This week I write to you with a very heavy heart. But before I lament, some context.
Many of my friends and professional acquaintances often ask me, sometimes with a barely veiled tone of bemusement, what my job is like. What does it feel to make a living writing columns and newspaper articles? And before I can talk about the daily challenges of portraying the contemporary zeitgeist of a generation in pithy prose, they throw their heads back and laugh. This is because they, and some of you readers too I am sure, think that the journalist’s job is a walk in the park compared to the demand forecasting, chief executive-ing, insider trading, army chief bribing and whatever else it is you do without a hint of a sensitive conscience.
“Shut up Sidin! Sitting in front of a computer all day and typing is not a real job!” they quip whenever they take 10-minute breaks from their Bloomberg terminals. I find this deeply distressing. But I say nothing because they are the kind of shallow, insensitive, materialistic, greedy, blood-sucking, white-collar criminals who gift me bottles of single malt on my birthday. We must all sometimes compromise with our beliefs.
Notwithstanding this humiliation, I am proud of my job. It is not easy being a journalist who relentlessly holds up a mirror to society so that it can better see itself, only to be rewarded with nothing but invective, abuse, and suspicions of political and corporate bias. Not only that, if you subtract the monthly consulting fees we get from prominent national petroleum refining conglomerates, our salaries aren’t all that great either. (Incidentally, if you work for the said petroleum refiner yourself, society will hold you up as the gold standard for professional achievement and excellence. How sickening the hypocrisy! But do we journalists complain or point this out in any way at all? Never. Because we are classy.)
Despite all these shackles on our self-esteem, I have always maintained that being a journalist is one of the best things you can be.
Until yesterday. That is when the Wall Street Journal reported the results of a study by a career website called CareerCast.com. The resourceful people at CareerCast pooled and analysed US data on the physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook for 200 jobs. They then proceeded to list these 200 jobs from best to worst.
Number 196 on that list of jobs, or the fifth worst job in the US right now is, shudder, Reporter (Newspaper). And, for added measure, the 10th worst job is Broadcaster.
This is what the CareerCast site has to say about this reprehensible result: “As the digital world continues to take over and provide on-demand information, the need for print newspapers and daily newscasts is diminishing. To be sure, both jobs once seemed glamorous, but on-the-job stress, declining job opportunities and income levels are what landed them on our Worst Jobs list.”
It took me several minutes to compose myself after reading this report. And then I browsed the list to look at the 195 other jobs that were considered better than being a reporter. These include dishwasher, butcher, musical instrument repairer, garbage collector and, somewhat bizarrely, typist. I had a second emotional breakdown almost immediately. (This means mindlessly typing anything is a better job than typing something.)
The absolute worst job in the US, it appears, is being a lumberjack.
But what was truly surprising was the job that came out on top, as the single best job to have in the US: software engineer.
I must confess that many years ago I nurtured dreams of becoming a software engineer. I bought every text book that mattered, including one on something/someone called C Sharp, and even read through most of Andrew S. Tanenbaum’s seminal Computer Networks, popularly known as the A Suitable Boy of computer science textbooks. Eventually, I joined a manufacturing company and, instead of writing lines of code that would make banking websites crash, I rolled up my sleeves like a real man and did proper macho engineering work: writing ISO 9000 manuals.
Over the years I have to come to think of software engineering as the Tiruchirappalli of careers: not a place you often go to unless you want to catch a connecting bus to somewhere else. Usually, that’s an MBA or maybe an MS in Scholarship Acquisition Engineering And Green Card Procurement at Purdue. I am sure there are plenty of perfectly satisfied software engineers all over India, US and the rest of the world. But is it really the best job in all of the US? And is it really 195 places better than being a reporter?
But wait. Let me add insult to injury.
The third best job in the Unites States according to CareerCast.com is human resources manager. Go on. Take a moment to let that seep in. Look over your cubicle wall at your nearest human resource manager. Watch as he/she composes a mass emailer in shimmering crimson Comic Sans. Now weep softly into your keyboard. I know I am.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also Read | Sidin Vadukut’s earlier columns