reality check…for college grads

Eleven years ago when my daughter decided not to pursue a college degree, opting instead to train for a career in ballet, I had to do some mighty fancy footwork of my own in order to convince my husband that she had the talent and passion to succeed. It helped…a little…that her conservatory high school instructors supported her decision. After all, ballet is for the young at heart…and bodyIMG_0442

The fact that our daughter was lauded for her potential in all the summer dance programs in which she participated was also very encouraging. Her first summer away from us…ever…at the age of 14 was to Banff, CanadaBeing awarded a scholarship to return  the following summer probably clinched the deal in my husband’s eyes. Wow! Even the Canadians recognized a rising star, or so we doting parents liked to think.

Instead of returning to dance in the Canadian Rockies, however, our budding ballerina decided to accept American Ballet Theatre‘s invitation to their summer intensive in The Big Apple. I mean what kid isn’t going to prefer…candy to rocks?…the rat race to mating elks?… Times Square to isolation?

Truth be told…my daughter wishes she’d gone back to Banff. The training was better…the ratio of dancers to teachers was better…and the cost was way less. But hey! You win some…you lose some. But you always…move forward.

In the grand scheme of things, however, our daughter’s won…big time!

An 11-year dance career (and counting) is no small feat!

As long as our daughter’s passion and body hold out…she’ll be dancing…until “the fat lady sings.”March 2011A 00095

Meanwhile, it’s ironic…and devastating…to learn that college grads are having difficulty finding jobs these days. The following Wall Street Journal editorial reminded me of their plight.

Sorry, College Grads, I Probably Won’t Hire You

by Kirk McDonald

Dear College graduates:

     The next month is going to be thrilling as you cross this major milestone in your education. Enjoy the pomp and circumstance, the congratulations, and the parties. But when it’s all over and you’re ready to go out into the world, you’d probably like to meet me, or others like me–I’m your next potential dream boss. I run a cool, rapidly growing company in the digital field, where the work is interesting and rewarding. But I’ve got to be honest about some unfortunate news: I’m probably not going to hire you.

     This isn’t because I don’t have positions that need filling. On the contrary, I’m constantly searching for talented new employees, and if someone with the right skills walked into my office, he or she would likely leave it with a very compelling offer. The problem is that the right skills are very hard to find. And I’m sorry to say it, dear graduates, but you probably don’t have them.

     In part, it’s not your fault. If you grew up and went to school in the United States, you were educated in a system that has eight times as many high-school football teams as high schools that teach advanced placement computer-science classes. Things are hardly better in the universities. According to one recent report, in the next decade American colleges will mint 40,000 graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, though the U.S. economy is slated to create 120,000 computing jobs that require such degrees. You don’t have to be a math major to do the math: That’s three times as many jobs as we have people qualified to fill them.

     It’s time to start addressing this crisis. States should provide additional resources to train and employ teachers of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as increase access to the latest hardware and software for elementary and high-school students. Companies–particularly those like mine that depend heavily on information technology–need to join the effort by sponsoring programs that help schools better train graduates to work in a demanding industry. But there’s one more piece of the puzzle that’s missing, and it’s the one over which you have the most control: you.

     I realize that you’ve a lot going on, and that the pressures of finding gainful employment are immense.  But understand this, because your future might very well depend on it: If you want to survive in this economy, you’d be well-advised to learn how to speak computer code.

     I don’t mean that you need to become genius programmers, the kind who hack into NASA’s computers for fun. Coding at such a level is a very particular and rare skill, one that most of us–myself included–don’t possess, just as we don’t possess the athletic ability to play for the New York Knicks.

     What we nonexperts do possess is the ability to know enough about how these information systems work that we can be useful discussing them with others. Consider this example: Suppose you’re sitting in a meeting with clients, and someone asks you how long a certain digital project is slated to take.

     Unless you understand the fundamentals of what engineers and programmers do, unless you’re familiar enough with the principles and machinations of coding to know how the back end of the business works, any answer you give is a guess and therefore probably wrong. Even if your dream job is in marketing or sales or another department seemingly unregulated to programming, I’m not going to hire you unless you can at least understand the basic way my company works. And I’m not alone.

