Yesterday on On Point (produced at my own favorite local NPR station, WBUR) an economist was discussing how even though entry level programming jobs would be lost in a global economy, we'd be alright because the high level jobs would stay in our borders.Â But this is a great example of how economists think -- they think in patterns, but often not enough in common sense.
In the late 70's I was getting my start as a programmer.Â The work I did for the first few years would have been easily outsourced or given to a guest worker who would accept a lower wage for the same work.
But by the early 80's, I had learned enough on the job -- just through my own incentive and having access to a working community of senior engineers and access to hardware and software through work -- to get myself a job as Chief Software Engineer/Consultant at Digital Equipment Corporation (now HP) as lead developer for prototype applications for DEC's IVIS,Â the first commercial multimedia production system.
A young engineer today might not have these opportunities, because the entry level jobs are being outsourced or automated.Â These crucial years, where you learn how to work in a team, act like a professional, keep to deadlines, and how to learn new tech on the fly -- are getting cut out from under us.
Is the US tech industry too big for our britches?Â Perhaps so.Â As well-paying computer jobs foamed like yeast in the 80's, fewer and fewer people who called themselves "software engineers" had heard of Knuth or had a clue why this language they were programming was called C.Â There was a tech employment bubble that predated and outlived the dotcom bubble, and has been largely conflated with it -- largely undeservedly so.
This is a stellar example of why we need to keep the easy jobs at home -- because with those jobs comes the experience to be the best engineers in the world, and if we don't nurture our young folks, we won't have that next generation of innovators, managers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and project leads.
It's a narrow example of a major danger of the new economy.Â Children don't work.Â I had my first job in junior high, working babysitting.Â I had to pay for anything that wasn't rummage sale to keep me in clothes.Â By high school I was working as a freelance writer, I was taking care of the houseplants at a craft and houseplant store, I was still doing babysitting, and in my spare time I managed a pre-order food co-op as a volunteer.
Today, our kids live in cul-de-sacs, bad neighborhoods, whatever excuse it might be that we don't want them to go out and be independent.Â We don't teach them to deal with people face-to-face in real situations.Â And then at 18, we expect them to go out and have a clue -- and what do they want?Â They want to live like you've supported them, many with a sense of entitlement.
Now, this is the chorus of every older generation, but here's where I think the story diverges.Â For the kids who want to make it, they can't get a job in a cannery, or doing maintenance programming, or working at a call center -- a zillion jobs that would be teaching our kids how to live in the world of work are now half a world away.
So when you hear that we'll be ok, because the US has the best and the brightest, think again.Â We have an educational system is sad disaray, and we're making sure that everyone else's children in the world get a leg up, by giving them the entry level jobs.Â Good for them!Â Charitable of us.Â Is it charity we can afford?Â
Shava Nerad, News and Opinion Correspondent:
Shava Nerad has been working on the Internet for twenty-five years, at the boundaries of Internet and social issues.Â She is executive director of The Tor Project as her day job.Â She lives in Somerville, MA with her teenage son, her fiance (a professional magician and fundraising coach), and a corgi/dachshund mutt named George.
Opinions here have nothing to do with Tor.Â
Keep up with Shavaâ€™s other postings and Gather activity by joining her Gather network -- just click here and select the orange â€œConnectâ€ button on the left-hand side of the page (colleage connections only please, unless you know me on the street!)
Youâ€™ll find Shava and other News Correspondents, plus celebrity content and plenty of other News experts at News.gather.comÂ