Nobody likes to be called a dummy by a dummy.

Becoming a domain expert to deal with ageism

This is the continuation of the thread below where we were discussing ageism and then becoming a domain expert to get around it.

Peter had a suggestion to study Accounting. 

Great suggestion but that probably isn't for me considering that I wait until the last minute to file my taxes each year. :)

Any other ideas welcome

Seems that the subjects I'm most interested in are not too marketable. :(
Permalink Kevin 
March 3rd, 2012 11:12pm
I see the advice like "learn a domain" or "specialize" to be a game of musical career chairs.

Sic: you have too many nominally qualified programmers and other IT types for too few quality positions. Employers see a tidal wave of older candidates who are overqualified for the current openings.

"Become a domain expert" is fine advice, except that many tech employers are looking for the least expensive and/or youngest talent - and they just grow their own domain experts.

The real problem is that an older worker doesn't fit current openings because of the relative youth of the current peer and managerial staffs.

A 45 or 50 year old simply isn't seen plausibly meshing with 20 or 30 somethings.

Also, IT and programming used to be "thing" oriented disciplines. IT has morphed in the last 15 years into the people and politics-intensive provision of fellatio on demand.

It's not enough today to do your job well today, even as a pleasant nebbish. You must also be liked and you must have "cred." IT today follows exactly the same rules of popularity on Facebook: appearances and cool mean everything.

IE - today if you're in IT you may as well be in sales because it's virtually the same activities of influence peddling. Performance and results happen somehow and everyone pays lip service. But they are not that important to your longevity.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 3rd, 2012 11:30pm
Bored,

I've noticed the same thing.  And you can probably substitute "the corporate world" for IT in your post.

One of my reasons for going into IT in the first place was to avoid that bullshit. 

So basically a career in IT is much like a career in professional sports (obsolete in your 40s unless you go into management) WITHOUT the million dollar salary?
Permalink Kevin 
March 3rd, 2012 11:41pm
"IE - today if you're in IT you may as well be in sales because it's virtually the same activities of influence peddling. Performance and results happen somehow and everyone pays lip service. But they are not that important to your longevity. "

True..  And you don't have to know everything there is to know about technology if you're in sales.
Permalink Kevin 
March 3rd, 2012 11:44pm
> So basically a career in IT is much like a career in professional sports (obsolete in your 40s unless you go into management) WITHOUT the million dollar salary?

YES.

IT is a "people influencing" field. More so, probably, than HR, project management, or other supposedly people centered fields.

HR can make Kafkaesque value judgements of people behind closed doors and fuck you, hah hah you loser if you don't like it.

Project management can call you a fucking "resource", dehumanize you, like you're a machine. And you MUST take it.

Consent of the "governed" a big joke.

But, programmers and IT people must PLEAAAAD their case, they must PERSUADE, they must curry favor, they must fellate all stakeholders, they must appear to please all mutually warring parties.

IT today is a sales profession. Talent and skill not required.

The long haired, bearded, pony tailed programmer of 1975 would be scrounging scraps out of a dumpster in 2012. "A bad attitude... do not hire."
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 4th, 2012 12:09am
You hit the hammer on the fucking nail.  Right on the money!

If we were in a bar, I'd buy you a beer

IT is one of the few departments that deal with EVERYBODY in the company from the CEO all the way down to the janitorial crew.  Each department has its own demands and act as though they are the only department you deal with. 

And you better like eating the shit and do it with a smile on your face or else you're not a "team player".
Permalink Kevin 
March 4th, 2012 12:19am
The "become a domain expert" schtick is, in my opinion, an artfully contrived excuse.

The narrative goes - "You are too much of a pencil necked geek - you are "too technical" - you lack "something" - this is what you lack - something else you need to learn."

Techies are extremely easy to guilt. The best among us have a pride in covering all areas of knowledge, and we are easily shamed for lack of knowledge. The fucking asswipes and arrogant, lazy douchebags don't care. The best of us have a Boy Scout mentality of being perfect.

So the "domain expert"  pushes the reflexive button some of us have that says "OH, NO, I AM A LOSER BECAUSE I NEGLECTED TO LEARN THIS THING."

It's another way to keep us down.

