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Are Many Science & Engineering Careers Obsolete?

By freak80 following x   2012 Jul 25, 6:40am 23,763 views   117 comments   watch   nsfw   quote     share    


Here's the problem: any work reducible to equations and computer-aided-design can be automated or outsourced thanks to computers and the internet.

Unless you're doing original research or engineering something that is inherently "on site" (like bridge construction), the future of American science and engineering looks pretty bleak. I think the claimed "shortage" of scientists and engineers in America is propaganda.

Remember, a lot of the political emphasis on "math and science" came from the Cold War (the nuclear arms race and the space race). The Cold War is over.

I guess there are still good jobs developing predator drones.

When it comes to the private sector, how many companies are willing to take on the high-risk, high-reward task of R&D? Warren Buffett famously does not usually invest in technology companies for that very reason.

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78   freak80   ignore (4)   2012 Jul 27, 1:59am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

bob2356 says

Extra time spent writing tight efficient lean code that is easy as possible to understand will reduce your time to market by reducing the test/fix cycle dramatically and increase your maintainability in the process.

bob2356 says

You will spend a hell of a lot more time tweaking code than writing it in the first place. Going back and figuring out how sloppy code works time and time again takes forever.

Those are lessons I have learned the hard way!

79   bob2356   ignore (4)   2012 Jul 27, 3:10am   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

freak80 says

Those are lessons I have learned the hard way!

I was lucky. The first place I worked, back in the days when bits counted, was obsessive to the point of anal retentive about clean code. Later when I got assigned to get some horror show code working that came from a company that cut and ran on a project I really learned why.

80   omgbacon   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 27, 4:08am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

freak80 says

Those are lessons I have learned the hard way!

Unfortunately right now that's the only way those lessons are ever learned, and that's why experience matters a lot.

If people aren't writing clean code to begin with, and you're swapping out developers project by project because you're "Agile" and see programmers as fungible commodities what you end up with after a few years is a giant mess of spaghettified crap where the only thing you can be certain of is that touching any part of it will have results that no one can predict.

Managers and BSAs don't know because they usually aren't technical enough and even if they are they don't deal directly with the code. The developers who are there don't know enough and are usually new enough that they're not going to rock the boat...and if they do know enough they're not making any noise because they've long since given up trying to push through any change that would make things better because they know the only thing anyone cares about is time to market and new features.

It's like one of the first rules of IT: beware of bandaids. If you don't do it right the first time you most likely will not get a chance to fix it later. Design your bandaids to break in the short term. You get one chance to get it right.

81   freak80   ignore (4)   2012 Jul 27, 4:10am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

omgbacon says

what you end up with after a few years is a giant mess of spaghettified crap where the only thing you can be certain of is that touching any part of it will have results that no one can predict.

Sounds like the global economy.

82   freak80   ignore (4)   2012 Jul 27, 4:14am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

omgbacon says

The developers who are there don't know enough and are usually new enough that they're not going to rock the boat...and if they do know enough they're not making any noise because they've long since given up trying to push through any change that would make things better

I'm not in software, I'm a mechanical engineer. But I see the same phenomenon in my field.

83   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 28, 7:25am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

People, this is a good thread/topic, can we keep it going?

84   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 28, 7:31am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

There are still good companies to work for, if you like working for someone.

However, it is not possible to escape human nature. So I think it is not possible to fix the system. Either you insist on doing the right thing and lose or you play politics and win temporarily.

85   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 28, 7:36am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

bob2356 says

Extra time spent writing tight efficient lean code that is easy as possible to understand will reduce your time to market by reducing the test/fix cycle dramatically and increase your maintainability in the process. Bloated sloppy techie geekie gee whiz this is cool code or slap it together any way you can to get it out the door code doesn't. That's what I've always found to be the hardest thing to teach not very experienced coders. You will spend a hell of a lot more time tweaking code than writing it in the first place. Going back and figuring out how sloppy code works time and time again takes forever.

That is true. But it is counter-intuitive. How do you spin that to your overload (boss or investor)?

Everyone wants things to be done right. Yet they prefer to be comforted by ongoing progress. Frequently, they have their own overloads to please.

Those with both ability and humility are rare. And they usually have better things to do than dealing with you.

86   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 28, 7:46am   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Peter P says

Those with both ability and humility are rare.

Aside from the humility part, I see myself as that type of person & if I were to do it over, I'd have started out as a Patent Agent/Attorney or Doctor, and have never worked in a field dominated by MBA-management consulting types. S&E work, by default, has been co-opted by short term thinkers.

87   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 28, 7:56am   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

The whole world has been co-opted by short-term thinkers. Can't blame them though. Things are happening increasingly faster and the fear of missing out (aka greed) takes over.

