My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain

August 6th, 2011 at 12:00 am | 128 Comments |

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I have a friend who has recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A. in History. I’ve been living with him this past summer, and he has been unemployed for most of it. About a month ago, he came home happy. He had found a job at an upscale restaurant in the city.

After a bit of prodding, he finally admitted to what it was. After years of education, thousands of dollars spent on tuition, countless readings and promises for a bright future, my friend was now a busboy.

This isn’t a one-off, freak accident. In these economic times, the horizons of university students, once bright and wide, have grown dim and dismal. I’m about to enter my senior year at the U of T as well. My own recent employment issues have only dealt with trying to find a summer job.  In April, I had high-hopes I’d land something glamorous in advertising. A few interviews later, no Mad Men for me—just mad men.  On street corners.  Was this where I was headed?

Suddenly bussing tables didn’t seem so bad.

I had an easier time finding work as a busboy than my friend did. After a few days and a few phone calls, I was in all black. I walked into what I will call Restaurant X, a Japanese place in the west end of Toronto.

In many ways I was lucky to get this job. Sang Kim, a perennial figure in the Toronto culinary industry, told me this about the sociology of bussing: Having worked as a consultant for super-trendy local restaurants such as Blowfish, Ki Modern Japanese and a host of other key hotspots in the city, Kim has experienced the highs and lows of the industry.

The busboy, he said, is the lowest in the restaurant food chain. He is easily replaceable, has a menial job, and is looked down upon by the rest of his co-workers. “Sixty percent of people who apply for bussing are Arts & Science students,” says Sang Kim. “Most of them are coming straight after school, and frankly, I’m not going to hire them. In fact, everything else being equal, I will hire a Sri Lankan who may or may not have papers over a recent graduate.”

When asked why, Kim went on to explain that as bussers, or any low-level position at a restaurant, Sri Lankans are willing to put up with harder times, be willing to be paid less, and also have a work ethic that is second to none. “People who are in process [of starting a new life] are hungrier; they want to prove things. The university student has a sense of entitlement,” proof of the racist adage that “Tamils run the kitchens in Toronto.”

“With Sri Lankans,” Kim continued, “there is no strained power dynamic between the busser and the customer like there is with college graduates. Nor do they have the attitude problems students do.”

This makes sense, for after all, who wants to have gotten a degree in political science and spend his days setting forks and knives on a table? But I felt I ought to try and prove Kim’s theory wrong.

I began my job with the enthusiasm and hopefulness every young person feels when he first starts a job. However, while it took me a week to begin hating my drudge work at an office last year, it took me a mere shift to loathe my position at the restaurant. Diners waved me away, barely spoke to me or answered my questions, and treated me like I was nothing.

For all intents and purposes, I was nothing. The busboy is the person no one wants to speak to. He’s not selling anything, he doesn’t know the wine list or what the specials are; he’s there to literally get dirty things out of the way and scrap 50-dollar scraps into the garbage bin. It’s odd when one considers that the busboy clears what he can never eat; he isn’t far removed from the maid who cleans an apartment she will never be able to afford.

“At the bottom of the restaurant food chain, everyone gets paid minimum wage; the dishwasher and the busboy,” Kim observed. In Toronto, that’s $10.25/hour, and even lower in the United States. Most restaurants now pool tips to balance things out. This means that four to eight percent of a server’s sales go to those who “supported” him, i.e. the busboys, line cooks, dishwashers. “However,” Kim added, “we’re seeing a trend today in which parts of those tips also go to the manager, and the front-of- house staff”–that is, those who are already making well above minimum wage.

“There does exist another method however,” Kim continued, “in which the busboys take care of the servers who regularly make big tips. That way, since they both helped out, the tips gets split more evenly between them.”

While this method may seem better, it evokes the image of an ecosystem: the busboy is the flea on the elephant, picking up the former’s scraps of bacteria. While the waiter does benefit from a diligent busboy, he can do without him; the busboy, on the other hand, needs the feeding hand of the server; this is testament to his position in the hierarchy.

As a busboy, my end zone was the floor, but my start zone was the kitchen, alongside the dishwasher. His name was Mac, a 25-year -old white male (besides me, the only one working behind the scenes), who, I’m afraid I have to say, did look like a dishwasher: unshaven, earring in the ear, and with a coarse, gruff attitude. As I brought him dirty plates I hoped to find a kindred spirit; after all, we were both dealing with the sordid tasks of cleaning off bits of partially eaten food. Yet he never spoke to me or even thanked me for bringing in his duties. This could partially have to do with the fact that his job was harder than mine. As another restauranteur, who wished not to be named, told me: “Being a dishwasher is much harder than being a busboy. So no, you can’t be a dishwasher without experience.”

As an undergraduate studying the allusion to Christ carrying the cross at the end of The Great Gatsby, it’s difficult to grasp that in order to use a nozzle, I must have “experience.” The idea that someone who merely hosed down glassware had more qualifications than me made my job all the more embarrassing.

But beyond the sheer lousiness of my job in the restaurant food chain, it was also menial, repetitive and draining. On my feet all day, without cigarette breaks (which means my hands shook even more under the weight of plates), I passed into a drone state that had me start throwing out plastic chopsticks on more than one occasion. There is literally almost no thought process to what I did. I saw empty plates, I picked them up. I began to dread the day someone would ask me at a party what I did for a living.