     If you want a job in media, technology or a related field, make learning basic computer language your goal this summer. There are plenty of services–some free and others affordable–that will set you on your way.

     Teach yourself just enough of the grammar and the logic of computer languages to be able to see the big picture. Get acquainted with APIs. Dabble in a bit of Python. For most employers, that would be more than enough. Once you can claim familiarity with at least two programming languages, start sending out those resumes.

     So congratulations again on your achievement–and good luck getting your real-world education.

Mr. McDonald is president of PubMatic, an ad tech company in Manhattan. Previously, he was president of digital for Time Inc.

Just the other night hubby and I were talking about his having to replace his administrative assistant who decided to leave to pursue other interests. The foremost requirement he cited in her replacement was…computer proficiency. Everything else is secondary.

Looks like I won’t be applying. Now if communicating were the priority…yeah, right!

My daughter’s love of dance motivates her to continue training during the summer months when her ballet company is on hiatus. (Most companies are off at this time.) Her feeling is…and I agree…that she needs to keep honing her skills…to keep challenging herself to be better.

How do you remain relevant in your career? Keep learning. Learn everything within one’s power so that you can do what you want…for as long as you want…and hopefully…

Four Financial Tips for College Grads

…get paid what you want…(oh well, two out of three ain’t bad)…



in appreciation…

In celebration of Veteran’s Day thought I’d run an editorial from the Wall Street Journal in its entirety…Why Veterans Make Good Employees by Eric K. Shinseki.

Happy Veterans Day to all the men and women who serve and have served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
     And to Vietnam veterans, “Welcome Home!” That generation remembers returning from war to a country so divided and distracted by internal politics that it had little interest in what they had been doing for the nation. The slight was palpable, and the memory of it has lasted decades. Hence, “Welcome Home!” became their greeting for one another, and for no one else, because it was the greeting they never received.
     Post-Vietnam government downsizing included military reductions in force, which let go hundreds of thousands of military personnel. For many, jobs were scarce, at least the good jobs, and educational benefits were not as generous as the original GI Bill after World War II. There was an air of disdain for the military and for those who had served in Vietnam–nothing confrontational, nothing openly disrespectful, but studied indifference. It was a difficult time to be a veteran.
     Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, almost three million American men and women have answered our nation’s call to arms to defeat what came to be known as al Qaeda and those associated with it. Now, after 10 years of war, almost 1,350,000 who deployed overseas have returned to our communities. But more than 850,000 veterans of all generations remain unemployed. Over the next five years, we project that another one million will be leaving the military. We must not let the Vietnam experience repeat itself for this generation of veterans.

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks with Soldiers...

Image via Wikipedia

     On Thursday, First Lady Michelle Obama announced a significant commitment by U.S. companies to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses by 2014. This was a direct resonse by companies like Microsoft, Home Depot, Citi and UPS to President Obama’s challenge to the private sector to offer jobs and career opportunities to veterans, wounded warriors and their families. These companies, like the ones who have already hired veterans will not be sorry. Veterans make exceptional employees in any organization because in serving their country they have acquired invaluable skills, including:
     —Decision-making skills primed by quick, clear thinking.
     —Proven leadership skills, honed in the most challenging operational 
     —The knowledge and experience needed to be sophisticated team-
          builders and natural team-players.
     —A work ethic that demonstrates an unwavering commitment to
     Our veterans are remarkable men and women, and we thank them and their families for their service and sacrifice, as we do those currently serving.
     Veterans bring a positive, mission-first, no-fail, no-quit attitude to any organization they join. They have been an extraordinary force for good–whether capturing Saddam Hussein, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, or working with local leaders and training the military forces of both Afghanistan and Iraq to assume responsibility for their own defense. They are value-added to any organization.
     President Obama understands our solemn obligation to veterans and the critical role they will play in getting our economy back on track. He has pushed many veteran-hiring initiatives, including the American Jobs Act, which includes significant tax credits for businesses that hire veterans, particularly those who have service-connected disabilities and those who have been unemployed for a long time.
     The Vietnam generation still bears scars from the tough living many had to go through to emerge from their hearts of darkness. So, to my Vietnam veteran comrades, and to their sons and daughters, especially those who have been highly successful: Are we going to let the same thing happen to this generation of youngsters?