88   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 28, 11:55am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Here's another point on taking your tech career to TX ...

If you buy a reasonable home there for ~$220K... if you're from the northeast or Cal, most likely, you already have this money (ok, perhaps up to 50+% of it) saved up somewhere. Thus, it's an automatic low monthly overhead.

As the economy goes through more gyrations and then, if/when the big finance jobs in Manhattan take the big haircut, which then sets off a wave of a ~20% drop in national housing prices, this precipitation now finally takes formerly *immune* urban/suburban zones of Boston, NYC, SF, and LA down together, as the stupid International REIT types (a.k.a. foreign speculators-investors) may finally call it a day on real estate, instead gobbling up all the liquidity in the high price cities as today.

Well, if you were in TX this whole time, your risk at -20% (unlikely, as TX prices are low in terms of Mortgage to Monthly Income), is $220K to $176K, at most a $44K loss or some $750 per month of rent over a five year period. That's probably your worst risk and is worth it. I'm confident that I could recover $220K in Dallas, SA, Austin, or Houston if the worst happens.

89   lostand confused   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 28, 1:38pm   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

I really have to wonder how profitable offshoring is anymore. I have been in tech all my working life and knew when people were really proud of their products. You could wake someone from deep slumber and he would know how to fix any deep problem you throw at him in his area.

There was much less need for management and talented people were greatly valued. But offshoring changed that and now the only thing of value is paper pushers and their endless quest for "status meetings." Offshore firms have high turnover and people quit and leave for different firms, taking their knowledge with them. Onsite has a huge army of co-ordinators, leads, managers, directors and VPs. I even knew of one VP with only one employee reporting to him! These people just spin wheels and are powerpoint experts and masters of spin/projection.

Then they give projects to vendors who bring in an army of people with no business knowledge in that company and they are in charge of everything and escalate up anything that does not get done according to their spreadsheet . There is an army of people who sit in meetings all day and ask for status. Sometimes there are multitude of people asking one person for status.

When it was just employees, there was much more cohesion and people knew what they were doing or at least who was responsible for what. Nowadays it has become a game of musical chairs and no one knowing or worse no one caring anymore. After you have been through a reduction in force and been forced to teach your replacement, it is difficult to care about it as much as before-especially when this army of consultants are stepping on your foot every step of the way.

Today's kids are like that for a reason. They see their parents pouring their heart and soul into their work and getting shafted in the end and then the govt(republicans)-call them lazy and unwilling to work. What will motivate the kids to repeat the same thing again?

Ok lost my point! But on profitability -I really don't know. Several teams I know that were offshored now has double, triple or even quadrapuled their strength-with plenty of onsite consultants serving as co-ordinators. I really don't think you get massive profits-that is when you compare to the old days, with lean/thin management and good, motivated, solid workers-who actually cared for the company.

90   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 28, 2:15pm   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

lostand confused says

Onsite has a huge army of co-ordinators, leads, managers, directors and VPs. I even knew of one VP with only one employee reporting to him! These people just spin wheels and are powerpoint experts and masters of spin/projection

What you're describing is the world of MBA-ology. This is the reason why any smart person, instead of working in tech, will opt for a licensed/protected profession like Patent Law, Pharmacy, Medicine over fields controlled by BS artists.

I've been through a lot of what you'd stated and as a result, I'm done with tech. I want to make money with this hedge fund contract work and then, attend medical school, and work 3-4 days a week seeing patients and perhaps do some research on the side for my own intellectual stimulation. The corporate world is a total and complete joke.

91   Randy H   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 28, 2:36pm   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

There are MBAs and there are MBAs. They are not all created equal.

The most effective people I've met in my career are street-hardened entrepreneurs with a top-tier MBA and an FU attitude.

92   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 28, 4:36pm   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Rin says

What you're describing is the world of MBA-ology. This is the reason why any smart person, instead of working in tech, will opt for a licensed/protected profession like Patent Law, Pharmacy, Medicine over fields controlled by BS artists.

Why would anyone want to be in a protected profession? How interesting will that be? Isn't it better to take risks? Unless you intended to become a Nietzschean Last Man.

93   futuresmc   ignore (1)   2012 Jul 28, 10:18pm   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

lostand confused says

Today's kids are like that for a reason. They see their parents pouring their heart and soul into their work and getting shafted in the end and then the govt(republicans)-call them lazy and unwilling to work. What will motivate the kids to repeat the same thing again?

