I recently got passed over for a new job at work in favor of someone else with better software skills. I called a friend about 8 years my junior who was on the interview team to beat the bushes for other opportunities nearer to family. In the process of talking to him, we had a frank discussion of my poor software skills and how I could improve. I ended up telling him that I might improve them but I might also work on a side-gig or invest in other assets instead. He found this idea to be shocking, retorting, “I get job offers all the time. As long as you know RF, digital design, and software, you’ll always have a job.” All of these fields take years to excel at. There aren’t enough years in your life to be good at all of them unless you have a stratospheric IQ.
“That’s not true”, I told him. “The team I work with now is filled with very talented senior engineers and PhDs, one of whom invented ink jet printing. 4 out of 5 of them were laid-off in 2009 and worked as contractors for a couple of years until they were re-hired. Another guy we just hired almost had to move back to Canada to get health insurance because he couldn’t make it as a consultant and couldn’t afford his bills in Da OC.”
“Yeah, well my Baby Boomer mentor said otherwise. He said I’d always have a job if I kept perfecting my technical skills.”
I said, “You’ll always have to have a job if you keep thinking this way. The senior guys on my team all live hand-to-mouth despite decades of experience. Several guys on my team have been working until 3-4 AM despite being in their 50s and 60s, as you’ve said you’ve been doing recently. You don’t have kids yet either. With your hours, you really can’t afford to have them. I have three.”
“Well, Baby Boomer mentor has property also.”
“Exactly,” I said, “And it’s of great benefit to him to keep you working hard while he enjoys the fruits of property ownership.”
“Well,” he said, “Increasing technical skills has increased my pay also. I get to leverage one job offer against my current pay and get a raise.”
“Great. I’ve found the same thing. I’m no slouch technically. But my pay raises have paled in comparison to figuring out index funds and riding the stock run-up which paid me far more than my hourly rate for the amount of work done. Remember that senior VP who quit after 3 weeks of being voluntold to work for the guy being groomed to be CEO?” I continued, “He was able to do so because he bought a lot of real estate out in town.”
“I thought he went to work for his son’s start-up,” he replied.
“Where do you think his son got the money and the property for the startup? That guy owns a lot of property in town. He illustrates a point: I could get better technically but earning more money just increases my taxes, doesn’t necessarily improve my job security, and makes someone else money off my labor, which is the reason you get so many job offers: you’ll make money for the person giving you the job. All your expertise, youth and enthusiasm will end-up in their bottom-line.”
I went on to describe how California voters were likely to approve “split-roll” which would allow commercial property taxes to float up to the current value of the property. If that happened, there could be massive lay-offs and he’d have to move.
“Apple and the other Silicon Valley giants pay almost nothing in property taxes because they’ve owned their properties for decades. This is the only thing keeping many of them in this state. The truth is, you could be out of a job tomorrow for reasons that have nothing to do with your technical skill. I’ve seen it many times counting my father’s lay-offs as an engineer. You could misgender a tranny and have a pink slip by the end of the day despite your technical value, and you are truly a hot runner in GloboTechMegaCorp. You could also be asked to work for someone you hate or be moved out to pasture when you age, which happened to another well-loved and respected general manager.”
We went back-and-forth like this for awhile. I finally agreed to get better at software, though the following week he was telling my to study several other things for another upcoming job interview. I tend to study whatever is incidental to my current interests, and right now, it’s household wealth and estate management. Without household wealth (assets) that pay you, you will always trade your time for pay and never have any economic security and neither will those who depend on you. Technical skill could make you valuable to your company and enhance job security if managerial midwits are smart-enough to recognize it and if your skills are aligned with the company direction. However, If an economic downturn comes and managers are asked to reduce headcount, they’re not going to lay themselves off. There company could also decide tomorrow to close the project you’re working on and lay-off your whole department. I saw this at another MegaCorp last week.
What about improving technical skills to earn more pay? This definitely works and you should get better technically. I’ve observed that higher pay does not make people any more financially secure. Rather, a worker’s largesse seems to grow with his pay so that he lives hand-to-mouth even with a larger paycheck. We also have a progressive income tax so that you earn keep proportionally less money for the additional income.
My younger friend wasn’t ready to hear my advice but it was a good reminder on why I shouldn’t give advice unless asked. I’ve learned most of what I told him by observing the situation of the older men, deciding I wanted something better, and learning how to acquire assets. Spiritually, this is something of a dangerous game. How do you build wealth without ending up in the service of Mammon – the Syrian god of wealth and prosperity? I’ve personally answered this question by noticing that being broke neither delivers you from Mammon nor slavery to other men. Many people, regardless of their income, are enslaved to liabilities and vices. At the low end, this might be drinking, drugs, lottery tickets, and pickups. At the high end, this might be an even-larger house, a boat, or an Audi. In both cases, the result is the same: going to work to earn money to buy the next round of vices and liabilities. This is not virtuous. Then there are the positive commands from Jesus himself to use money to win friends for yourself (Luke 16:9) and grow it with interest (Matthew 25:27), to gain it honestly rather than by stealing or extortion (Luke 3:14), and to buy your freedom if you can (1 Cor 7:21). Whatever you do, see it as a necessary evil rather than something to be loved. In upcoming articles, we’ll answer the narrow questions of why and how to gain assets and use other means to escape wage slavery for the purpose of obtaining freedom (liberty) and teaching our children how to be free.