The worst part however of being a busboy might very well have been the waiters. It says a lot about a man when he begins to want to be a server. In comparison to bussing, their job seems prestigious—more, in the pantheon, or something higher. They interact with credit-card-carrying diners and recommend wines from Argentina and Napa. But the best part? The tip on the horizon. It must be Christmas Day every night for waiters, anticipating the cold, hard cash they’re going to take home with them at the end of their shift.

Naturally, not all diners tip well, but there is always the guy trying to impress a girl on a first date, or the old man who’s had too much to drink. It’s heartbreaking to be a busboy and pass by bills on a silver platter, and then tell the waiter who’s chatting with someone at a table that his night’s drinking money is waiting for him. I’ve mentioned the tip payout scheme that restaurants now employ, but at most, that’s eight percent, and no consolation for what my better-dressed, “eloquent” superiors get.

Bussing may be better than no job, of course, but then again, what isn’t? I decided to leave the bussing industry. I’m happy no longer to have to be a busboy, and so was my friend when he found out he had been fired. In fact, we all went out drinking to celebrate that night. But now that the due date for rent is coming up he’s getting squeamish; the real jobs he’s applied to just aren’t calling back.  Nor are mine…

Daniel Portoraro, 21, is a senior at the University of Toronto, majoring in English. This is the first in his 5-part series of trying to find summer work in a tough economy.

Recent Posts by Daniel Alexandre Portoraro

128 Comments so far ↓

  • Oldskool

    Not bad, first job at 21. At 13 I was delivering newspapers on foot after school. Every day I dragged about 50 lbs of them probably four or five miles. Pretty impressive now that i think about it. At 16 I flipped burgers in the summer and since then I haven’t been without a job for more than a few months. In my senior year of high school I worked in a textile mill from 7pm to 11 pm. After high school I went fulltime while attending comm college. It was a nasty place to work, full of fumes so thick you could only see about fifty feet but I took always pride in doing whatever I was hired to do. Someone there asked what difference did it make if I did things right or not, no one would know. I answered that I would know.

    Long story short, I wish I had gone to a decent college and gotten a degree. With my fiendish work ethic, who knows where I’d be today.

    • Nanotek

      “But now that the due date for rent is coming up he’s getting squeamish; the real jobs he’s applied to just aren’t calling back. Nor are mine…” DAP

      ~ Be patient and tough; some day this pain will be useful to you. ~ Ovid (Perfer et obdura; dolor hic tibi proderit olim.)

      DAP — your generation is getting screwed by ours … from putting people back to work to gutting Pell grants, social security and medicare to global warming and now tanking the US economy from where it was in 1999 …

      “Not bad, first job at 21. At 13 I was delivering newspapers on foot after school. Every day I dragged about 50 lbs of them probably four or five miles. Pretty impressive now that i think about it…”

      impressive in my book … at 13 I was throwing 100 lb hay bales onto a lowbed trailer all day … had to watch out for rattlers sleeping beneath them at times … but I was having fun …

  • Moderate

    Three criticisms and a praise:

    1) You quit a job with nothing else to fall back on? Egad.

    2) There are noble reasons to major in English, but they invalidate complaints about job prospects.

    3) Unemployment for college graduates is nothing compared to the problems facing the uneducated, but nobody writes about the latter. You want to be a journalist: instead of another “liberal arts major can’t find work” piece, why not write about the Great Depression facing the undereducated?

    4) Despite all that, you have my sympathy. Obtaining a college degree is hard work. Good luck with the job search.

    • Redrabbit

      1. It’s amazing just how many people do this. Trying to get through to them is pretty much a waste of time.

      2. I don’t see why anyone would major in English unless they wanted to teach English or work in academia in some capacity. Same with history, or any other ‘academic’ field. It seems that some people just pick a major, almost at random, with no real long term career path or ambition. This is opposed to, say, someone who gets a degree in Astronomy. 99.9% of the time they got that degree because they wanted to be an astronomer.

      3. Thank you for saying this. It does not get nearly enough attention. I’m continually amazed at the rhetoric of the anti-college crowd, all of whom seem to ignore the fact that those without a degree have MUCH worse job prospects than those with a degree.

    • llbroo49

      Or the Navy
      Or the Marine Corps
      Or the Coast Guard
      Or the Airforce
      Or the Peace Corps

    • zephae

      How depressing is it to be thinking “want a job? Go to Afghanistan.”?

      • Redrabbit

        Hey, we just spent a few billion building roads over there. At least America is investing in infrastructure SOMEWHERE.

    • MiyamotoIsoruku

      One should not have to risk one’s life in the armed forces to earn a decent living. Such an attitude is degrading to both the armed services and their enlistees. Soldiering is a special vocation, not just a damned meal ticket.

      • Nanotek

        “One should not have to risk one’s life in the armed forces to earn a decent living”

        + 1

        or to get the money to go to college

      • llbroo49

        With that response it is very obvious that you never served our country and never had any aspirations to do so.

  • rockstar

    I agree with rbottoms. You should have majored in engineering. Then at least Defense would want you. f—in’ parasite. Don’t you know by now that North America has a surplus of overeducated, undercredentialed white boys?

    • Banty

      Should have majored in engineering? Is he interested in this stuff? Does he have a native high ability in mathematics?

      Banty here – engineer. Son studying to be an engineer (and I have let him know it’s no panacea).

      Engineering has a cyclical history, where students pour in and graduates pour out in response to events and the economy; there is a glut and engineering students are settling for various tech-ish jobs, on word of which everyone seems to sign up for pre-law instead, upon which the smaller set who did go in for engineering have prospective employers lines up for them four years later.

