Author Topic: Grad school for a bored programmer?  (Read 1229 times)

Ynari

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Grad school for a bored programmer?
« on: February 20, 2019, 04:04:37 PM »
Hey all,

SO currently programs for a retail giant, after programming for another retail giant in his first post-grad job. (3 years total now.) He's gone up the ranks as quickly as they'll let him, leads an open source project, works on his own side projects before and after work, sought out mentorships, etc., but he's B-O-R-E-D and feeling useless. He's been at his current position for 5 months and he's yet to do any deep work, it's all just cleaning up and promises of important work to come later. This has led him to think about getting a MEd (I think he mentioned something about swarm intelligence?) to be doing something more challenging and meaningful. I know there are other programmers on this forum who are in it for more than the money, so I was hoping to ask: is this going to be the challenge he's looking for, or a waste of time for someone already in the workforce? What other options does he have?

Relevant info: his undergrad is in physics but his grades were mediocre. He's always dreamed of getting a PhD, but doesn't know what for. Cost and location don't matter much, as I teach and he can always do contract work. We were planning on moving soon anyway, so we're approaching this with a "design the life you want" kind of lens.

seemsright

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2019, 04:24:45 PM »
NO! You do not get to do the fun fancy work straight out the gate.

That is the point of the green employees they get to do all of the work that the experienced do not want to do. Depending on so many things will determined when he gets to do interesting things.

Going back to school is a different question.

When hubby was board at work he moonlighted.

OurFirstFire

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2019, 08:37:09 AM »
I was an employee petroleum engineer for a 12 years, and was similarly bored.  When I FIREd I switched to software engineering and without the need for a monthly paycheck it gave me the freedom to just be a project-based consultant.  It seems like companies hire for maintenance but often contract out for new fresh projects, which I find way more fun in any technical context.  That is exactly the case for my main client: I'm the only one in my division dedicated to R&D because all the employees have to support existing revenue generation. 

So my advice would be to try to establish himself as a consultant.  It is a less stable life but can be plenty lucrative, and goes along well with the concept of lifestyle design.  It also dispells the idea that "rising up the ranks" in a company is supposed to be desirable.  Some people like being an engineering manager, but for someone who wants to do technical work, "progression" only gets you further away from a rewarding work day.  For a consultant, rising up the ranks means doing more interesting projects for higher pay.

Lastly, I think grad school would be interesting, but wouldn't necessarily move him toward an interesting job.  If you two can do without his salary for a few years of grad school, then save the tuition and he can use that time to establish himself in his desired field doing real projects.

dcheesi

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2019, 09:15:50 AM »
IMHO, 5 months isn't long enough to know where he's going to fit long term. He's still in the greenhorn stage, where cleaning up other people's messes is the norm. The reasons for this are multifold:

1) He's learning the ins and outs of the projects he's cleaning up, as well as his group's coding standards and practices
2) He's not yet trusted enough to do independent development on new projects
3) [Combination of 1 and 2] He's being evaluated based on his ability to clean up the messes, not just on efficacy but also on whether he recognizes and adheres to the implicit coding style and expectations of his R&D group.

I get that he's bored now, but really I'd give it a little more time. Unless of course he's already determined that there simply isn't any interesting work going on in his company/division in general?

obstinate

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2019, 10:40:47 AM »
Even if hes so bored that he needs to leave the company, grad school does not seem like a financially smart next step. He should instead try to find a company that does work hes interested in and go there. Grad school is expensive on its face and has staggering opportunity costs. It will easily set you back 300-400k after you total everything up, which is a significant chunk of what most folk need to fire.

diapasoun

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2019, 11:16:10 AM »
Do not do grad school because you're bored. Do grad school for two reasons:

(1) You have calculated that it will give you a real economic boost (generally access to jobs in your field that you couldn't get otherwise), despite the up-front and opportunity costs;

(2) You have a burning passion for the subject and feel utterly compelled to spend some time studying it for fun.

Grad school is expensive. It can delay your earning years/career significantly. It is also utter hell on mental health; grad students have way, way worse mental health on average than the general population. It can put you at the very end of your financial and emotional tethers; it's not something to be done flippantly.

(Source: I have a PhD)

ender

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2019, 11:57:48 AM »
If you can't find a software development job that's interesting at this point either you:

  • are not looking
  • have a huge ego about what "interesting" is

It is one of the BEST times to be employed as a software engineer. If your SO is remotely competent they get their pick of a huge swath of jobs; add in actual competency and they can work for nearly any company in the USA.

jjcamembert

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2019, 02:21:31 PM »
The words "retail giant" told me why he's bored. At any large company there is going to be bureaucracy and mundane business problems that programmers need to solve. So one step might be to find a job at a smaller company.

Second, I have found that it's not always about the work. I've finally found myself in what would have been my "dream job" after 10 years of working in bureaucratic organizations. I have a lot of autonomy to solve problems using whatever technology I feel like learning and using, and can use a bunch of techy buzzwords to describe my work. But I'm bored. I don't really have a team, there's not much enthusiasm in the organization for what I do, and people I work with aren't very progressive about adopting a new way of doing things. Looking back I was actually happier at my first job because the organization cared about my contributions, rewarded me for it, and I was constantly learning and growing my career.

At this point, if I could go back, I would have studied for the interview and gone to work at a FAANG company and be FIRE by now.

A Master's is still fairly useless in software IMO. Especially if his grades were mediocre, that indicates that he doesn't really like school, and going through a harder degree program is going to be really tough and costly.

pigpen

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2019, 08:49:23 AM »
Do not do grad school because you're bored. Do grad school for two reasons:

(1) You have calculated that it will give you a real economic boost (generally access to jobs in your field that you couldn't get otherwise), despite the up-front and opportunity costs;

(2) You have a burning passion for the subject and feel utterly compelled to spend some time studying it for fun.