Well said, lostand confused. When people complain about younger workers having no work ethic, they mean they have no serf ethic. They won't work for work's sake, if at the end of the day, they can't afford to provide for themselves and their families. They saw that BS with their older relatives, and they know bosses have no loyalty to them as employees, so they have no loyalty to their bosses.

94   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 29, 3:24am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

So workers have begun their transformation from dogs to cats. Eventually, they will purr. :-)

95   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 29, 3:31am   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Peter P says

Why would anyone want to be in a protected profession? How interesting will that be? Isn't it better to take risks? Unless you intended to become a Nietzschean Last Man.

This is case, the Ãœbermensch is simply a survivor, who's got meaningful work into his 50s/60s and beyond, as a consultant in lieu of full retirement. I'd hardly call that a Superman nor even a Batman.

I think we all know that without *protection*, every tech worker is vulnerable to the mass layoffs and when they strike at ages 45 to 55, it could in fact be one's last job. When DuPont hacked off 2K R&D headcount in the Delaware Valley, a lot of ppl had to leave the field altogether, as many were deemed too specialized (another pseudonym for too old), to re-start in petrochemicals in Houston, Dakotas, or Alberta. Plus, alternate peer companies like Dow, Glaxo, Merck, etc simply don't create enough jobs to absorb mass layoffs in their more mature industries.

Since I'm in my 30s, I have a sense that a lot of us in the same cohort have a false sense of security, as we tend to get the lion's share of headhunters approaching us. But realize, it's a type of Fool's Gold as the actual resource pooling comes from MBA types and in another ten years, when Ho Chi Minh City (notice, I didn't mentioned either India or China) has a huge software testing and automation "value added" depot, many of us could be on the payment, begging and pleading with some data center in San Antonio to let us in. At that point, those positions would have been filled by other 30-somethings and you know the rest.

96   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 29, 3:59am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

It is always harmful to have a sense of security. You can only be protected to a certain degree. It is always possible (or even likely) that an external shock can bust the most fortified career. Isn't it better to exploit the changing world instead? Channeling Nassim Taleb, this is a question of robustness vs anti-fragility.

97   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 29, 4:02am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Rin says

This is case, the Ãœbermensch is simply a survivor, who's got meaningful work into his 50s/60s and beyond, as a consultant in lieu of full retirement. I'd hardly call that a Superman nor even a Batman.

An Ãœbermensch will never settle with survival alone.

IMO, Batman is much closer to being an Ãœbermensch (artist-tyrant). No offense to fans, but Superman is just someone who wears his underwear outside. :-)

98   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 29, 4:11am   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Peter P says

An Ãœbermensch will never settle with survival alone.

In medicine, as well as other endeavors, the best work usually goes uncompensated. In other words, you have a cool diagnostic utility, insurance doesn't reimburse you, but you do it anyways, because you're already being paid for the 30 hours you put in for 'consultation'. Your patients get better treatment and pencil you in, as the doctor to go back to but still, you only get your fixed wages but your career satisfaction goes up.

In engineering, since you already have a 40-45 hours weekly slate of tasks (mostly related to CYA for someone above you, nonsense meetings, etc), then that extra work +10-12 hours is just a burden to your 50-something body. Forget it, just leave the field and let some other idealist do the extra work, just to get laid off.

99   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 29, 4:26am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

While I think being in a protected field may not be satisfying, I do not necessarily believe that one should stay in engineering.

I think full retirement will be elusive. At best, you must work to protect your nest eggs. This is a dynamic world and it is becoming increasingly so. You must always react anyway.

100   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 29, 4:34am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Peter P says

This is a dynamic world and it is becoming increasingly so. You must always react anyway.

I'm wondering if many of us feel this way because we're in IT/software or trading and thus, *reaction time*, etc is a part of our lingo.

My optometrist, a sulking ~60 year old, has an office with tools that look like a cut out from a 1950s movie. He's pretty much done the same thing his entire life and doesn't have this sort of hop/skip/jump mentality of folks in tech.

101   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 29, 11:26am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Rin says

Peter P says

This is a dynamic world and it is becoming increasingly so. You must always react anyway.

I'm wondering if many of us feel this way because we're in IT/software or trading and thus, *reaction time*, etc is a part of our lingo.

My optometrist, a sulking ~60 year old, has an office with tools that look like a cut out from a 1950s movie. He's pretty much done the same thing his entire life and doesn't have this sort of hop/skip/jump mentality of folks in tech.

If you remember many moons ago, there was a process known as R.A.D. (Rapid Application Development), today, it's been re-vamped as Agile. I'm yet to see a difference. Perhaps business today is really little more than chasing one's tail for a generation.

Yet, despite all the "dynamism", the pharmacist across the street still has to give clearance, to fill a prescription, even if it's filled by an assistant or a machine in the future. That's what I mean by secure work, a licensing board controls who distributes the drugs out there.