      It’s kinda facile to be telling every senior in English ‘ya shoulda majored in engineering’. Maybe he shoulda majored in crystal ball repairs, doing house calls, then you could have met him!

      And you know what else? Engineering pulls in decent salaries, but I’ve been watching the last couple of decades engineering salaries hit a ceiling (not exactly poverty, but …) except for a few technical stars and those who get into exec ranks. An increasing proportion of *high level* engineering positions are going off shore. (I work regularly with Bangalore for chip design; I’m waiting for the day they offshore management skills too.) And those storied entrepreneurs in tech fields aren’t doing engineering anymore, they’re doing business, and a scant few of them really can be successful thinking they’re going that route. You might as well instruct then to aspire to star in the NBA. The money is in parking oneself where there is a stream of money to siphon off, and that’s finance, and we haven’t done a thing to change that since 2008.

      • Redrabbit

        The money is in parking oneself where there is a stream of money to siphon off, and that’s finance, and we haven’t done a thing to change that since 2008.

        This is the REAL parasitism in the global economy. The Gordon Gekko “I produce nothing” beta males pretending to be alpha males on Wall Street. The ones now crying that the big mean pwesident has hurt their feewings. Waaaaahhh!!!

    • sinz54

      Any engineering work that can be outsourced is being outsourced more and more these days. India is turning out more and more engineers to do the work that American engineers used to do.

      In particular, commercial software development does not need to be done in any particular location. It can be done in India or the Philippines or anyplace else, and then transmitted via the Internet to whoever needs to download those apps for their use. Because of competition from India and China, I doubt that software development will be the lucrative field for Americans that it used to be.

      The technical jobs that are most promising these days, are those that can’t be outsourced.
      Electricians being a good example. If I need my house rewired, I can’t ship my house to India to have an electrician there do the work. I’ve got to hire an electrician here in America.

      • Banty

        “The technical jobs that are most promising these days, are those that can’t be outsourced.
        Electricians being a good example. If I need my house rewired, I can’t ship my house to India to have an electrician there do the work. I’ve got to hire an electrician here in America.”

        Correct. Anything pertaining to software, is getting off-shored. Generally, building and repairing, one would think, would mean jobs in this country, but beware that what is getting built and fixed is getting moved offshore too. Taiwanese electricians can wire that modular wall – it can be shipped to the U.S. for assembly; Dominican airline mechanics can do that yearly maintenance where they live – airplanes fly.

        • Redrabbit

          I’ve been trying to warn people of the folly in thinking that all these ‘trades’ cannot be outsources, automated, downsized, or downgraded in some way. After all, almost everything heading offshore now, or being automated, or simply eliminated, was once thought to be immune to that as well.

          Hell, there is research being conducted in to all kinds of durable, flexible, self healing materials. As you said, ‘modular’ technology is seeing incredible strides right now. All the people who claim the demand for plumbers will never go down might be surprised if someone comes along and ‘innovates’ some kind of super simple, modular, ‘plug and play’ system to replace conventional household plumbing.

          At this point, I’m just going with the assumption that there is probably, literally, no task that they cannot SOMEHOW find a way in which to eliminate the need for workers or replace it with labor that is cheaper somewhere else. I’ve just heard too many assurances that or that industry that is recession proof and offshore proof, only to see it come crashing down a few years later.

  • aythius

    I wish you the best of luck finding better work.

  • Idle Resources

    Meanwhile, the S & P downgrade – yah, they loved Enron and Dick Fuld-enterprises to the end – could cost Amerians another $150 B per year in debt costs.

    Clap hands for Bonehead: Obstructionist-One and camera-pig, got 98% of what “I” – cum Il Duce – asked for. Send him a bill for $150 B next year.


    You have yet to source the current malaise in Rove-Perma-Campaigning redux. Come On!!! And would you at long last familiarize yourself – wikipedia is a start – with W Hutt resource-maximization school of Economics?

    • Banty

      “Bonehead” wasn’t the obstructionist. If it weren’t for the TP’s, he would have raised the ceiling in a nearly clean bill; the only rider being something for his Ohio district.

      • Redrabbit

        Maybe he wasn’t. But he certainly showed not backbone in standing up to them, and many of his rhetoric and actions up to that point had enabled them. He doesn’t deserve all the blame, but he deserves a good deal of it.

        He should have gotten together with the President, Pelosi, and maybe the Senate, and they could have tried to pass the Grand Bargain with as many Democratic votes in the House and Pelosi could get, and Boehner, if he had it in him, could have cajoled, bribed, or intimidated as many sane Republicans as possible to pass it, and then ram it through the Seante and get Reid to show same backbone and call out any supposed ‘filibuster’.

        I was not fond of the Grand Bargain, but I think what the country needed was a clear, public rebuke to the teabaggers in the form of the rest of the GOP and all of Washington turning on them.

  • Idle Resources

    WTF? I made considerable effort to find job search resources in Toronto’s 6% unemployment market. How the hell hard would it be to find a summer job there?

    They stop posting at 1000 jobs, so there would be considerably more than listed. Hmmm…35 years after a stint at “landscaping”; I wonder if I could still do that?

  • NRA Liberal

    Get a haircut (that fluffy, boyish thing makes you look light in the loafers and unreliable). Lose the hipster goggles. And for God’s sake, if you absolutely must cling to the affectation of styling yourself by three names, don’t spell “Alexander” with a final “e”.

    Good luck, kid. It’s rough out there.

    • Graychin

      Waving that cigarette at the camera lens isn’t doing anything for your image either.

