TITLE: The Seductiveness of Job Security AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 16, 2008 2:55 PM DESC: ----- BODY: A former student recently mentioned a tough choice he faces. He has a great job at a Big Company here in the Midwest. The company loves him and wants him to stay for the long term. He likes the job, the company, and the community in which he lives. But this isn't the sort of job he originally had hoped for upon graduation. Now a position of just the sort he was originally looking for is available to him in a sunny paradise. He says, "I have quite a decision to make.... it's hard to convince myself to leave the secure confines of [Big Company]. Now I see why their turnover rate is so low." I had a hard time offering any advice. When I was growing up, my dad work for Ford Motor Company in an assembly plant, and he faced insecurity about the continuance of his job several times. I don't know how much this experience affected my outlook on jobs, but in any case my personality is one that tends to value security over big risk/big gain opportunities. Now I hold a job with greater job security than anyone who works for a big corporation. An older colleague is fond of saying Real men don't accept tenure. I first heard him say that when I was in grad school, and I remember not getting it at all. What's not to like about tenure? After a decade with tenure, I understand better now what he means. I always thought that the security provided by having tenure would promote taking risks, even if only of the intellectual sort. But too much security is just as likely to stunt growth and inhibit taking risks. I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to push myself out of my comfort zone. Intellectually, I feel free to try new things, but pushing myself out of a comfortable nest here into a new wnvironment -- well, that's another matter. What are the opportunity costs in that? I love what Paul Graham says about young CS students and grads having the ability to take entrepreneurial risk, and how taking those risks may well be the safer choice in the long run. It's kind of like investing in stocks instead of bonds, I think. I encourage all of my students to give entrepreneurship a thought, and I encourage even more the ones whom I think have a significant chance to do something big. There is probably a bit of wistfulness in my encouragement, not having done that myself, but I don't think I'm simply projecting my own feelings. I really do believe that taking some employment risk, especially while young, is good for many CS grads. But when faced with a concrete case -- a particular student having to make a particular decision -- I don't feel quite so cocksure in saying "go for it with abandon". This is not abstract theory; his job and home and fiancee are all in play. He will have to make this decision on his own, and I'd hate to push him toward something that isn't right for him from my cushy, secure seat in the tower. I feel a need to stay abstract in my advice and leave him to sort things out. Fortunately, he is a bright, level-headed guy, and I'm sure he'll do fine whichever way he chooses. I wish him luck. -----