Monday, July 24, 2023

What's your next career move : Corsair or Eunuch ?

You may notice that my writing may have adopted quite a Mediterranean flavour as I have just started planning a trip to Turkiye in September. I don't frequently travel, but I have also been deprived of it since the pandemic, so in spite of a shit year revenue-wise, I've got Turkiye lined up in September and Osaka the following month. 

But this article is really about career management. 

As I'm about to celebrate my first decade without a regular monthly paycheck in about a few months' time, I'm not really qualified to talk about the modern workplace anymore. But I've noticed that some thought leaders in the career coaching and management space were affected by the recent retrenchments so maybe I should share my two cents worth about what is happening out there.

From what I see, the tech sector is going through reorganization and given that all this is cyclical, many workers in the tech sector will face what my generation faced in the 2000s after Y2K. They are luckier in the sense that there was no CECA waiting for them in 2005, but the disruptive impact of AI is yet unknown and so the tech sector, which is famously ageist, may hire AI experts from fresh graduates instead and hiring may be at much lower numbers because a fresh graduate armed with an LLM tool can have the productivity of maye three software engineers half a generation ago. I just had a family gathering yesterday and even a very successful engineer like my cousin made doubly sure his son avoided a technology degree and studied finance instead because, in his view, the tech sector was too cyclical for anyone's good. 

Sometimes I wonder whether it's even worth reading management books and following career management coaches. Through no fault of these influencers, your real challenge is sector cyclicality. When a downturn happens, I witnessed top performers being outsourced along with poor performers. This devalues all that jockeying for position, politics and networking to get the right kind of mentor. Personally, between playing in the political field, I prefer learning new technology and picking up advanced prompt engineering. But what do I know?

So in my earlier years, I would carry a copy of the Harvard Business Review to work. Now I really regret doing that ( It was also very pretentious ). The articles were quite fluffy and a subscription never really taught me how to time my career exits in a cyclical industry. Instead, I had really bad runs in my career, like being in HP during the Carly Fiorina era. In contrast, reading just one article by Clifford Assness in the Financial Analyst Journal on dividends investing continues to impact my life and my wallet today. 

There are three useful ideas I have for my readers. 

a) It's not as risky to be a Corsair / Entrepreneur these days

If the job market starts to get too competitive when you reach a certain age like 35, then the path of running a business becomes less risky in comparison. So one option is to consider becoming a Corsair. You don't need to dive in immediately, but you can take a pay cut and learn the ropes from another entrepreneur. 

A corsair is some kind of pirate on the Barbary Coast. It's a flashy existence but your life expectancy can be short. But I think local entrepreneurs should realise that the stigma against failure is not as high as a decade before and you can start again after you fail. 

The best school for entrepreneurs is the NUS Overseas College. You can independently research how many jobs the alumni have created so far. My wish is one day my son can qualify for it. 

b) Alternatively you can join the government and be a Eunuch

As I speak from personal experience, nothing can be more emasculating than doing Government Procurement. It's really the closest thing to feeling like an eunuch without actually getting your balls cut off.

If the flashy life of a Corsair is not for you, consider the calm life of a harem eunuch. It's financially rewarding and you will be more immune to market cycles. 

But the eunuch metaphor cuts deep. I networked with many IT sales folk who tells me they mapped out all the Empress Dowagers they need to please to get revenue flowing into the companies. I can fully understand why someone lady bosses in IT are always called Dowagers. I kinda suspect Qixi was their role model. 

My experience is that very soon, you will realise that the pay is not bad for a good reason. 

c) Bend the rules and get over-employed 

If you do not want a life of a Eunuch or a Corsair, then you really need to become creative. I attempted to negotiate a profit-sharing package with a law firm because I wanted to earn multiple streams of employment income. I failed. Then I failed again to get a day job teaching in a polytechnic. In both cases, I was upfront about my existing training business which became a showstopper in the latter case.

A good software engineer is likely to do better than me. You can attempt to be hired by two employers at once. If the industry becomes too cyclical, you may wish to do more than one job at the same time to at least reach Barista FIRE within 3-5 years. Thereafter you can continue on one. I suspect a tool like Github Copilot can enable over-employment in a widespread manner.

Like anything that skirts company policy, make sure you read your employment contract carefully. 

Now employers are not so open-minded to working from home anymore, so employment contracts may be more well-enforced. 

In summary, I think that when we read about career influencers losing their jobs, I hope that it can get you thinking about why sometimes your career is really not within your control and you're really just a victim of market cycles. 

A career influencer between jobs should be accorded the same standard as a financial influencer who loses money in a bad year, so I'm inclined to be forgiving. 

I remain a huge fan of these influencers and hope that they will share the process of recovery into a new vocation.



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