder for the rest of my life. As you can probably tell, I’m very anti-career despite everyone’s advice otherwise.
Unfortunately, American culture is fixated on the career path, and it’s completely incompatible with my personality. While it may work for some, it doesn’t work for me.
What does work for me is tackling projects that I feel have an impact and moving on when I lose interest. I don’t believe in being bound to a decision I made when I was 18, and I don’t think anyone else should either. Be who you want to be when you want to be it.
After everything I’ve forced you to read, that’s probably not the ending you wanted. Instead, you were looking for something a bit more concrete, so here’s what I’ll say. I have jobs that I think I’d enjoy now, but I’m comfortable with growing and developing new interests in the future.
If I had to pick an ideal job, here’s what a random day would look like:
It’s 9:00 AM, and I’m on my way to the gym. Today is a cardio day. By 10:30, I’m teaching an introduction to programming course. At noon, I’m off on a walk to clear my head. Shortly after my walk, I come home to cook myself a fresh lunch. By 2:00, I’m writing code for my favorite open source project. At 4:00, I’m meeting my wife for an early dinner. We spend the next several hours together before I fill the remainder of my night with some reading and writing. Tomorrow looks completely different.
If you couldn’t already tell, I need variety and balance in my life. Volatility is who I am, and I can’t imagine having to do the same thing every day for the rest of my life.