102   New Renter   ignore (11)   2012 Jul 29, 12:29pm   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Peter P says

While I think being in a protected field may not be satisfying, I do not necessarily believe that one should stay in engineering.

I think full retirement will be elusive. At best, you must work to protect your nest eggs. This is a dynamic world and it is becoming increasingly so. You must always react anyway.

Yes the extra brainpower required to keep your money on your mind and your mind on your money certainly doesn't help keep one's attention focused on one's work.

Then again at least most of us don't have the specter of pestilence, plague, famine or domestic war hovering over as our ancestors did.

103   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 29, 1:15pm   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

I don't know... but if you are not constantly worried, you are probably aiming too low.

104   lostand confused   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 29, 1:19pm   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Peter P says

I don't know... but if you are not constantly worried, you are probably aiming too low.

That is one way to look at it. The other is realizing you are too old to go through this cr*p again and looking for something a little more peaceful and to stop and smell the roses in life. I myself was very interested in quitting IT and starting farming, until I got this job in CA. Am still planning on doing farming, but will take a few years to build up my knolwledge. That ain't a walk in the park-with drought in the midwest and spike in corn prices-the dairy farmers seem to be experiencing deja vu all over again.

I think the boomers had the best time in recent memory-life was just easier.

105   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 29, 1:26pm   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

One is never too old. 60 is the new 30, right? ;-)

106   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 29, 1:53pm   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Peter P says

One is never too old. 60 is the new 30, right?

Yes, one is never too old to attend medical school. In fact, that PhD engineering guy, who'd finished his residency at 53 years of age, was treated as an experienced doctor on his first job out, because he had the look of experience and know-how.

107   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 29, 2:58pm   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

See, in the end, we just cannot give ourselves excuses why we are not doing what we think we are meant to do. ;-)

108   freak80   ignore (4)   2012 Jul 30, 12:37am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Peter P says

Why would anyone want to be in a protected profession? How interesting will that be? Isn't it better to take risks? Unless you intended to become a Nietzschean Last Man.

Pete I can tell you've never worked in Corporate America. ;-)

You think Big Government is corrupt? It is for sure, but so is Big Business.

109   freak80   ignore (4)   2012 Jul 30, 12:43am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

New renter says

Then again at least most of us don't have the specter of pestilence, plague, famine or domestic war hovering over as our ancestors did.

Many of our ancestors died in childhood or as infants.

I envy them. ;-)

110   New Renter   ignore (11)   2012 Jul 30, 1:20am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

freak80 says

New renter says

Then again at least most of us don't have the specter of pestilence, plague, famine or domestic war hovering over as our ancestors did.

Many of our ancestors died in childhood or as infants.

I envy them. ;-)

Liar!

No-one's ancestor has EVER died as an infant or in childhood

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ancestor

:)

111   freak80   ignore (4)   2012 Jul 30, 1:25am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

New renter says

Of course those unfortunate children and infants are no-one's ancestors.

Good point. I guess I didn't mean "literal" ancestors.

112   New Renter   ignore (11)   2012 Jul 30, 1:27am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

New renter says

freak80 says

New renter says

Then again at least most of us don't have the specter of pestilence, plague, famine or domestic war hovering over as our ancestors did.

Many of our ancestors died in childhood or as infants.

I envy them. ;-)

Liar!

No-one's ancestor has EVER died as an infant or in childhood

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ancestor

:)

Aw damn, I was hoping to sneak my edit in before you could see my reply

113   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 30, 1:46am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

freak80 says

Pete I can tell you've never worked in Corporate America. ;-)

I have worked in Corporate America. That was when I discover the hilarity of humanity. :-)

114   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 30, 7:34am   ↑ like (1)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Peter P says

I have worked in Corporate America. That was when I discover the hilarity of humanity. :-)

Pete, it's one thing to watch Monty Python, it's another to live in it and depend upon it for food and shelter.

115   freak80   ignore (4)   2012 Jul 30, 8:59am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Rin says

Pete, it's one thing to watch Monty Python, it's another to live in it and depend upon it for food and shelter.

Exactly.

116   Rin   ignore (3)   2012 Jul 31, 8:50am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

freak80 says

Rin says

Pete, it's one thing to watch Monty Python, it's another to live in it and depend upon it for food and shelter.

Exactly.

Is this one of the few threads, where there's actually a type of consensus, despite slight differences in opinions or viewpoints?

117   Peter P   ignore (0)   2012 Jul 31, 8:56am   ↑ like (0)   ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Monty Python is way too upbeat for my taste. :-)

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