I mean GOD DAMNIT, you need SPECIALISTS and they have a legitimate role in all disciplines. Someone that writes high quality C++ is not necessarily a business operations or HR or pig iron smelting or inventory or logistics genius. Yet the high skill developer is supposed to learn some niche industry trivia because it makes him more useful.

So again we come back to the oversupply of mature bodies thing.

Lack domain expertise is another way of saying we're losers because we "only" know the wrong stuff - whatever it is.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 4th, 2012 12:42am
I see what you mean.  If you're going to be a domain expert, why not do a complete career change?

And if you're going to be a domain expert, what do they need the existing domain expert(s) for?

Seems that they are shaming you because they have to pay for your knowledge, and want more bang for their buck.

What advice would you give to a 30 something who is approaching the ageism barrier?
Permalink Kevin 
March 4th, 2012 12:52am
Get closer to marketing and sales, man. You have skills that you can leverage and you are surely brighter than someone with a business major who struggles to understand IT product concepts. All you need is self confidence and determination, plus a decent personality.

My opinion is that technologists are akin to "49ers" who sacrifice everything to pan for gold - or who start me-to boring unimaginative social media startups, or who work for valueless equity in bullshit startups, or who get involved in learning some emerging thing that may or may not be a dud, or who cash out their IRAs so that they can learn some certificate for a technology that Microsoft *may* allow to stay around for 3 years if they're lucky.

Don't be a swept up in the gold rush. Instead, sell the gold panning equipment to the gold miners.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 4th, 2012 1:06am
More succinctly:

"If you're going to be a domain expert, why not do a complete career change?"

You got to the crux of it.

And thanks for the comments.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 4th, 2012 1:16am
> Don't be a swept up in the gold rush. Instead, sell the gold panning equipment to the gold miners.

Well said.

Any ideas on how to make the transition?  Do you have any book suggestions? 

Thank you for your comments.
Permalink Kevin 
March 4th, 2012 1:38am
>> Kevin: Peter had a suggestion to study Accounting.

I did study accounting, both as an alternative to programming and as a way to make my entry in the economics / financial world.

However, it's hardly an option to switch careers to accounting, at least where i live.
First, i have only the theoretical knowledge gained during university - that's similar to a CS graduate who has never programmed :P
Then, even if i would get a job as entry level accountant, the salary level would be many times less than what i do now.
To advance an accounting career, one would have to practice at least two years then take the horribly difficult Expert Accountant exam.
Afterwards, it would take another 5 years of practice and passing an exam which makes the Expert Accountant one look like a piece of cake - the Auditor exam.

So it's not exactly a walk in the park choosing accounting as an alternative :)
Permalink Io 
March 4th, 2012 2:15am
I picked accounting solely because a CPA is a very high barrier to entry. Also, according to my surveys, CPAs retire when they want to - not because they get kicked to the curb for being oldsters. Accountants lacking the CPA credential also get kicked to the curb like programmers.
Permalink Peter 
March 4th, 2012 3:11am
Accounting firms also have IT consulting branches. Since you'll need to work a year under a CPA, perhaps you might be able to get work doing Oracle or SAP at Deloitte or KPMG?
Permalink Peter 
March 4th, 2012 3:36am
I'm pretty sure the only way to work around ageism in IT is to run your own business.
Permalink Ducknald Don 
March 4th, 2012 10:33am
>> the [only] way to work around ageism in IT is to run your own business.

My next attempt it's gonna be in the clubbing / bars type of business :P
Permalink Io 
March 4th, 2012 11:07am
> I'm pretty sure the only way to work around ageism in IT is to run your own business.

Yep...which would also require Marketing skills.

So what is the best way to develop Marketing skills?  Would a Marketing degree help?
Permalink Kevin 
March 4th, 2012 12:12pm
"I'm pretty sure the only way to work around ageism in IT is to run your own business."

Yep...which would also require Marketing skills.

So what is the best way to develop Marketing skills?  Would a Marketing degree help?
Permalink Kevin 
March 4th, 2012 12:12pm
@Bored Bystander

"A 45 or 50 year old simply isn't seen plausibly meshing with 20 or 30 somethings."

My current team has people aged between 30 an 50-sth. We mesh enough to cooperate.