      And anyone who has an addiction that makes his hands shake when he doesn’t get his fix isn’t going to be at the top of my hire list.

    • Nanotek

      “that fluffy, boyish thing makes you look light in the loafers and unreliable”

      fluffy boyish = light in the loafers + unreliable = gay

      do your stereotypes ever cause you to stop and ask why you are using them?

      among the very toughest and most reliable people I know now and of in history are gay men and women

      ever study ancient Sparta’s warriors and the Sacred Band of Thebes?

      • NRA Liberal

        Belay that nonsense and stop looking for an opportunity to get your hello kitty panties in a twist. I’ve had a homo shipmate who was as standup a fellow as you’d ever want at your back in a Subic Bay bar fight; and every day in the city I see gaywad straight dudes for whom a job as Macy’s window dresser would be a step in the macho direction. You think you’d have lasted ten minutes in one of Alexander’s phalanxes with that attitude? It’s the sort of schoolmarm crap that gives us liberals a bad name.

    • Redrabbit

      Well, it is possible that Alexandre IS his real name. I don’t think people pay all that much attention to variations in spelling of names. Especially middle names, since it seems to be accepted that people pick weird or stupid things for middle names.


    I realize it’s somewhat tangential, but this is the problem right here, first sentence of the article:

    “I have a friend who has recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A. in History.”

    Why do people get degrees like this and think they will be able to get a job with them?

    This is what drives me crazy about our current society’s approach to college. Everyone is encouraged to go to college, and everyone is told to “follow their muse” and “study what they like” with little or no thought as to what they will do with the degrees after they graduate. Most of these people would have been better off spending two years in a trade school.

    Sure, there’s value in a liberal arts degree. And in the college experience. But people deceive themselves when they think that they are going to college to get a BA in History to create a viable career. Liberal arts degrees are not practical — they are a luxury item for those who can afford to take them and not have to worry about what they will do afterwards.

    Too many people think that because they have a degree that this entitles them to a good salaried job, whether or not the degree actually builds for them any relevant job skills. And the colleges encourage this, of course, because they make lots of money churning out students whether or not they can find work.

    It’s going to come to a head at some point and there will be a reckoning in the “education industry” — and soon.

    • NRA Liberal

      “…Most of these people would have been better off spending two years in a trade school….”

      It worked for me. I got an English BA, found no work, got sick of poverty and apprenticed to a union trade. Now I’m in one of the highest-paid construction locals in the USA.

    • Arms Merchant

      This is what drives me crazy about our current society’s approach to college. Everyone is encouraged to go to college…with little or no thought as to what they will do with the degrees after they graduate.

      Amen to that, brother. It’s not about credentialing, it’s about whether you have a skill set that creates value.

      • Nanotek

        “It’s not about credentialing, it’s about whether you have a skill set that creates value.”

        + 1

    • Jamie

      I’m applying internally at work for a position that requires a post secondary degree. My Liberal Arts degree is almost always highlighted as something positive (or something they “like”) in an interview. It’s definitely contributed to all of my successful job searches. Merely having one tends to open doors somewhat faster.

      I think there are perhaps a few too many arts grads coming out of universities, but not to the point where I’d discourage someone from getting an arts degree, especially if it’s in something that they would find personally rewarding. It’s still a huge benefit for job seekers… when there are jobs that is.

      Oh yeah… no one in the kind of jobs you are probably aspiring to wants to hire a hipster. You don’t have to worry about it now, but it’s something to consider once you graduate and start looking for work. Also internships can also be fruitful.

    • Redrabbit

      I don’t know about that. It seems to vary a lot by employer. If you just want a ‘generic’ office job, there seems to be a sentiment that having a degree is important, but what degree is not as much of an issue. These are the employers who view a degree as more of a certificate that you have some minimum amount of communication skills, and that you are capable of showing up on time and staying for an entire day, and that you are moderately well behaved enough that you were not kicked out of college. I know, that makes it sound like a low bar, but outside of certain specific careers, some employers just seem to view a degree as a certificate of competence, if you will.

      I’m not saying that applies to all employers, or that it is right that they think this way. But some do look at it like that. A high school degree used to signify the same things, but for whatever reason, that is no longer considered adequate.

  • TerryF98

    Trust me you are nowhere near the bottom of the food chain. You are many rungs up that particular metric.

    • Redrabbit

      I did have a similar thought on seeing the headline of the article. Specifically, my first thought was…”No one who has the time or opportunity to write for FrumForum is at the bottom of the food chain.”

  • balconesfault

    While this method may seem better, it evokes the image of an ecosystem

    Welcome to the free market, bub.

  • bluestatepastor

    I suspect NRA Liberal’s comments here may be the most helpful to the author.

    I am also wondering: what did this young man think would happen after college? My daughter’s a history and anthropology major, and she says that every other history major in her department (it’s a small college) is either preparing for grad school or getting a teaching certificate (or both). The professors have been frank with students, and have sought to make sure that none of them expect to waltz out of college and into the job market with that degree as their only credential.

  • JohnMcC

    Similar to Mr NRALib; 5+ years loving liberal arts at a large public university then poverty. A community college degree in nursing and now 30+ years making a decent middle-class living and working at a fascinating and challenging job (ICU). Glad I took all that liberal arts stuff, even the 3 years of German. Wish I’d done it in the reverse order.

    So hang in there Mr Portoraro. And quit smoking!

    • Redrabbit

      Has it occurred to you that he might not be any good at being a soldier?

