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Career Options for Dudes

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2017-01-24


For a lot of middle-class parents, having a child successfully complete a four-year degree at a respected college is one of the proudest accomplishments imaginable. With the insane, skyrocketing cost of tuition and the difficulty of finding just the right university for your child in a competitive environment, the ability to help navigate a student through a collegiate career reflects an incredible amount of sacrifice and doggedness. It also shows a high degree of forward thinking and planning, for even the most frugal of colleges require decades of financial commitment from the parents. When the student finally puts on the cap and gown in May, there must be a moment where the parents feel an indescribable happiness at what they've managed to achieve.

And while some students are determined to pay back all of the money that the parents have shelled out for four years, many parents wouldn't have it; they don't expect or want anything in return. A college education is often the last great financial sacrifice that the parents make for their kid, and most parents accept that the debt is theirs alone. Plus, they also know that the kid is probably going to struggle for a while anyway, trying to make it in the world with a new degree. It’s usually a difficult, transitional time for the graduate, for even if he's lucky enough to get a job, there's still the upheaval of hauling stakes and making their way in a brand new city.

Unless, of course, it's 2017 and the kid can write code and pulls a six-figure job right out of the box and gets his relocation nightmares taken care of by the company that's all-too thrilled to have him on board as an employee. Then that whole "upheaval/struggle" paradigm is forced to shift a bit, for the kid goes straight from a hell-hole apartment on campus to a three-bedroom condo in one of the splashier parts of his new town. And the parents are left to marvel at the fact that their 22-year-old kid, freshly graduated from university, is going to be making more money in his first year on the job than they are now, at the apex of their careers. Combined.

I know it's no secret that high-tech jobs pay insanely well and that impressive candidates will always be sought out and fought over by phenomenally successful, market-dominating tech firms. And I also recognize that these in-demand jobs will be no walk in the park, that there will be tons of pressure and responsibilities placed on the new associates to perform at a high level from day one. All of that is understood. But still, man: $120,000 a year at the age of 22? I can't even imagine what that's like. What happens when you fly past your parents' economic class the very first time you ink your name to a job agreement? I'm reminded of that great advice that Timbuk3 gave back in '86 — "Fifty-thou a year, will buy a lot of beer" — and I'm guessing that when you account for inflation, $120,000 thou a year will probably do the same in 2017.

So it's gotta be weird, to go from being a poor starving college student to being upper class, virtually overnight, but I'm more fascinated by what their parents must make of this. I know three sets of parents of 2016 graduates who experienced this very phenomenon — their children all signed contracts in May for jobs that immediately surpassed their combined incomes. How did this make the parents feel? (And by the way, the kids didn't have to leave the state for their degrees. The three graduated from IU, Purdue, and Ball State.)

I talked with all the parents and all were immensely proud that their kids could command such a salary right from the start. Just like you'd expect. But they also couldn't hide a sense of bewilderment about the whole deal, like: Is this the way this is supposed to go? Isn't it supposed to be, you get a job, climb the ladder, keep excelling, you get an additional business degree in your field, publish some papers, make VP of something and then — then — you get to make the $120,000 a year? After a quarter century of grinding? Isn't that the gig?

And it's not, obviously. Now the gig is, get into a hot program, rock the grades, score a great internship, get paid. That's the gig. And it's gotta be a little galling to the parents to know that the one habit they hated most about their kids through adolescence — the one that drove them the most crazy — was probably the very thing that made these jobs attainable: the kids' slavish devotion to technology. As much as my generation tries to get hip to technology, we don't like it, and we especially don't trust our kids being so plugged in all the time. It feels wrong to us, somehow, and we're always yelling at them to turn it off, to go outside, to do something without staring at your hand for one second, for chrissake! And yet our kids are about to succeed phenomenally because of this very devotion.

Of course, it's most galling for Baby Boomers to recognize that we're slowly becoming the background here; the world keeps refusing to wait for our approval before spinning on its axis. As it should be, of course, but that doesn't mean we like it. The landscape and the paradigms keep changing and we can't keep up; and now, to top it off, our damned 22-year old kid is starting to pick up the check for the family dinner. The indignities will never cease.

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