Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Computers as a Vocation or an Avocation?

My grandfather advocated this advice (and likely further back, perhaps to the 1850's -- since the evidence supports it)... 

"Always separate life-goals into vocation and avocation. An avocation is what you want to do. A vocation is what puts bread and butter on the table. When you mix the two into one, you end up being a starving artist living in an attic in a rooming house. For vocation, look at what you can do better than other folks (you may not like doing it -- that does not matter, being free to do your avocation compensates); look at what is new (there will be less competition, faster promotion and higher pay) and find the best combination. That is where you should focus for your vocation.  Don't ask the older generation for advice here -- they will give you their reality when they were your age."

An example of this is the horde of people that want to become game developers….  they have mixed up vocation and avocation.

 

So what is your avocation? It’s a good question to ask in an interview. Why? If it’s computers, you may be dealing with a romantic idealist (think of the gamer developer). If something else, then you are likely dealing with a bit of a pragmatist. The next question is attitude towards their vocation. When I started this industry, it was common for employers to ship folks across the continent to do training courses for a few weeks (I had a nice time in Montreal at the IBM training centre in the 1970’s). Today, developers are deemed to be professionals, that is, they are expected to do ongoing training and skill enhancements. One good mile stick is certifications – which is common with most professions. Of course, there are the “Housian” types who are independent learners which can often be detected by the House method – give them a tough problem that is not in any textbook or course material. So consider the question “Do you consider yourself a professional?” get the answer (likely a mom’s apple pie Yes), then ask “What does professional mean to you?” and listen carefully….

 

When I was interviewed for becoming a blue badge(employee) at Microsoft, the technical interviewer asked me some interesting questions. Later I found out from his wife, was that all of the questions were items that he was trying to solve – he used my answers and I got the job.

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