  • rbottoms

    If you are truly unable to find the time to defend your country, whichever one it is, have you tried writing iPhone apps?

    Steve Jobs has been berry, berry good to me.

  • jjack

    Somehow, more tax cuts would solve your dilemma. I just know it.

  • shocking1p

    Sorry but you have no idea how far down the food chain one can actually fall. I’m 53 and have an M.A. in English. Prior to last year I had worked for a private school for 30 years. Then I was “downsized” my department was eliminated. Unemployment maxes out at $300 a week here in Illinois and the cheery “counselor” assigned to me through unemployment advised me that at my age I had about as much chance of ever working again as a convicted felon. I have 2 young children and a husband who is also unemployed but is a “99er” so he ran out of benefits awhile back. We have no insurance and have been living off the remnants of my sad little 401k. I’ve applied for food stamps since we are now officially under the federal poverty line.
    Frankly your busing job sounds good to me, and anything paying $10 an hour is unheard of around here, even for the educated. You are young and have options. If you run out of money you can maybe move back in with family or crash on a friends couch. My mother is 84 and in a nursing home. My house is one of those who fell underwater-I owe more than it’s worth-so moving isn’t an option either.
    You have only yourself to look out for. Try falling down the economic ladder with a family.

    • rbottoms

      I feel you. Seriously, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, WindowsMobile, Social Networking applications, and Casual Games.

      Switch gears NOW. Find a 20 year old, partner with them or hire them.

      I’m 56 earning like I’m 23.

      Really, I ought to be a Republican, except for that whole batshit crazy, insult black people all the time, religious nut thing.

      Update: Drop me a tweet @JubaCityTV, maybe I can help.

  • NRA Liberal

    I’m going to go out on a limb and hazard the guess that, by name, location and association with Frum, probably as family friends, this young man comes from a wealthy immigrant Spanish or Italian Jewish family and will probably not have to worry too much about his vacation at the bottom of the economic order turning into a vocation.

    Hopefully, his experience as an invisible nobody, getting the brush-off from diners, will give him some compassion for the lot of those for whom menial, low-paid, humiliating service work is a way of life, not a way to make pocket money.

    Remember those Sri Lankans when you’re the next Matt Yglesias.


    “Trust me you are nowhere near the bottom of the food chain. You are many rungs up that particular metric.”

    “Remember those Sri Lankans when you’re the next Matt Yglesias.”

    I monitor online freelancing sites as part of my work. There are companies advertising projects that pay 50 cents per hour… and getting people willing to work for that.

  • rbottoms

    Fortunately most iPhone apps aren’t designed to appeal to your average peasant in Sri Lanka.

    Entertainment and cool is something we do better than any other country and thanks to Apple’s iron-fisted approach to managing the AppStore we have a home filed advantage such that if you know your stuff you can make 150 times an hour more than what some drone in India gets cranking out shovelware.

    With the new 3D HDTV’s becoming standard over the next few years, the demand for games and apps to take advantage of the technology, along with AirPlay & 3D Without Glasses is practically bottomless.

    If you’ve never heard of String, Unity, oAuth, XCode, Objective-C or MotoDev then you know why your pay is lagging. Even if you are a non-techie you can partner with someone who is. Do it while you still have money coming in and can offer the 20 year old something he needs: startup money.

    And we’re talking just a couple of thousand dollars for businesses that exist only in the Cloud and deliver only electrons.

    You do know what the Cloud is?

    • Redrabbit

      Not everyone is good at this stuff. I can write most any HTML, and some CSS, but I have never ever been able to go beyond that, no matter how much I’ve tried. Books, tutorials, none of it works. Some things, your brain has to be wired for it. Those things are rare, and I don’t even include complex math among them, but programming seems to be one of them.

      Things related to visual design, architectural principles, and engineering of the physical varieties, (as well as that maligned liberal and fine arts stuff) all make perfect sense to me and I never had trouble picking them up.

      My point is, not everyone can do what you are saying. Just like some people can’t develop any singing, drawing, or cooking ability no matter how much they try.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    shocking1p, try international schools. I left the states 15 years ago and now speak Chinese and Spanish, I have no debts and have 3 kids. It is a big world out there and there are far more openings for English teachers then there are applicants.
    I am in Mexico at a University, full benefits, nice home, long vacation. And a lot of these places want older teachers because young ones only want to party and sightsee. Next year I have a full year paid sabbatical and am planning on moving back to the states to look for work but have my tenure backing me up.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    rbottoms, not everyone can do code, and a start up is risky. I have lifetime security, a great job doing what I love, tropical beaches, scuba on weekends, etc. Why should an English teacher switch gear when there is a whole world out there?

    Oh, and for the writer, look into going to Shanghai or Beijing. I did some editing for a biz magazine in Shanghai part time and was offered a full time job but was not into the whole 9 to 5 lifestyle at the time.

    You should be able to get a job writing English copy for advertising firms there fairly easily. Granted, I have not been in Shanghai for 7 years so had the benefit of being part of the first group of expats living there but I can’t imagine things have dried up.

    • rbottoms

      Yes, but when the risk a $3,000 or so why not give it a shot. Cloud startups are sweat equity and almost zero infrastructure you have to own beyond a laptop and a WiFi router.

      I can’t believe an English teacher can’t come up with an app to improve proficiency in grammar or make learning about The Bard easier. She doesn’t have to write it, find that 20 year old who used to be in your class and is now a Junior at University and ask.

      There’s more I could say, but I am under an NDA.

