Live your dream – so you don’t end up like this guy…

There’s a guy at my work who takes care of all the computer-related stuff for the lab.  Let’s call him Jack, short for Jackass.

Jack’s in his late thirties or early forties, has two young kids and recently made the manager “manager” level.  So he gets paid about 50-55k per year, but he does get a gold plated pension and benefit package thanks to working for the university.  He’s minimally educated in computer science but largely self-taught. He knows A LOT about a narrow field, but far less than your average university grad in computer science.

Photo Credit: freefotouk via Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/freefoto/2962277374/)

As a result (I suspect) he’s bitter.  He’s making peanuts compared to programmers and QA testers half his age and he’s been working for the university so long that he’s stuck there.  If he leaves, he would not be able to find a comparable position (he only knows one programming language, and it is a little-used one) and he would lose his amazing pension.

So he spends his time making passive-aggressive comments and insults at other people.  When someone asks him to pass the calculator, he insinuates that it’s silly for anyone to need a calculator when they have their computer.  When someone takes some time organizing an excel spreadsheet, he scoffs and remarks (to no one in particular, of course) that it is far more efficient to program the computer to do those tasks for you.

As a programmer, I sort-of-not-really fall under his jurisdiction even though our areas of expertise are quite disparate.   Usually I just ignore him, as I find him unpleasant as a human being on a very basic level.  Today though, he made me furious.

I was working on a bug in a software program that I am developing and when he comes over and asks about my problem.  So I explain the issues to him, knowing that he has no experience in Java programming or development.  Instead of being constructive or simply listening, he remarked, “Well, you just got to keep working at it until you get it.  And if you don’t, then it’s time to realize that you’re not cut out for computer science.”


This, coming from someone who is supposed to be one of my supervisors!  I am employed as a student worker.  This means that I am here to learn.  I am not perfect, and there is not a single software developer out there who does not encounter a tough bug once in a while.  Not only that, he would criticize me for something he himself could not fix?  I was furious.

Later, I calmed down and I realized several important things:

  • He is bitter:  He feels like he is a much better “computer guy” than someone like me, because he doesn’t need the graphical interface and he doesn’t rely on online references to remember commands.  But it makes him bitter that I actually know more “useful” computer programming languages than he does, which makes me more employable once I graduate.
  • He feels threatened: When I started this student job, I made several suggestions of new ways of doing things and presented new ideas for solving old problems.  The boss loved my suggestions.  Jack, on the other hand, does not try to be innovative.  He feels stuck in the daily grind of his job, and he does not try to elevate himself.  When other people ARE innovative, he feels like it threatens his position.
  • He doesn’t matter: Here is an unhappy man, stuck in an unhappy place.  No one likes him.  He knows nothing about software programming that anyone cares about, outside of this narrow academic field.  If it were someone I respected who had criticized me, such as any of the people I worked with in my previous job, then I would be concerned.  But when someone who knows nothing about you or what you do insults you – it means nothing.

It reinforced to me how important it is to follow your dreams and remain dynamic and innovative.  If I had stayed at my old job, taking miniscule raises year after year, not learning, not growing – eventually, I would have ended up like Jack.

Instead, I am choosing to be dynamic, choosing to do what I want to do.   I am learning new things.  Eight months from now, I will graduate and I will have far more options than ever.  Jack will be in the same job, doing the same things, making the same insults.

Posted in: Career and Work, Philosophy

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