Tag Archives: job

Be a Smart Shopper When It Comes to Higher Education


According to research done by the Associated Press, the average Gen Xer with a bachelor’s degree is paying $400 a month on student loan debt.  Does this seem wrong to you?  The federal government says this is more than the average household spends on groceries a month.  You need a bachelor’s degree, right?  So what do you do?

Everyone and their brother has a bachelor’s degree

We’ve been told that a bachelor’s degree is a must-have in today’s society.  But, let’s look at the numbers.  In 1970, the average income for a recent college graduate in their 20s was about $42,000 in 2013 dollars.  In 2013, that same average income was only $40,000.  Yet the bill to acquire said degree has sky-rocketed.  Is this really money well-spent?

The master’s is the new black

So, maybe a bachelor’s just isn’t cutting it anymore.  Maybe the new shiny object is a master’s degree.  Since 1970, the income of recent recipients of graduate degrees has increased by $4,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars.  That’s good news, right?  Well, you have to factor in how much a master’s degree costs – $40,000 – versus $20,000 for a bachelor’s degree.  It just doesn’t seem like you’re getting a whole lot of bang for your buck.  Are there any other options?

I’d like a plate full of hands-on experience, please

If you’re planning to become a scientist, doctor, or researcher, yeah you’re probably gonna need a degree, and then some.  But, if you’re looking at getting into something like sales, software development, or business, you’re really gonna need to get some good old fashion hands-on experience.  The same goes if you’re looking at getting into a trade like carpentry, engine repair, or electrical.

So, how do you find experience?

1) Apply for entry-level jobs or internships.  Even if it’s not exactly what you want to do, get a job somewhere.  Once you’re in, put in some extra hours with people that are doing what you want to do.  Observe what their doing, ask questions, and offer your help with some of the more menial tasks.

2) Work on projects at home.  If you want to be a software developer, get on your computer and start coding something.  If you want to be in sales, start going door-to-door and sell something.  If you want to be an electrician, start re-wiring something.

3) Sign up for a vocational trade school.  Unlike 4-year universities that offer classes from a more academic or theoretical point of view, trade schools provide practical training geared specifically for the job you want.  Plus, they typically far cheaper to attend than a 4-year school.  And, according to Mike Row, blue collar jobs can pay pretty well.

4) Start your own business.  Even if it’s just helping out your neighbors with some odd jobs, you can learn a lot about how to run a business by trying it out yourself.

Full disclosure

I have a bachelor’s degree and I’ve taken several post-graduate classes.  But, I did it on the cheap.  I went to Community College for my first two years and paid for it entirely out of pocket. Then, I finished up my bachelor’s with two years at an inexpensive public state school.  I didn’t start taking post-graduate classes until I worked full-time for a few years and, even then, it was free because my company had a tuition reimbursement program.  I did take out a loan for my undergrad degree, but I paid it off in 5 years.

Would I take out a loan to get my bachelor’s again knowing what I know now?  No.  Would I even get a bachelor’s degree?  I’m not so sure.  I’ve found that, at least in my line of work, employers value experience far more than any degree.

A Message to Graduates: Sometimes it’s Good to Ignore a Few Wrong Way Signs

Wrong Way Sign

On the road of life, you’ll see many signs telling you how fast to go, when to stop, when to take a detour, and when you’re going the wrong way.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to ignore those signs posted by society and go your own way.

1. Society will tell you to buy a brand new car before you have the money

It might sound tempting when you hear things like “No money down”, or “only $150 a month”, or “only $5 a day.”  Don’t do it!  Save up cash and buy a cheap, used A to B car with no payments.  Until you have the cash, walk, ride a bike, take the bus, or use Uber.  When you finally buy a car, set aside around $150 per month to cover maintenance and repairs.

2. Society will tell you to spend as much money as you can on a house

Don’t rush into buying a house.  It’s okay to rent until you know where you want to put down roots.  When you’re ready to buy, don’t take out a loan that’s more than 15 years long and don’t commit to a payment that’s more than 25% of your monthly income.  No matter what the bank says, too much house payment makes life harder than it has to be.

3. Society will tell you to use a credit card to get what you want now

A good credit rating is important for things like insurance rates, low interest rates on home loans and even getting a job.  But, use credit wisely.  Get a credit card or two, not because they have the best airline miles or cashback, but because you need them to maintain a credit score.  Always pay your bill off completely every month.  I can think of much better ways to spend 20% of your credit card bill than paying interest and late fees to the card company.

5. Society will tell you to go to the most prestigious (usually the most expensive) college you can

How about just going to a community college?  Unless you know you want to be something that requires the fancy education like a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist, you generally don’t need a pricey four-year degree.  What you really need is experience.  If you do decide to get that degree, shop around for deals and look for scholarships.  Choosing a high-priced private medical school over a cheaper state school isn’t going to make you a better doctor.  Also, be careful how much money you borrow to do it.  Student loans are with you for life – they won’t go away, even if you declare bankruptcy.

