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Career Advice (2013) (thoughtcrime.org)
68 points by jor-el on Nov 28, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

This might look like a very traditional advice, but I think spending some time in the military is a pretty good thing to do. In particular, because it's really hard, and to someone who's more intellectually oriented, it's really alien and uncomfortable. You learn a lot about yourself when pushed to your limits, and then going back to normal life, everything looks very easy and achievable.

The author suggests doing something that makes you uncomfortable and makes you learn about yourself. He proposes a bunch of interesting things that have something lacking in common. They're all intrinsically good or semi-anarchistic things. I prefer my "go in the military" advice because it's completely opposite to one's anarchist penchant. And I think that's something important: to have a well formed perception, you need to experience things you don't necessarily agree with.

Note: here I assume that the reader is more prone to a free, somehow anarchist, anti-authoritarian point of view, and I suggest spending a decent effort in something contrarian to that.

As a former enlisted marine that later earned two STEM degrees and has been a practicing technologist for over 25 years, will have to disagree, but will concede that a four-year enlistment in some branches of the American military will have an effect on your behavior and perception for remainder of your life, regardless of your speacilty. And the military experience is not, in fact, "really alien and uncomfortable" to the 'intellectual' (whatever that genre may be defined as...), but the military culture can be 'uncomfortable' to the general society that the military is serving. The USMC has an extensive book-reading and continuing education requirments for both enlisted and officer. The MOS schoolhouse, wether combat arms or technical, is not a narrow, delimited curricula, and does not discuss only tactical considerations, but requires strategic thinking and emphasizes an ethical philospy not seen in anything outside of seminary school. While the previous 14 years have seen some very bad behavior by the military in SW Asia and Africa, the daily performance of the marine rifleman on combat patrol has been the best of any generation of marines that preceeded them, including WWII.

The downside to a tour in the military is that of distrust and isolationism. Your most trusted life-long friends will probably be those that were developed during a short four-year stint. You will have difficulty relating to those that did not share this experience.

Finally, few people are suited emotionally, intellectually, or physically for some military branches;and those branches having a less onerous lifestyle seem to have increased entrance requirments. And of those that do enlist but fail to complete initial training (43 graduated boot camp out of my 78 member platoon, and this was before today's more difficult training requirements), many are broken mentally and/or physically. A suggestion to start in the military is profoundly serious and should not be issued with any element of whimsy.

I think you missed the authors point that what you do will shape the person you are. I've known a couple of people who enlisted in the military, and I do not want to become like them. I do not think spending a couple of months in a terrible environment will make me a better person.

I dont know why people always tell you that to learn you need to put yourself into uncomfortable positions. Yes, you should have an open mind, and talk to people outside your bubble. But there's no need to take a job that you'll hate, that will predictably change you, just to become "well rounded".

You can just as well do something that suits your world view. Join a charity, spend a few months helping poor and sick people. You'll learn just as much, and it will predictably make you a nicer person than spending that time in the military.

> If you have two choices, choose the harder. If you're trying to decide whether to go out running or sit home and watch TV, go running. Probably the reason this trick works so well is that when you have two choices and one is harder, the only reason you're even considering the other is laziness. You know in the back of your mind what's the right thing to do, and this trick merely forces you to acknowledge it. - Paul Graham [1]

[1]: http://paulgraham.com/wealth.html

You've grossly misunderstood the meaning of that quote if you think it is applicable in this context.

Your post is ironically self-unaware. You talk about working harder, but you're so lazy that your post consisted solely of a poorly selected appeal to authority that wasn't augmented by a single original thought.

The author's point, though, is to remove yourself from the institutions and support networks that have shaped you as a person your entire life. The military is the exact opposite of that. The military is the one institution in society that can bring the most pressure to bear in shaping your values and personality. I think it's kind of missing the authors subtler points to suggest that.

> This might look like a very traditional advice, but I think spending some time in the military is a pretty good thing to do. In particular, because it's really hard, and to someone who's more intellectually oriented, it's really alien and uncomfortable. You learn a lot about yourself when pushed to your limits, and then going back to normal life, everything looks very easy and achievable.