"It's not enough today to do your job well today, even as a pleasant nebbish. You must also be liked and you must have "cred." IT today follows exactly the same rules of popularity on Facebook: appearances and cool mean everything."

I think that it's different in bank IT. Most important thing is: deliver. All rest is secondary. You can have as much "cred" as you want, but if you don't deliver, you're toast. If you deliver, traders like you. It's that simple.
Permalink Quant 
March 4th, 2012 12:21pm
> If you deliver, traders like you.

What do traders do? click the buttons and make big bucks?  You coul d just as well do that.
Permalink line noise 
March 4th, 2012 12:53pm
>> What do traders do? click the buttons and make big bucks?

Heheheh :) Remembers me of a way to joke about the struggle of "making it simpler" in financial software:

Suppose we are attempting to simplify the interface and increase the utilizability of the software to the point where there entire application consists of a single button labeled "MAKE MONEY!!!".
Even so, there's no guarantee the traders won't have problems:
- Button only fills half the screen. They are trying to hit the center but the mouse slips and hits the margin.
- Button fills the entire screen. Traders mis-use the monitor for a touchscreen and helplessly try to push it to the point of breaking it while the mouse is laying ignored and forgotten on the table.
- There's only one button filling the entire screen, taking both mouse and touch input. Traders get bored clicking it. YOU ALSO NEED TO ADD A COUNTER SO THEY SEE THE MONEY BEING MADE!!!
Permalink Io 
March 4th, 2012 1:10pm
> I think that it's different in bank IT. Most important thing is: deliver. All rest is secondary. You can have as much "cred" as you want, but if you don't deliver, you're toast. If you deliver, traders like you. It's that simple.

Quant, are you describing "quant" programming for investment houses?

I have always gotten the impression that this type of programming was classic old-school balls to the wall code hacking.

I'd say that for an environment that demands high productivity and abstract problems being solved on a regular basis, then yeah, the "personality popularity" and group approval bullshit of IT today would not be present.

You have programmers making well over $200K (I am guessing) who are all about getting shit down as recognized solo entities.

Most programming environments are more like this:

- Lax or no hard requirements

- Problems of the same kind already solved dozens of times over and well understood

- Therefore any monkey can run with the code, it's not engineering in any remote sense of the word

- So all management becomes a fellation contest because it's not about skill, it's about looking and sounding good.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 4th, 2012 1:19pm
Bored,

I guess a lot of what you're saying is get in a high value postion doing work that isn't commodity, and you'll get paid better and treated better.
Permalink line noise 
March 4th, 2012 2:45pm
"Quant, are you describing "quant" programming for investment houses?"

This, and the tools around that. A lot of this IS repetitive -- e.g. every bank develops its own yield curve stripping code, because they think it gives them the flexibility to accomodate it to their needs. Classic in-house programming, in a way.

I think the key is that you meet your end customers face to face. Traders need someone they can trust to meet their needs with minimum amount of fuss.
Permalink Quant 
March 4th, 2012 2:54pm
Yeah, that seems to be what I'm saying.

I would add that finding such situations and specialties is either extremely difficult, or is limited to extremely few defined areas of opportunity - like quantitative analysis.

But the even more "bottom" bottom line is that someone else has to recognizably make absolute *shitloads* of money off of your mere presence, in order for you to be treated that well.

In other words, they have to KNOW that you helped them earn 5, 6 or 7 digits of profit and they have to KNOW that it was YOU.

Most of IT isn't structured like that and doesn't afford such clear cut opportunities to stand out. The lone hero usually gets blended in with the generic "talent" pool of lames. It's very easy for management to assert that extraordinary accomplishments were a team effort and that the one standout was simply tolerated because everyone feels sorry for him.

That's why I suggested sales, or marketing. The own your own business thing is essentially what sales and marketing really are.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 4th, 2012 2:59pm
You're right, your work must be attributed to you. That's why people in bank IT are quite territorial about their projects.
Permalink Quant 
March 4th, 2012 3:09pm
And even if it is clear that YOU made the profit, with the SOFTWARE, of course the button clicking trader is going to try to claim it and push you into JUST IT.  Any IT could code it, I clicked the BUTTON.