Grad school is expensive. It can delay your earning years/career significantly. It is also utter hell on mental health; grad students have way, way worse mental health on average than the general population. It can put you at the very end of your financial and emotional tethers; it's not something to be done flippantly.

(Source: I have a PhD)

I'll second this. I don't have a PhD, but I do have a couple of Masters degrees. Depending on the subject/program, it can be grueling. In addition to the time demands, academically oriented grad programs are designed to remind you at every possible moment how little you know and how undeserving you are of working in that field. They're as much about indoctrination as they are teaching you research skills or a body of knowledge. Read Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt for a very interesting and (in my experience) accurate argument about the "professions" as class gatekeepers.

diapasoun

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2019, 12:22:55 PM »
That looks like a interesting book - going to check that out!

Ynari

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2019, 03:54:39 PM »
I'll admit, I was coming here to ask because I knew the answer would be "Grad school? No way!"  Now how to avoid saying "I told you so..."

So my advice would be to try to establish himself as a consultant.  It is a less stable life but can be plenty lucrative, and goes along well with the concept of lifestyle design.  It also dispells the idea that "rising up the ranks" in a company is supposed to be desirable.  Some people like being an engineering manager, but for someone who wants to do technical work, "progression" only gets you further away from a rewarding work day.  For a consultant, rising up the ranks means doing more interesting projects for higher pay.

We continued talking and ended up in a similar headspace. Friends (who have been in *other* consulting industries that get shat on, like graphic design) have warned SO away from contract work, so it's good to hear the paradigm is different in tech. My uncle has offered contract gigs to him before, so it'd be easy to transition, too.

The words "retail giant" told me why he's bored. At any large company there is going to be bureaucracy and mundane business problems that programmers need to solve. So one step might be to find a job at a smaller company.

Second, I have found that it's not always about the work. I've finally found myself in what would have been my "dream job" after 10 years of working in bureaucratic organizations. I have a lot of autonomy to solve problems using whatever technology I feel like learning and using, and can use a bunch of techy buzzwords to describe my work. But I'm bored. I don't really have a team, there's not much enthusiasm in the organization for what I do, and people I work with aren't very progressive about adopting a new way of doing things. Looking back I was actually happier at my first job because the organization cared about my contributions, rewarded me for it, and I was constantly learning and growing my career.

At this point, if I could go back, I would have studied for the interview and gone to work at a FAANG company and be FIRE by now.

A lot of this rings true to what I know of him. His old job wasn't perfect, but he had a team and higher ups who cared about his contributions and growth, even if small. He ended up leaving due to a micromanaging manager (theirs was the only team with 'core hours' - which stretched from 10am to 5pm) and a direct grand-boss who wouldn't let him switch teams.  Now he has a better manager but his days are spent doing tickets to clean code, being told "we don't have time to clean that code, throw it all away, clean code isn't useful anyway", and banging his head against the wall at the hypocrisy. Next try is to switch teams, which might help. His old job has been ringing him to come back, and he's gotten really close to doing it, but it'll probably only be marginally better than before.

TBH I think he just needs to get out of the giants. He was won over by thought that a FAANG company would have great opportunities for growth, and turned down a startup job for it. Maybe 5 months and 1 team is too early to tell.

I'll second this. I don't have a PhD, but I do have a couple of Masters degrees. Depending on the subject/program, it can be grueling. In addition to the time demands, academically oriented grad programs are designed to remind you at every possible moment how little you know and how undeserving you are of working in that field. They're as much about indoctrination as they are teaching you research skills or a body of knowledge. Read Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt for a very interesting and (in my experience) accurate argument about the "professions" as class gatekeepers.

I'll pass on the book rec. He's recently discovered the library and has been reading things from quantum physics and political histories to business and soft-skill self-help books. He never read much before, I think he's making up for lost time.

gooki

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #11 on: February 22, 2019, 05:45:42 PM »
Quote
Friends (who have been in *other* consulting industries that get shat on, like graphic design) have warned SO away from contract work, so it's good to hear the paradigm is different in tech. 

Working as a freelance graphic designer for two bit companies that don't pay up is very different from consulting to an established business.

1. You get paid on time.
2. You often work with a team and onsite.
3. The company hiring you recognises the value you bring.

jjcamembert

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Re: Grad school for a bored programmer?
« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2019, 10:48:18 AM »
A lot of this rings true to what I know of him. His old job wasn't perfect, but he had a team and higher ups who cared about his contributions and growth, even if small. He ended up leaving due to a micromanaging manager (theirs was the only team with 'core hours' - which stretched from 10am to 5pm) and a direct grand-boss who wouldn't let him switch teams.  Now he has a better manager but his days are spent doing tickets to clean code, being told "we don't have time to clean that code, throw it all away, clean code isn't useful anyway", and banging his head against the wall at the hypocrisy. Next try is to switch teams, which might help. His old job has been ringing him to come back, and he's gotten really close to doing it, but it'll probably only be marginally better than before.

Unfortunately that's kinda life as a coder, especially at entry-level and larger organizations. He needs to find a balance of what works for him, probably at a new company with a new culture. I specifically ask if the team I'm interviewing for cares about clean code (or manages technical debt) and I turn them down if they don't. Again I don't know how much demand there is for entry-level, so he may not have as many choices as in a few years. There are always tradeoffs, so he needs to define what kind of team he wants to work on and seek opportunities with those companies/teams.