I... gave this more thought than you would have guessed, when I was that age. Yes, they will push you, and that is both the upside and the downside; The thing that really scared me about the military was that you can't quit - if a regular boss asks me to do something that pushes me too far in any direction I can walk with almost no consequences. Not so, once you are in the military.

My understanding is that you give up a lot of your rights when you enlist... for longer than your initial term. They can call you back afterwards, and sometimes do.

I mean, I'm not saying it's a bad choice... I have worked with a bunch of ex-military people (mostly air force) - and some people get a lot out of it. It's just that enlisting is a much bigger decision than deciding to bicycle across Mongolia or whatever. You can't just quit halfway through your military journey.

That could be seen as an upside, too... but it's a much bigger deal, a much bigger commitment.

That said, for me? the kicker was that I had a couple years as a reboot monkey/windows/netware admin and could spell a few programming languages. It was 1997, so I took the obvious opportunities... opportunities that would not have been there for me in 2001.

I'd argue the same thing is happening now. If you want a computer job, get it now, because the current high demand will probably not last forever.

My main hesitation is wasting my precious years of my youth on something that won't advance my skills.

E.g. as somebody who picked up programming at 25, I already fear that my brain is now struggling to pick up concepts that my younger brain would have.

Don't be afraid of that. The programmer's profession is one of constant study and learning. It would be impossible if people actually had trouble learning things by 25, and the field won't move at the pace it does. if people, or at least some people, lost the ability to constantly learn by 45 or 55 or whatever age looks ridiculously old to you.

There's no denying the fact that many engineers quit programming by the age of 35.

Mostly because they found rewarding opportunity as leaders of teams.

Which, again, takes quite some learning to do well.

There is nothing preventing you from working on skills while being in the military.

Good luck, to anyone who goes through with this suggestion. You'll need it to come home alive, in one piece, in good mental health, and with your presumably anti-authoritarian character intact.

Next assignment: play Russian roulette to learn about probability.

By no means as radical or daring advice, but I've been very happy with my own career as a SW developer (working professionally for close to 25 years now, still loving it). I wrote about why I still think it's a good choice in "5 Reasons Why Software Developer is a Great Career Choice": http://henrikwarne.com/2014/12/08/5-reasons-why-software-dev...

Hmm, from Stockholm, eh? Been programming for 25 years?

    <insert Stockholm syndrome joke here>
But seriously, just because you're happy with your own career doesn't mean that it's a good choice for most people.

> In 1971, Dr. Philip Zimbardo conducted a psychological experiment that is now popularly known as the “Stanford Prison Experiment.”

Why does a non-reproducible study without a control group in which the experimenter was an active participant get cited so much? It wasn't an experiment; It was a historical incident.

The same applies to Mazlow's hierarchy of needs and the addiction study involving mice that is referred to every time an article on addiction appears on HN (which seems to be a weekly thing almost).

I see these things as little more than memes at this point. I suppose the purpose they serve is to question commonly-held beliefs, which is not all bad. I just wish we'd question these things based on valid information.

(to be clear, it's not so much that the two examples I'm using are considered 100% bunk. It's rather that they're generally accepted to not be too well-supported, and definitely not well enough to cite them so much)

I thought Mazlow's hierarchy was a theory, one that should hopefully be tested by experiment somehow.

Why is the addiction study not reproducible? I agree that you should perhaps take an additional step of having 4 groups: heroin+rat park, placebo heroin+rat park, heroin+rat jail, placebo heroin+rat jail. And blind the researcher making the observations as to the nature of the substance.

This is very good advice. However, its often not that easy to really stake it out on your own in other countries with no skills, especially in a labor rich country like China or India. In that context, developing skills that allow you to earn something is the no.1 priority.

It was only after I started a career in Software Engineering that I had the means to explore other directions as well.

Love this. One caveat that I wonder about: asking about the meaning of one's life outsides the strictures of culture yields nothing - structures in that case are more helpful (providing guidance) than harmful (foreclosing other options).

Does the same apply for career?

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