So politics and presentation appears again.
Permalink cuts 
March 4th, 2012 9:33pm
Takes two to tango. If hotshot quant coder could click at the right time he'd be in the chair, not coding. If the trader could code he could take it up once his courage fails.

Most banks mandate a gap between the two big enough to audit - you don't get to do both at once.
Permalink trollop 
March 4th, 2012 10:53pm
>> So politics and presentation appears again.

Except that the working environment and the expectations are so harsh, and the work product is manifestly so valuable, that it's not plausible to pluck and roast the goose that lays the golden eggs, EG, the quant. As soon as you drive that guy out of the job or demoralize him by treating him like a dime a dozen schlub, you will see new code that supports trading come to a standstill. Any generic VB/Access code monkey dumbass simply can't do the work.

The code produces profits. That makes the coders valuable. The functional relationship is clear.

I can't think of too many other places in IT where this kind of 1 to 1 relationship holds.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 4th, 2012 11:43pm
"And even if it is clear that YOU made the profit, with the SOFTWARE"

Software doesn't make profits. People who use software make profits.
Permalink Quant 
March 5th, 2012 4:36am
Yeah, it has to be clear they cannot operate nearly as effectively without you.

But that is basically what it means not to be a commmodity.

One of the saddest things I learned from my first decade in commercial IT is that in almost all cases the best thing for you personally is to step aside and watch the suckers fail if they don't think they need you.

And naturally, politically, that frequently requires leaving the company in as clean and diplomatic a way as possible .. and being rehired a fews years later.

It's also in almost all cases the only way to get a big raise obviously.
Permalink Troglodyte 
March 5th, 2012 6:53am
That's a bit how it went with Steve Jobs, Troglodyte.
Permalink Dr. Horrorwitz 
March 5th, 2012 7:12am
True.
If only I'd bought the black turtlenecks.
Permalink Troglodyte 
March 5th, 2012 7:59am
>> it's not plausible to pluck and roast the goose that lays the golden eggs

My perception of a quant role is somehow less glamorous.
I'm not the one making the money. I know i cannot guarantee you a strategy for consistently making money. If i could do that i would be a (delusional) trader.

What i can do is take trader strategies and implement them in code. And realise they're bullshit... but heck, it's the traders who believe in them, not me :P
Permalink Io 
March 5th, 2012 8:21am
>> Troglodyte: One of the [..] things I learned [...] is that in almost all cases the best thing for you personally is to step aside and watch the suckers fail if they don't think they need you.

Interesting. You're kind of articulating an idea which has started to develop in my mind.
Permalink Io 
March 5th, 2012 8:27am
Let me get back to the main point of the thread. The question was, does "becoming" a "domain expert" make it easier to get technology (programming or IT) jobs?

For decades, the job market has already been doing this kind of "sorting". More experienced people (10+ years experience) get hired into the same industries that they worked in before. As you gain more years of experience it becomes very difficult to decouple your job search from the fact that you have a lot of experience in DoD, or banking, or accounting software, or logistics, or inventory applications, et al.

It's basically a "sort". You have a bit higher probability of being hired as a developer who is 45+ if your resume matches the hiring company's business area.

Does that make you an "expert"? What IS an "expert", anyway?

I have NEVER seen anyone get hired into a W2 (permanent) job as an "XXXXX expert." Never.

Experts aren't also employees. If you claim to be an expert as part of a job search, you will trigger sneers and your resume will be deep sixed.

Experts are always freelancers, consultants, and in general, independents. I do NOT mean contractors who hire in through body shops. That arrangement stamps "TEMP, PLEASE FUCK AROUND WITH ME AND TREAT ME LIKE LOW CASTE DIRT" on your forehead.

I mean that anyone who claims to be expert and has it accepted MUST be in independent business.

To get ordinary jobs, nobody is an expert by the definition of the marketplace, and all you can do is make a case that you have a bunch of certain industry experience.

In short, for job seekers, it's another case of wishful thinking.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 5th, 2012 2:03pm
Or rather, it's good to play up your domain experience, but it is what everyone already does already and it's how headhunters ever-so weakly and passively "market" older candidates.

Being associated with some domain and being 40 plus is the default condition.
Permalink Bored Bystander 
March 5th, 2012 2:05pm

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