Friday, February 03, 2006

Settling In - Part II

We Get Free Career Advice

At their ESL classes, my parents met a couple from Moscow, in their late twenties. The husband was an accountant and the wife had studied foreign languages before coming to America. They had one son who was LilProgrammer’s age. My parents were elated that they had found someone we could become friends with.

During one of our weekly calls, my Dad told me that he had figured out, with the help of their friend the young accountant, how to jump-start my career in America. (It had been generally agreed that my career would take off first, since I was the one that actually knew the language.) (Then again, my parents weren’t big fans of Mr. Goldie, so I guess they didn’t care much as far as he was concerned.)

“You will need to study at a university for two years. You will study to become a Master.”

A Master. Was that like a guru or something?

The plan sounded exciting until I ran it by a couple of people. Mr. Goldie could not understand why I had to study for two years to be a programmer, when I already was one, with several years experience. I told him that, evidently, Russian diplomas and Russian experience did not count in America. (Later on, I met programmers who came here from Russia on work visas, and, from their experience, all of that does very much count.)

Another skeptical soul was my old boss. I ran into him on the street. My boss was a short, scrawny guy with a killer sense of humor. I had worked for him for about four years, until I had LilProgrammer.

“So, do you know what you’re going to do in America?”
“My Dad says I’ve got to go back to school for two years.”
“For what?”
“To study.”
“To study to be what?”
“A programmer.”
“And what are you now?” asked my incredulous boss.

Since Mr. Goldie and I were completely confused at that point, we emailed the Accounting Dude, stating that we were, in fact, already programmers and could not understand why we had to spend two more years learning to do what we had already been doing for a while. Did it have to be the whole two years? Could it be done in a shorter time, say, six months?

Accounting Dude replied on the same day, with a letter I will never forget.

It started with:

“Guys, I am seriously disappointed with your attitude.”

The letter then continued to explain, in great detail, why grad school was, for us, the only way to go. It listed as alternatives a quick course at a community college and a minimal wage job, and then went on to prove that those were not sufficient to provide us with a successful career in America. AD then went on to say:

“… you don’t want to turn into that sort of Russian immigrant that see every American as their personal enemy, and fight n***ers for a piece of the Welfare pie. With the attitude you guys now have, that’s exactly what you’re going to become. That has to change.”

At that point, Mr. Goldie and I did not know anything about America, living in America, or being an IT professional in America.

But we knew enough to rip up this little piece of shit letter and throw it in the garbage, where it belonged.

Now allow me to analyze the letter. Here’s where our friend the Accounting Dude was wrong, and this, may I point out, is the common mistake a lot of Russian and post-Soviet immigrants make.

AD’s mistake was that, just because he’d figured out how to have a career in finance in America, he assumed that he had it all set for any individual of any profession. Because AD had been in America for a whopping eight months, he felt he was qualified to give unsolicited advice to people that didn’t need it, and considered himself an expert on the subject that he, in fact, did not have a clue about, namely, working in Informational Technologies, where hands-on experience goes a much longer way than a fresh college degree with no experience at all.

Another thing AD missed was that, although he did, in fact, need to go back to school, due to the financial system in America being very different from the Soviet finance and economy, the IT is practically international. Rules of business may vary, but hardware, software, and the users, are the same everywhere you go.

What made his advice especially harmful was the incredibly bad timing. It was the beginning of the IT boom, a perfect time to get one’s foot in the door, get hired, and move on to a job that matched your skillset. That wonderful window of opportunity pretty much closed in late 2000 – early 2001. Had Mr. Goldie and I stuck to AD’s plan, we would have wasted that priceless time (and money, may I add) getting a Master’s degree in Computer Science that none of us needed in order to be productive.

In retrospect, we should have saved the letter. When I told my parents about it, they didn’t believe me. It was inconceivable to them that a nice guy like AD could write something that venomous, so they just assumed I’d read something wrong. My parents were quite upset over the fact that we didn’t want to be friends with the AD’s. The AD’s, however, turned out to be kinda snobbish and kinda elitist, and weren’t really falling over themselves to be friends with us, so everything worked out to everyone’s mutual benefit.

AD did go back to school and got his Master’s. He did so well on his GMAT that the university (a pricey, prestigious one) put him on an 11-month, accelerated program that was completely tuition-free. He got a job right out of school, moved up the ladder at breakneck speed, and is now, if memory serves me, a VP at a big-name, worldwide bank whose name escapes me at the moment. His wife got a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, and, last I heard, hadn’t worked a day in her life, due to her husband’s career demands. So I guess it all balances out in the end.

The Goldie has spoken at 8:15 AM

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