Monday, August 13, 2007

Career Paths

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my career—past, present, and future. I took a little over three months off after Trystan was born, and had made arrangements with my managers at work to return 3 days a week. So far this is a good schedule to follow, giving me the mental challenges and adult interaction at work, the bonding time with my kids, and a sprinkling of flexibility in my week to run errands or go to doctor appointments or wait for repairmen without feeling so harassed all the time.

On my first day back at work, I was told that I needed to update my personal development plan. This is something that my company uses to supposedly help us employees define our career goals and communicate those with our managers. This is separate from the set of goals that we are rated on at the end of the year to help determine raises and promotions. The first time I went through this process, I was told that this plan was just for my own use and that it was quite acceptable and almost encouraged that we put non-job related items down. Now, the focus seems to have shifted to my career goals specific to this employer—the instructions are full of phrases about “supporting business objectives”.

I have hated these types of questions all of my life. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is a question that most people really don’t want an honest answer to. At least not from me. Or maybe they do, but it won’t necessarily help my “career” any. A good honest answer from me is “I’m not sure that I really care to stay in this field forever, but it’s got good benefits and pay, so I’m content to stay until I find a better option.” What they want is a response showing that you’re somehow going to morph yourself into a star player—some high-performing management type, or super-expert. Honestly, I don’t have the drive, the time, or the energy to do either of those. So, the best thing I can come up with is to consider working on a master’s degree.

I have, honestly, considered working on a master’s in computer science. I considered it seriously when I was first graduating from college, but the promise of an actual paycheck won out (along with the ability to own a vehicle of some sort, and have more than $5 left after paying rent and utilities every month). I thought again a year or two later of working on a masters in the evenings, but my work hours made that impossible. Now I work for a company that values higher education, and actually pays for tuition, even for degrees that aren’t specifically job related.

At this point, I have to make a confession. For many years now, I have been fascinated with food and cooking. I'm a FoodTV addict. I read cookbooks for fun. I remember watching The Frugal Gourmet on PBS when I was like 9 years old, and being disappointed that we couldn't make any of the recipes at our house. I've worked some food-service type jobs--nothing particularly high-end. In fact, they've been all minimum-wage fast-food and cafeteria type jobs in high school and early college. There are many parts of the food service industry that I really didn't care for (standing in front of a fryer for hours on end, for example). Still, all that "experience" did not turn me off of the industry. Then, around the time Charlotte was born, I found out that there was an actual culinary school opening in St. Louis. At the time, it was inconceivable for me to pay for daycare *and* tuition at the same time, all to change to a career with bad hours (can you say weekends?) and less pay than I could make in software.

My new employer pays tuition, even for schooling that isn't job related.....I now work part time, and our finances are handling that ok so far.....See where this is all going? But there's a catch. There's always a catch. Tuition reimbursement is only for employees working 40 hours a week (I think it actually read 39.2 or some silly number...). With that restriction, even a career-focused advanced engineering degree just isn't going to happen, at least until the kids are in like, college.

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