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What’s Your Expiration Date?
The other day, I randomly decided to read some Dilbert cartoons. As I was browsing, I came upon this one, and I was impressed with the terse, yet honest, message. When we choose a career field, we are obviously presented with many options, but one of those is our expiration date.
Some people choose to drive cheap, low-maintenance vehicles, and others choose to drive luxury, higher-maintenance vehicles (I’m not trying to draw absolutes). There are a number of reasons for the variations in choice, but people make similar decisions in career fields.
The Self-Inflicted Expiration Date
There are careers out there where your knowledge only gets better with time and experience, and there are careers out there where your “experience” will actually mean “old and outdated.” Careers where your “knowledge” becomes outdated require that you either stagnate, and fall behind, or go back to school to “re-tool.”
When choosing careers, people will often not notice these truths, and end up very frustrated a few years later that they are being passed up by “young guns” with “new knowledge.”
Knowledge with Long-Expiration Dates
If you are seeking a career where you won’t have to constantly be re-educated, then you want to find something where your knowledge won’t expire quickly. Careers where your knowledge gets better with experience will tend to be in the areas of trades, history, analysis, and many other fields.
Basically, if your body must be able to do something with a certain level of precision, or what you do is built off of a very large, and older body of fundamental knowledge, then you should be OK.
Knowledge with Short-Expiration Dates
I can’t think of many reasons why someone would want their knowledge to expire quickly. Most people will go into these kinds of areas because it is their passion, the compensation may be great, or they may not have thought about it.
Most people like to get their education done, then work their job, but short-expiration knowledge definitely doesn’t provide that. Careers in this area will often be at the forefront of something.
Usually, it will be technology. If you’re at the forefront of technology, then you’re going to learn a lot of things that will either fail because it was never widely accepted, or something better came out.
Remember GW-Basic, or the many other programming languages that have gone the way of the Dodo bird? What about tech support agents with an expertise in Windows 3.1? More recently, I’m sure the people who made HD-DVD were positive that they had the best product, but it never gained wide enough acceptance. Eventually, BluRay took over.
Don’t Draw Absolutes
What I want to avoid is implying that careers in technology are all dead ends, and that jobs in trades are the best things ever. There are always caveats. The idea you should take away is that if you don’t like education, and re-educating, then a career that requires it could very well become a dead-end career for you.
There are many well-off programmers and web designers that have made a great living off of new technology, even if they need to constantly re-educate. Conversely, I’ve never needed to go to a wagon wheel maker. But, if you trained to be a web developer in 1994 and never re-educated, then you are now a person with a basic (at best) knowledge of HTML. Essentially, web design turned into a dead-end career for you, even though it isn’t a dead-end career itself!
Ultimately, what I want is for you to consider your knowledge’s expiration date when you are looking at a career path, but it should only be considered as one of the variables.
Will constantly re-educating aggravate you or stimulate you? Would you rather have a career where you can constantly grind away and become better and better with each hour you put in, or would that seem mind-numbingly tedious?
Only you can decide what you want, but here is one tip: don’t become a GW-Basic programmer.