I am archiving older pieces I have written on other sites, making this the definitive home for all my work. Enjoy!
Carl Holscher shared an interesting essay of his titled, Did Your Job Exist 10 Years Ago? While the timeframe is perhaps overly compressed, and a little poetic license is taken in describing the computers of a decade ago as "filling rooms or tables," the underlying question of the emergence and evolution of various disciplines and the pressure on a young person to Decide What They Will Grow Up To Be so early on are fascinating.
Given it all to do over, I would probably have pursued Industrial Design, perhaps with an undergraduate degree in Architecture before an M.I.D. (I’ve actually been considering that program, on and off, for six years. I may yet enroll, if and when I finally exit commercial software development—but that’s a story for another day.) What’s interesting about this is that I had absolutely no inkling that the entire field of industrial design existed even 10 years ago, when I was still an undergrad.
Completely new disciplines don’t emerge all that often, if ever. Existing ones splinter, producing offshoots of peculiar specialization or hybridizations with other fields. Over time these develop their own definitions, academic programs, professional bodies. Chemistry begets electronics and electrical engineering (midwifed by physics by way of mechanical engineering), which cross-pollinates with mathematics to yield computer engineering, then the software aspects were formalized as computer science… which, by the way, selected gametes from biology and now we have biotech. Et cetera.
Many fields require specialized training, but very few require so much specialized training that a decision about entering them needs to be taken now. In most cases that decision can be made after two or more years of tertiary education, and often after graduation. One’s choice of undergraduate degree has little meaningful bearing on what one can do with one’s life, breathless job postings and HR resume-filtering practices be damned.
Given that, what should we be telling young people? What should we be saying to our little children as they play? The truth is that you can be anything you want, and you can make a career out of it if you’re passionate enough and work hard enough, no matter what it is. You don’t know enough to pick a career yet: not enough about available, existing careers; not enough about society and markets, and what there is or isn’t sustainable demand for; and not even enough about yourself! Focus on learning things that are useful, essential or interesting and, when the time comes, they will give you a foundation on which to build whatever career you want.
Crucially, you will probably have more than one career. Most people do, whether because they are retrenched or their employer goes out of business, or due to changes in circumstances or passion. The notion of a career as a single, life-defining trait is a fiction; your career is only an aspect of you, and by no means the most important one. So focus on acquiring knowledge and experience that will serve you well no matter what you do, and above all build friendships and character, for these are the things that truly enrich life.