And Round And Round We Go...

It's technically Monday, and in a last-ditch attempt at avoiding a repeat of last week, I'm already replying to meeting requests at 00:51.

Although not a believer in anything in particular, there is something unusual about the amount of positive stuff that has come my way in the last few days, and somehow I fully expect Karmic balance to set in and utter disaster and mayhem to strike when I reach the office in eight hours or so - okay, maybe around 10:30, after I've settled in to my second round of e-mails and coffee has started to kick in.

As anybody will tell you this is not the best frame of mind to be working in, but my good humor and hard-earned patience have so far managed to compensate for what may well be termed a tough, chaotic, and not that rewarding job that happens to be a lot of fun during most of the time.

(Whether or not the fun part of the equation is enough to compensate for a certain lack of acknowledgment is another issue, but its recurrence ensures that I will find that out sooner or later.)

A Minor Diatribe Regarding The Portuguese Job Market

Anyway, the other day I got a (personal) e-mail asking me whether or not I thought that a Master's in Comp. Sci. would be a career asset in the Portuguese marketplace, and that got me wondering.

First off, as my brief resume shows, I don't have one. Part of that is mostly due to the fact that my 5-year engineering degree was assembled piecemeal from several other courses and Masters' at IST, and taking one after finishing my course felt a lot like dejá vu.

Mind you, I actually enrolled and even gave classes (on formal methodology, of all things), but the prospect of spending another couple of years amidst academia more bent on infighting than providing actual guidance was another downer (I was one of the first out of LEIC, and I always felt like a lemming being flamed to run across an obstacle course).

Second, I have come across many intelligent, competent and innovative people during the decade and a half I've been working, and I'm sorry to say that very few of them had Masters' in Comp. Sci. or variations thereof (I married one of them, actually), and those who had seldom saw that acknowledged as a plus by their employers.

That may be because I have always been more in the networking side of the fence, but my general impression is that it's not what you achieved in academia that counts, it's your overall experience and ability to get things done, regardless of your environment.

Education as Layer Cake

If you're climbing a corporate ladder, added training can nearly always be turned into an asset, but I've seldom seen it be considered as steerage (i.e., career-changing, or letting you change to another part of the organization). People tend to recruit among what they think will be the best resource pools, and seldom stray outside what they perceive as the "proper" profiles and training - so no matter what dressing you add to your cheesecake, it will always be cheesecake as far as they are concerned.

Hint: If someone tells you you're not qualified because they're following a "must have so-and-so training" checklist, their HR department is still stuck in the 70s and you probably don't want to work for them anyway.

Oddly enough, an MBA is seen as far more useful across all walks of life, even if most MBA graduates I come across wouldn't be able to manage themselves out of a chicken shed.

The fact that a lot of them seem to be in Marketing these days has not been lost on me (and I intend to rant about that in a few months' time), but suffice it to say that it feels extremely odd to be the one person in a meeting with some kind of grasp of the fundamentals of a business case - and not being supposed to question anything because, after all, I'm "just" the Engineering liaison.

Fortunately I happen to work with the odd brilliant exceptions in Marketing, so it averages out in the end - but then again, I told you I was having unusual amounts of luck lately...

The Rest Of The World

This, of course, is not how things happen outside this little crazy rectangle full of lobbyists and tennis buddies. Picking up a few business cards at random, I see PhDs and MsCs galore, mostly English and German (evidence of Italian, French or Japanese graduates, for some reason, does not seem to be in my little stack). But then, their academic careers are different (3-year courses instead of our 5-year, etc.) - which doesn't change the fact that education is pretty much going to the dogs in our country, but, again, that's another story.

As to MBAs, I've been told more than once that getting an MBA would be a stepping stone for an international career, but I definitely don't buy that one. Or at least not completely - for you have to have more than a fancy set of mental calisthenics and a rubber stamp to be a competent professional, and I'm now at an age where I know that for a fact instead of just reading it in books.

MBAs and PhDs might be what some companies are looking for right now (there have been rumors of Google shipping its mad Irish gang of recruiters to our sunny shores, for instance), but the jury's still out on that one.

Update: The September 10th edition of The Economist, right on cue, includes a survey of higher education that has some bearing on this (and that rightfully classifies European higher education as "a mess").

That said, I'll now go get some sleep and prepare to spend another week posing as "just an engineer".

Engineers should be seen and not heard, you know - God forbid that they should start developing some business sense...

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