      I will mention that I have six apps in the AppStore, first paid one of my own went up last week. I am seriously interested in teaching apps and have a few projects in the works. Plus I am working with the new country of South Sudan to create a technology infrastructure there.

      So there is really no reason to be broke, and this is from someone who almost went broke waiting for iPhone to take off. When I dropped all my other development skills and started learning Objective-C there was no guarantee iPhone would be huge.

      Think of it, a 52 year old man rolls the dice on a line of work where you are over the hill at 30, and it worked.

      • NRA Liberal

        You should make an app to show people how to make apps.

      • Redrabbit

        A few things.

        First off…you talk as if $3000 is something you can just blow on a ‘risk’. Most people cannot. Some can’t even spend $500 on a gamble. $3000? For someone out there, many someones, that could be several months worth rent, or money to spend on a new car when the old one gives out.

        As to why he can’t come up with an app…maybe he doesn’t think it’s his job to do that. I happen to find 99% of apps to be kind of worthless. I’ve paid for like, one or two apps in all the years I’ve owned various phones. Most of them are not even worth 99 cents to me. I find many to be little more than diversions or curiosities, and only a small handful are ones I actually use on a regular basis. Most of those are just apps for news sites, delivering existing content, because it is more practical than messing around with the browser on my phone.

        I’m not trying to knock what you do or anything, but you seem to be going overboard with this ‘apps are the solution to all your financial woes’ line.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    “I can’t believe an English teacher can’t come up with an app to improve proficiency in grammar or make learning about The Bard easier.”

    But there are already a ton of apps out there and they are all for free. I have developed a number of exercises using these programs for our university. Why would I pay you for things I can get for free? And the sophisticated programs that cost money require a huge amount of code, like Moodle.

    I am not saying your idea can’t work since it worked for you, I am talking more about zero risk and security for family oriented individual doing something people already know and presumably love.

    • rbottoms

      I am not saying your idea can’t work since it worked for you, I am talking more about zero risk and security for family oriented individual doing something people already know and presumably love.

      She’s broke, what does she have to lose?

      And I’ll let you in a a secret, developing apps and hoping lightning will strike and you get a hit is not a way to make a living with iPhone. It happens, hell I hope it happens to me.

      The way to make money is learn how to do it, then do for people who don’t know how.

      I bet you there are a dozen, two dozen teachers within 20 miles of where ever she lives who would like a few simple apps made for Android & iPhone to help them teach their own 30 knuckleheads for nine months. I could crank one of those kinds of apps a day for $200.

      In fact when I need a quick $500 that’s exactly what I do, drop my rate 66% and get some cash writing a simple Android app or some shovleware for an upcoming event.

      Hell you don’t even need to own the device, write for the Simulator, buy a $99 developer license.

      Buy a $250 iPod Touch, write games using free libraries.

      There is a spectacular amount of money out there if you have knowledge and know how to transform it into electronic form and sell it at $.99 a pop to a few hundred people, or sell it for $200 to one person over and over again.

      • Banty

        You know how many people are running around trying that stuff, who actually have interest and ability in it? And this stuff is so quickly commoditized most of it is already free.

        I call this bad advice. I’ve done some consulting (but you need the experience and rep to do that) and even some crafts stuff back when I was in my late teens and ’20s, and it is very hard to make an actual living at these things. The throughput has to be huge, the outlays small. I see this kind of advice all the time (“invent something and sell the invention”, “write an ap”) and I gotta say it’s 99% of the time pretty naive. Real inventions come organically as one works and gains experience and expertise and partners in a field of choice. It’s not a sit-down-and-think-somp’in-up thing. And this particular yarn about writing aps has made the rounds a thousand times over. And even if one finds some success, there are one-office outfits set up for the express purpose of finding you and claiming to represent a client with a patent or copyright claim. See if you can fight that out of your startup funds.

        Unless one has really hit on something good and you know it (it’s the NBA star thing, hey, there’s hundreds of NBA players, right?), you have a better chance of making a living on those lousy MLM gigs where they make you buy start up stock and pushes you out to sell to a recession-struck, uninterested public.

        Mr. Portoraro’s real choices are to target some area like retail writing and network like crazy, going back for a teaching certificate, an MBA, or law, going abroad (Frumple’s gig is a real one, and a good one), or changing direction completely and picking up a trade or joining the military to tide this period over. And build more rich experience to draw on. Then go pursue something more of his muse some years hence.

        But little aps in the cloud? C’mon!

        • rbottoms

          Take ten people you know, ask them if they know someone who wants a quick app done for $200. If they don’t know anyone, ask them to try their social circle, Facebook page, Twitter circle and find someone who wants a quick app built.

          Try your church. Try your book club. Try where you shop, where you bowl, anyplace and everyplace that needs to socially network.

          You’d surprised how many kids are out there trying to get iPhone work who haven’t put one app in the AppStore. You will have one more than they do.

          If your son is a teenager, he probably has a Mac. A Mac Mini is $400 or so used, it’s what I write on mostly, does he have friends, do they have a Mac and want to make a few dollars? Learn a skill that means they don’t have to work at Mickey D’s?

          Go get iPhone Development for Dummies 7 in 1,best starter book out there.

          Start at the front, work to the back. Learn about oAuth, ASIHTTP, the Facebook & Twitter SDK’s, Flickr, Foursquare, and dozens more.

          If the goal is to make $12,000 a year writing apps and social networking it’s within the grasp of anyone here.

          Now if you want to make $12,000 a month? Well, I’m happy to teach you everything you need to know about mobile, but not everything I know.

