Fill in the blank: “Fall into the ___”. “Mind the ___”

Now, try this: “Screwed by the talent ___.”

There’s a weird little phenomenon going on. To understand it, I need you to put aside some prejudices. Politically informed ones, btw, and I know that’s hard right now. Seems like everyone’s foaming at the mouth about “conservatives” “liberals” (Tories! Whigs! egads – anarchocommiefascists!)

So – here’s the thing. The rich, in fact, are getting richer. The poor, poorer. That’s happening. Also, the middle class isn’t being destroyed – it’s morphing. The standard for the middle class used to be someone who brought home enough bacon to feed, clothe, and educate a nuclear family, while putting aside a little money for that Streamliner and that grand tour of America (also: whoever in their right mind thinks it’s a smart idea to hand someone in their golden years the keys to a 15 ton death machine needs some help). In a way, it still is. Minus the motor home. Thanks to climate change, I’m thinking about picking up a nice beachfront spread in northern Canada.

What’s different is that the skill-set of that person has changed radically, as has the price-of-entry into the middle class. Once upon a Sunday, you got out of high school, maybe went to college, and had career options – a decent number of them – that would get you the aforementioned life of all mod cons, supper with the kids, and a nice bit of golf on Sunday. Anything from plumber to accountant, copy writer to Willy Loman.

Now, not so much. Some of those roles still pay the bills (I’m pretty sure my plumber drives the big Mercedes), but it’s different jobs that really pay enough, on average, to get you that sweet life of suburban bliss (along with, one imagines, a bit of the good-old Raymond Carver angst to go along with those microbrews and mesquite-fueled smokers.. “Honey, can you download the new Coldplay album, I want to listen to it while I swim from pool to pool across the subdivision…).

And, sadly, they’re generally all related to software. Now, don’t get me wrong – I can’t compile to save my life, but I’m lumped in there. I provide a service to the technical crowd (some might call this “leaching from the teat”, but they’re rude). All that said, if you aren’t in that circle, or at least overlap it like some freaky human Venn diagram, you’re getting pushed into one of two buckets: rich (ie, you’re Paris Hilton, who I’m reasonably certain can’t program a phone number, let alone force garbage collection in Java – actually, that’s kind of tough to do, so can’t blame the poor girl, wait, tangent sorry – correcting), or poor.

This may shift. Certainly, everyone with a soap box claims it needs to, that we need to “save the middle class!”, so I _guess_ they get it. Hopefully they do, and hopefully it’ll work out. But, on the ground, the reality is what it is.

So – to my point, before all my rambles (too much coffee) – the Odd Phenomenon. A tight job market, with low unemployment, exists. Nestled within the larger, high unemployment job market, like one of those Russian matryoshka dolls. Right now, I can’t _find_ enough software engineers to satisfy my clients’ demands. Because of The Gap.

Not the clothing store. The gap between what these companies need in order to make stuff (ie, skills with hadoop, SharePoint, grails, whatever), and the skills most people have (ie, “great with people”, “vast knowledge of Word”) on their resumes and in their lives. It’s the “hidden” job market that gets referenced in blog posts and books from time to time – thing is, people, it ain’t hidden. It’s right there. It’s just a bit diferent than what ol’ Willy was used to.

Don’t believe me? Flipkey is offering new engineers they hire a week’s stay, free, in the vacation home of their choice. Hipster will give you free beer for a year _and_ $10,000 (just to sweeten the free beer – as if that needed any sweetening) for everyone you refer to them that they hire. (Also, neither one is a client – for now 🙂

Here’s the thing: learn math. Wait. That’s not it. Ahh. Yes. Figure out what you’re good at. Then, what you’re bad at. Make a list, side by side. Of the things you’re good at, highlight the ones you love to do. Of the things you’re bad at, highlight the ones you’d like to (and, reasonably think you can) improve. Start thinking about those skills – the one’s you love, you’ll likely excel at. The ones you can/ want to improve will make you stronger. Start thinking in terms of “new economy”. New roles, needing different mixes of skills. Might help to start reading some futurists, as well as Wired, Gizmodo, etc etc. Just to get yourself into the groove.  You don’t have to listen to Jonathan Coulton or Nerf Herder while you do this (quick: if you can guess where Nerf Herder gets their name from, there’s hope for you. Lots of hope, actually.

You’re looking for roles – or, industries – that are developing, where you can apply your skill-list. You may have to go back to school – nights, online, whatever – to hone that list. It’s okay, and part of life. Not always logistically easy, but it’ll beat being in the “have-not” category.

Pursue. Push. Join the evolution.

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