6. Society will tell you to find a nice, secure, well-paying job from which no one gets fired

Don’t be afraid to try out many different kinds of jobs until you find the one you like.  If the one you like doesn’t pay well, find a way to make it pay well.  Work harder, start your own business based on that job, or take on a second job to support the job you love.  If you’re not sure what you want to do after high-school or college and aren’t afraid of some hard work, try a trade school.  As Mike Rowe points out, there are quite a few good paying blue-collar jobs out there.  Some of which can lead to six-figure incomes.

Often times society will tell you to join the crowd and take the easy route, or to go down the slide.  Don’t be afraid to go up the slide, even if the people across from you are yelling, “You’re going the wrong way!” (Thank you Planes, Trains and Automobiles)

Everyone Should Try to be a Hero Like James Robertson

Do you ever not feel like making that 20 mile or so round trip commute to work.  What if you had to no car and didn’t live near a bus stop?  Would you walk?  James Robertson did just that.  In fact, for the last ten years Robertson has walked to and from his factory job in Detroit.  Round-trip he hikes a near marathon each day – twenty one miles – through some less-than-friendly parts of the city.  There are all kinds of legitimate reasons to miss a day of work – you get sick, the weather turns south, and sometimes life just gets in the way.  Yet Robertson has a perfect attendance record.

I saw this Under Armour commercial the other day in which Jamie Foxx quotes Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do.”

To complete the quote, “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Robertson is a great example of this.  Everyday he goes above and beyond what most people would do for a job just by showing up.  To me, James Robertson is a hero.  Someone kids can look up to and say, “that’s who I want to be when I grow up.”

People like Robertson are rare these days.  Why is that?  Couldn’t more people do what he does?  When we hear the word “hero”, we typically don’t think of someone like Robertson.  We usually envision a superhero figure or a someone who does a single heroic act like saving someone from an oncoming train, or rescuing someone from a raging river.  These types of heroes are important, don’t get me wrong, but, not everyone has the courage, the physical aptitude, or the opportunity to perform such a heroic act.  On the other hand, anyone can be James Robertson.  All it takes is drive.

So, how do you find that drive?  Find happiness in your job.  Aristotle also said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves”.  You may have a boring, dirty, exhausting job that no one else in their right mind would ever choose to do.  That’s okay. Not everyone can be a professional athlete or a movie star.  Take pride in what you do, show up on time, and strive to be the best at what you do.  Do this everyday for the next ten years and you will be happy.  In my mind, you’ll also be a hero, just like James Robertson.

By the way, the humble Robertson was recently rewarded for his hard work.  His new friend, Blake Pollock, teamed up with a Ford dealership in Detroit to give him a brand new Ford Taurus.

Zero to One: An Unconventional Look at What it Takes to Build a Company

Copying something that already exists is like going from 1 to n, but creating something completely new and different means going from 0 to 1.  In order for a company to succeed, it has to create something the world has never seen.  This is the core idea behind the new book Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters.

The book is based on notes taken by Masters, a student at Stanford in 2012 who took a class about startups.  That class was taught by Peter Thiel, the “don” of the famed PayPal Mafia – the name given to the founding group at PayPal who each later went on to start and invest in several other successful tech companies.  Since selling PayPal to eBay in 2002, Thiel himself has gone on to start Palantir and invest in many other startups including Facebook and SpaceX.  It is the lessons learned from these experiences that fill the pages of this book.

As I read Zero to One, I found myself bookmarking and highlighting in my Nexus more times than I wanted count.  The text flowed easily, but the nuggets of golden wisdom that shined through were sharp and, at times, jarring.  My mind had to pause at the more radical ideas like competition is bad, monopolies are good, and don’t invest in a tech CEO that wears a suit.

Throughout the read, Thiel acknowledges conventional wisdom and then kicks it to the curb.  One fundamental myth that Theil picks apart is the idea that success is like winning the lottery.  He calls out Malcolm Gladwell on this point, but to be fair, many of us have bought into the idea that luck is the main factor in determining who succeeds.  Thiel shrewdly responds, “if you believe your life is mainly a matter of chance, why read this book?”  There’s no reason to find a winning strategy if it’s like the lottery, and everyone has an equal chance of succeeding.  “You are not a lottery ticket.”  You control your own destiny.

Most of us are familiar with the theory of evolution – the idea that living things randomly mutate and the best mutations win.  There is no plan.  It just happens.  There are companies out there that operate under this same premise.  Adapt to a changing world, be nimble, listen to your customers.  These are all phrases that, if adhered to, Thiel says will spell a company’s doom: “Darwinism may be a fine theory in other contexts, but in startups, intelligent design works best.”