        • Redrabbit

          Having done some freelance work myself as I make my way towards my own Masters degree, I want to say a few things from a different perspective.

          Yes, you can find work in your social circle, and the social circles of people you know. I’ve done it, and it has involved things like web design, branding, visual design, etc. (Not the area of focus of my academic path, just something I’ve done.)

          One thing I have learned is how utterly unstable this can be. YES, you can probably find a handful of people who want this or that thing created. The REAL challenge is finding ones who are actually reliable and will stick with it. The vast majority have the BIG IDEA in their heads, want to take the world by storm, and on and on.

          But then you start working, and they eventually lose interest. They may not like your work. They may find out that the reality of pursuing this is different than their fantasy. Most of the time, however, they just lose interest and move on to something else. If they did not pay you up front, then you have wasted your time. If they did, the you got paid, they got nothing, and that can really damage a relationship you had with someone if they take it the wrong way.

          In the end, this method can yield results, but it is very unreliable, because 99% of people who have some grand idea they want to put in to practice will not get anywhere because they tend to flake out.

          This is not necessarily the norm, but it is a very common hazard when looking for this type of work in your own social circle and the circles of people you know.

          This does not invalidate your own experience at all, but I thought this counterpoint is one that needed to be heard.

  • rbottoms

    Everything isn’t about the big hit. It’s called social networking.

    You mean you can’t find something you’ve written that isn’t worth 99 cents to 1000 people in the entire world if all you had to do to get that thousand was Tweet, blog, and write code with help from some teenager?

    Ten $200 jobs a month is better than minimum wage, which they are under. Now what is it they have to lose again?

    Frankly I’m glad too many people are frightened by the technology and find the process daunting. If everyone could get into the priesthood, who would fill the pews.

    Four years ago I had fair Web development skills and not more than one semester of college. I bet this woman has a better education and math skills than I do. Not a thing stopping her or the kid with the peach fuzz from doing exactly what I did except for the whole not trying part.

    I dare you.

    I dare any one of you that I can take any one on this board, even someone whose politics I hate from a standing start and get them to $1000 in iPhone sales inside three months.

  • Houndentenor

    Admittedly it sucks to be you right now. But wasn’t everyone’s first job equally menial. I mowed lawns in my neighborhood (do kids still do that?) and when I turned 16 I took a job working at Wendy’s. (Mostly I cooked fries but occasionally the patties on the grill.) I also bagged groceries for a summer. So my sympathy only runs so deep and I doubt I’m the only person my age who thinks this work is beneath someone who doesn’t yet have any marketable skills.

    But rather than find some benefits from this job (like the ability to observe people who don’t know anyone is watching as a rich source of things to write about one day) you quit and then bitch and whine. Or perhaps it should give you some respect for people who do menial, manual labor jobs all day, especially the ones who will never go to college and will probably be stuck in this kind of work forever. You also disrespect servers. Waiting tables is probably about as good a job as you are qualified for right now and you act disgusted with yourself for aspiring to such a job. Obviously you eventually want to be able to get a job that pays better than that, but for now that kind of job, if you are good at it, could pay pretty well and help you pay your way through school. But then it sounds like someone else is paying your way through school.

    • rbottoms

      I still remember Benny the Dishwasher from House of Pancakes in San Francisco’s marina district back in 1974.

      While I worked my way up from graveyard shift busboy to daytime breakfast cook at the top of the heap and got fired three times, he happily washed dishes 7-3, every day and raised his family on a decent union job.

      The African busboys worked three jobs and went to school.

      The rest of us partied, smoked weed and partied some more.

      God I miss those days.

  • ExConSean

    On Real Time with Bill Maher last night, Anthony Bourdain said that in his 20 years of running a restaurant, he never had one middle-class white kid ever apply for a job washing dishes, bussing tables, or working the lowest position on the line. I’ve done those jobs, but I can admit that at the time, I thought them beneath me, probably because of my MA in Liberal Arts.

    They weren’t, of course. Try to learn something from this experience, Alexandre. Some people go their entire lives never getting higher up the ladder than you are right now. If you can remember that, you will have a much broader, more humane and realistic view of your world than you will get from a life spent working in your field.

    • Banty

      I don’t know where Bill Maher ran his restaurant – maybe it was somewhere where the sheer number of migrants, willing to stay on year round for minimum wage, had already displaced the “middle class white teen” workers.

      But in rural Colorado where I was a teen, my first job was as a chambermaid at a truck stop motel, later to be ‘promoted’ to bussing tables, then waitressing.

      There’s a certain self-fulfilling prophecy aspect about asserting that Americans don’t want to do certain jobs, too. Say loudly enough, enough times, that a job is miserable and bottom of the barrel, well, maybe prospective workers will believe it. Or, even if they don’t, they just won’t want to be seen doing it. But really, having actually worked the bottom rungs in these jobs, I can tell you the real reason is that teen and college workers won’t still be around (at least not full time) in September, and restaurant owners prefer year round workers unless they’re in a seasonal (say, resort) area.

      • rbottoms

        It isn’t that white kids won’t do bottom run work, it’s that they think it’s beneath them. May be a motivator to never have to do it again. I’ve shoveled ice out of box cars, sorted garbage, even helped tie off supertankers to make ends meet.

        You do what you have to do.

        The safety net is for those who can’t even do because of illness or lack of skills or age.

        I know I’m not your typical 50-something guy, especially not a 50-something black guy.

