Don't worry, be happy -

Don’t worry, be happy

In the UK, at least, programmers and other IT workers are a miserable lot. Only 14% rated themselves “very happy” with their career, according to a recent survey .

Even lawyers did better than that at 16%.

The happiest of all are care assistants, of whom 40% selected the highest category. Maybe it's the access to pharmaceuticals?

Hairdressers came next. Inhaling those volatile hairsprays all day would leave anyone groggily smiling.

The most wretched? Estate agents, the media, and accountants. Teachers, those underpaid individuals to which we entrust our children's future, scored near the bottom as well.

Maybe we need a No Teacher Left Behind initiative?

I wonder if the shifting landscape of our industry chips away at job satisfaction. How many older readers remember engineering assistants and draftsmen? They controlled drawings and took care of much of the clerical work that's part of the engineering routine.

Today, word processors has turned everyone into secretaries. Schematic capture has made us draftsmen. Management provides little clerical assistance so we're involved with everything from ordering parts to, at times, restocking the rest rooms.

An EEM file, a sort of datasheet database stored in a file cabinet, was a part of every development lab. Yet the clerical staff generally took care of all the filing. I wonder if filing clerks even exist anymore.

(Nostalgia paints blissful memories over a tough reality. Give me CAD any day. My dad tells of doing drawings — in ink — on starched linen in the '50s, before the invention of Mylar. Water dissolved the starch, so even a single drop of sweat ruined the work. And this was before air conditioning was common).

Trade professionals — those VoTech students we smart engineers avoided in high school — are, on average, twice as happy with their careers as white collar workers. And that's not because of salary; skilled tradespeople are less satisfied with their paychecks than office workers like us.

The study suggests that self-employed people are generally happiest. Plumbers and the like who can, to some extent, set their own hours and the nature of their work wear the biggest smiles. This is good news; our evolving economy, which displaces workers with so much alacrity, appears to favor the small businessperson, the entrepreneur who sets up shop with little more than guts and an idea. Downsize, and be happy.

Many of my friends with hugely expensive advanced educations chucked the conventional office gig and reinvented themselves in trade work. One couple, with four degrees between them, has a mom and pop canvas shop. They've never been happier. Another pal gave up a quite successful EE career to create stained glass. He's nearly starving, but loves the work.

Other techie friends sold off or just abandoned their consulting businesses. Now working out of their basements, typically with one or two customers, each puts in a mere 20-or-so hours a week. They've consciously traded income for a family-friendly slower pace of life. Most don't write code or design circuits anymore; they're working with people, writing, or developing sales and marketing strategies. Perhaps they remember something about Maxwell's Laws and the location of pin 1 on a DIP, but all that education, all that training and experience isn't going into product development.

Happy? You bet.

We engineers love the creative act of inventing new, cool and exciting products. Yet that seemingly doesn't make us happy, at least not compared with those in other careers.

Have you left the field to pursue non-technical arts, or reinvented yourself to do engineering in a different, happier, manner?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .

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