Thiel argues that the many startup failures that came out of the dotcom bubble of the late 90s and, more recently, out of the cleantech bubble the began around a decade ago are the result of failing to answer one or more of his seven questions every company must ask itself.

In Zero to One, Theil serves up a refreshing glass of thirst-quenching knowledge on how to put together a successful company.  Some of his ideas are the polar opposite of what today’s companies embrace.  But if you stop, listen, and think about them, they make sense.

Whether you’re thinking of building a startup, currently running a startup, or maybe working for a startup, I would highly recommend this book.  Even if you’re affiliated with a more established company, this book might just get you thinking about where your company is headed.

Master’s Degree? None for me, Thanks

This morning I was working out, listening to Pandora when an ad interrupted my station (yes, I use the free version) trying to convince me to get a Master’s degree.  Incidentally, I don’t have a Master’s degree.  Instead, I’ve been surviving on just a Bachelor’s degree in Economics.  A fact that some might find strange because my day job is software engineer, but that’s a post for another day.

There was a time when I wanted a Master’s degree.  You see, a few years ago I worked for a company that offered to pay the full tuition bill.  As long as a I maintained a “B” average, I could take free classes.  I decided to take them up on their offer and start pursuing a Master’s in Computer Science.  I had no plans for what I would do with my new degree, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.  Well, more than 10 years later, I’m glad I never finished the program.  I like my day job and I’ve come to realize that in my field, a Master’s degree would actually just slow me down.  I feel like I’d be stuck spending time learning about general computer theory using outdated technology, while missing out on valuable on-the-job experience with the latest and greatest tools and techniques.

There are more reasons I choose not to pursue a post baccalaureate degree…

It costs money

I no longer work for a company that will cover education expenses and those degrees are expensive. MBA programs can cost between $40k and 60k per year.  Holy cow!  I don’t think I would get a very good return on my investment.  Other people might be able to work out a deal with their employers to cover all or part of the tuition, but even then there may be strings attached.  For example, your company may want their money back if you quit or get laid off.

It takes time

Usually two years, but maybe more if I’m trying to squeeze classes in at night and don’t have all the prerequisite undergraduate work done.  Are you ready to commit your nights and weekends to studying?  I’m not.  I have a blog to write!

There’s no guarantee it will get me more money or a better job

Maybe it would be different if my company came to me and said, “We’ll pay you x percent more if you get a Master’s degree.”  But, in my field it’s more about your experience and skill than it is about your degree.  I’m not about to shell out $50k with nothing but a hope and a prayer that the investment will pay off.

Society is too pushy about it

I just feel like there’s this general push by society to go out and upgrade your life by getting a Master’s degree.   It’s like the new Bachelor’s degree.  It will unlock a glorious new world of higher pay and career advancement.  And if you don’t get that degree, you’ll limp along, unable to compete with everyone else and their mother who already have a Master’s degree.

I’ll admit that some jobs require a minimum amount of post-graduate education: Doctors, lawyers, scientists, and college professors.  If any of these jobs are your ultimate goal, then by all means go forth and learn.  Otherwise, can you get to where you want to go without a Master’s degree?  If your goal is to move up the corporate ladder into management, have you considered starting your own business instead?  You don’t need a degree to be an entrepreneur.

What do you think?  Is getting a Master’s degree worthwhile?

How Much Do You Love Your Job?

According to this Business Insider article, the Orange County Register is asking its employees to pitch in and deliver newspapers early in the morning.  Apparently the paper is having issues with their normal delivery service.  So, they need journalists and other newsroom employees to step up and help out.  According to the paper’s editor, Rob Curley, the situation is temporary.

This begs the question, do you love your job and how much?  Would you be willing to do tasks that are not in your job description to help you company through tough times?  If you were a journalist for the Register, would you volunteer to deliver newspapers?  If you worked at an office job and the cleaning crew suddenly quit, would you pitch in and help empty trash cans or clean the bathrooms?  If you were a package delivery driver and your company needed help manning the customer service phone lines, would you stay late and help out?

There are two basic factors involved in determining if you loving your job.  Do you love what you do and do you love where you do it?  You may enjoy being a computer programmer, but if you don’t enjoy who you work for and who you work with, you may not love your job overall.  Same thing goes if you love the people you work with, but don’t like what you do.

If you’re not sure you love your job, here are some questions to ask yourself:

Do you love Mondays?

Do you dream about work?

Do you enjoy working extra hours?

Do you show up early and/or leave late?

Would you do your job for less money?

Do you go on vacation and, after only a couple days, can’t wait to get back to work?

If you can’t answer “yes” to any of these questions, chances are you don’t love your job.  And, if you don’t love your job, you may not be willing to go the extra mile when your company needs you.