Graduates: More to life than a job

    For some of you who are reading these lines, this is your last quarter at UCSD. In a few weeks you will graduate and leave. Graduation will be a time of celebration (and rightly so), and I don’t want to spoil the party. So, having some things to say that might not be exactly celebratory, I’d rather do it now, while we are still a few weeks away from the fatal moment. Given my limited knowledge of the situation of other majors, I will mainly address my colleagues in the school of engineering (I am a computer scientist).

    For starters, I need to tell you something quite harsh. I wish I could find a way to sugarcoat it a bit, but I don’t know how, so, here it is: Most of what you learned here is absolutely useless. There, I said it.

    The strong corporate influence on UCSD made it so that, in the last four years, you received mainly job training, rather than the education for which you originally enrolled at UCSD. Some graduates have only the faintest idea of subjects such as history, literature or philosophy, but also of the very theoretical bases of the discipline that they studied, of its social importance, or of its cultural value.

    Many engineering students leave school with little more than a bag of technical tricks that they could have picked up for a much lower price at a technical institute or a few months of studying $500 worth of technical manuals. The fact is, the companies that pour money into UCSD don’t really need you to be educated — I suspect that they prefer you uneducated, in fact — but they want you to be well-trained, so that they can waste as little time as possible before putting you to work. The situation might be different for students in the humanities, hard sciences or social sciences, but the advance of the corporate engineer is transforming people with a shred of culture into an endangered species.

    Things will not improve, unfortunately, after graduation. If everything goes according to plan you will find a good job with decent pay and a health plan that may even, on special occasions, allow you to see a doctor for a few seconds.

    Your bosses will tell you that it is important that you care for the company, that you should always feel part of a team, that working hard is a great virtue, and that hard work will have its rewards. They will tell you that working 14 hours a day and on weekends is good and noble, and that this temporary sacrifice is the key to a successful life.

    They are lying.

    Don’t believe a word they say. They will want you to live only for the company, to have no life, no friends outside of work and no interests. Don’t fall into their trap.

    Don’t make your life revolve around work. Be sure you always have enough time and energy to go out with friends, go to the theater, play music or do whatever it is that you like to do.

    Move into a house near a Landmark theater, a bookstore, a coffee house, a bar and a few restaurants, and don’t forget to go out often: Four times a week is the absolute minimum.

    Your bosses will often tell you of a looming deadline and that you will need to work especially hard to make it. Do not buy it. There are occasions in which this is true, and in these cases you should make an extra effort to help your co-workers, but be suspicious if these occasions become a permanent emergency. Your boss is just trying to make the work of three people with one salary.

    Don’t place the interests of the company above your personal life: Remember that the company is never going to do the same for you.

    Don’t let them convince you to eat your lunch at your desk: It is one of the saddest sights in the world. Go out, relax, have a nice slow lunch, a glass of wine and a nice cup of coffee, and take the time to read the books that you couldn’t read in college, (busy as you were writing programs).

    Whatever you do, don’t give up your vacations. You have very few, anyway — typically two weeks versus the six weeks of your European colleagues — and you will receive a lot of pressure not to take them or, in any case, to take them a few days at a time, so that you will not disrupt the important projects in which you are involved. Don’t give up: Take your two weeks, go wherever you like, and forget about your work.

    Finally, don’t give too much weight to your career. It is important that you reach a level in which you make enough money for a comfortable living, but all the talk you hear about “”making it”” is a fluke. In many cases, your career will eat up your personal interests, destroy your family life, your liver and your heart (not necessarily in this order).

    You are more important than those stupid people in expensive suits that run the company in which you will work. Keep this in mind and you will be fine.

    And of course, last but not least: Congratulations and happy graduation!

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