2008 U.S. Military Academy Commencement Ceremony
Image by The U.S. Army via Flickr

Of course not. We must join together with the president on this Veterans Day and pledge that never again will a veteran come home to joblessness and homelessness, to apathy and indifference. We will work hard to ensure they find meaningful employment.
     At Veterans Affairs, we have more than 100,000 veterans in our workforce–about one-third of all we employ–and we have set a target for 40%. Without an ambitious goal, we would not be trying hard enough. The Vietnam generation bore the brunt of indifference, and we must not allow our current generation of veterans to suffer that injustice.
     Let’s get out there to mobilize our communities and ensure that veterans have the opportunity to compete. We have some great young men and women counting on us to come through for them and their families. Let’s not let them down. Happy Veteran’s Day and Welcome Home!

(Mr. Shinseki, a retired United States Army four-star general, is secretary of Veterans Affairs.)



tears…of joy

When my husband recounted a conversation he’d had with our daughter this morning, it brought tears to my eyes and laughter to my lips. I couldn’t stop myself from doing either, so I gave in to both.

To celebrate one of the dancer‘s birthdays, her friends, fellow dancers, staged a scavenger hunt throughout town. My daughter and 2 others came up with the list of clues, shared them with Kelsey’s boyfriend, and passed them along to the other dancers who were involved in the hunt.

An example of a Trader Joe's storefront

Image via Wikipedia

As a ruse, Kelsey and her boyfriend were to spend the evening alone. First he told her he wanted to stop at the coffee shop he manages, and where they first met. When they arrived, one of the dancers happened to be there and in conversation passed along the first of the clues. Kelsey was confused but cooperated, with a little nudge from her boyfriend. Driving to Trader Joe’s they were “surprised” to see Kim, another dancer, who dropped the second clue. At this point, Kelsey, a very savvy girl, caught on to the game, and was raring to continue. Along the way, they encountered my daughter, and on it went.

Much to the chagrin of the dancers and friend Heather who was hosting the party following the hunt, Kelsey was ahead of schedule by half-an-hour. Everyone was texting one another to hurry on over to party-central before the birthday girl arrived. Needless to say, she was enthralled with the entire evening’s fun, and her friends were pleased with themselves for having pulled it off.

A man and a woman performing a modern dance.

Image via Wikipedia

The evening was bitter-sweet for Kelsey and her friends, for she will not be returning next year. Instead she will be moving to another state to work with a modern dance company. She’s been a great friend of my daughter’s, but I know they’ll keep in touch for dancers are great that way.

The previous evening our daughter had accompanied another dancer friend, Kim, to a symphony concert. Having played the violin for many years, our daughter has never lost her love of it. Continuing to dance to classical music, keeps her relationship with the instrument a perpetual one. She was quite taken with the guest violinist who performed with the symphony.

Following the concert, our daughter drove to another friend’s home where a party was underway. The group had a great time playing a board game, with which I’m not familiar. Their fun lasted well into the wee hours of the morning. Like Kelsey, Robert, who hosted the game party, will be leaving the ballet to pursue a modern dance career elsewhere.

It amazes me how these young dancers dedicate themselves to their passion, sometimes working 2 or 3 jobs to live their dream. And when they come to a crossroads, as Kelsey and Robert have, they do what they must to continue their journey in pursuit of that dream. Because of their dedication, work ethic, discipline, and unwavering ability to hope, these dancers will be alright. Wherever their paths may lead, they’ve already accomplished more than some folks twice their age. They’ve figured out how to deal with life and its many pitfalls.

So while I’m sad they must part company with good friends, my daughter in particular, I’m happy for the joy they will spread as they make their way among others.

glad for knowing…and sharing hugs…with kelsey and robert…hugmamma.