        You aren’t going to make it unless you partner with others, especially younger others who can benefit from what you know and what you have, until it’s gone and that’s credit. Most tech startups only need a couple of laptops, Google Apps, Amazon S3, and some kids who know PHP, Social Networking and iPhone plus web hosting to get off the ground.

        And there’s always room for the next one.

        None of them will be Facebook, until the day one of them is.

        There isn’t a single startup I’ve encountered the last couple of years that needed more than $10k to launch.. Launch early, revise, update, and network.

      • ExConSean

        The quote was by Anthony Bourdain–sorry if that was unclear–and his restaurants have been in major cities (New York, DC, Miami and probably some others). Perhaps it’s a function of population: those who grew up seeing immigrants do the “grunt work” don’t see that as something they should have to do.

        I grew up in an agricultural community in California with a large hispanic population that provided, roughly, 100% of the labor force in our fields, canneries and other processing plants. Sure, us white kids were willing to wash dishes, but there were definitely jobs we weren’t “supposed” to do.

        I agree that teenagers are never a long-term solution for an employer. Nor is hiring a highly-educated person for a menial job, as in Alexandre’s case. I gave up looking for jobs bartending, waiting tables, working retail, etc. two years ago because my previous positions and education indicate to the employer that I’d be “slumming” there, probably looking for something “better” the entire time. I can see why they would think that.

        • Primrose

          Having a master’s and having to be a security guard, I want to stand up for these kids. If you do the hard work in high school to get into a good school, work hard in your college and go on to get a master’s, why should you be happy to doing grunt work?

          The whole point of all that hard work (and the loans) was not to have to be a busboy after college, and certainly why shouldn’t you expect it to be temporary or push for better (otherwise called ambition and initiative)?

          Yes, being a grown up means you have deal with a bad hand realistically, and find that kind of work. But it is beneath your abilities, and you shouldn’t want to stay there.

          If you tell kids that the way to a good life is to study hard, get yourself the best education your talents can meet and then start at the bottom and work up, then it is unfair and unrealistic to expect them to satisfied being a busboy.

          If you want to say college doesn’t matter, then stop telling them to study. Stop telling them to take out loans, stop asking for it in jobs, and (this is very important) stop acting as if the busboy experience doesn’t count.

          But business wants it both ways. They want to look down on those with jobs like that and have people who should have other options happy with bottom jobs. And that is the attitude which is really spoiled and self-indulgent, not the kids just trying to start a life.

        • Houndentenor

          No one has suggested that he shouldn’t be looking for a better-paying job or one more in line with his education. In the meantime it seems childish to quit without finding that job. Not everyone has the luxury of quitting a job without the next one lined up, not matter how awful that job is or is perceived to be. I think eventually a college-educated person will be able to find a better job. In the meantime, ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.

        • Redrabbit

          It’s astonishing just HOW spoiled some businesses act these days.

          One common joke is that many businesses say that their ideal candidate is 20 years old, has 20 years experience, and will work for $20,000 a year with no benefits.

          What really gets me is when a business makes it a point to ask potential hires questions like “why do you want to work here?” They know the answer. To get paid. They expect potential hires to ask questions about the company, to do research about the company, etc.

          Now, if this is Google, or Apple, or a company that has a reputation in an industry or just in a specific area, that is acceptable. But in the case of some no-name mid sized company who is probably just doing contract work for some larger entities, or some local insurance office, this smacks of delusional arrogance. Only a handful of employers should really expect people to genuinely WANT to work for that company in any kind of aspirational sense. Few people aspire to work at that local marketing outfit downtown whose biggest account is the law firm with all the ads on the city bus stops.

          Okay, that was a bit of a tirade. It just astounds me how unrealistic some employers have become these days.

          Of course, this excludes the EXPLICIT morons who demand 10 years experience in something that didn’t exist three years ago.

        • Redrabbit

          Well, regardless of what Bourdain says, the reality is that the number of educated white kids just out of college applying to menial jobs doesn’t really matter. As others have noted, most places will not even consider their applications. They think they will leave the job once something better comes along. This is an even larger problem for anyone who is educated or simply has years of experience in some kind of professional field.

          Anecdotes are of limited use, but this story is kind of intriguing. I once heard of a woman who had been laid off. She was in her later 30′s or 40′s, something like that. She had a B.A. or M.A. and had spent years in the professional world. But after a certain point, she was willing to take anything she could get. She applied for a position at Starbucks. Just a regular position, not management or anything. She was called to an interview, and the individual conducting the interview told her she was not going to be hired, and she never had a chance of being hired. She was only called in because the interviewer wanted to see what kind of person with that sort of education and experience would even be applying to Starbucks in the first place.

          I’m not saying THAT kind of scenario is common. Most people with the ‘too experienced’ stigma simply never get a reply.

          It’s a bad conundrum. I’ve been in interviews, even before the recession, where employers said my skills and experience were sufficiently high that they thought I would be ‘bored’ in the position, which I’m sure was another euphemism for “you will leave once something better comes along.” But what can you do in that situation? You can try to reassure them, but they won’t believe you. Saying you just want anything that pays will make you seem ‘desperate’ which is a capital transgression in the shallow gene pool of the hiring world.

    • sinz54

      Tell me about it.

      Because I’m now partly disabled, I tried to advertise for some high-school kid(s) to help me shovel snow in the winter, freeing my car after a snowstorm.

      I didn’t get a single taker, even though I offered to pay well.

      And given how obese the local high-school kids are, I shouldn’t have been surprised that they would eschew physical labor.

  • Xunzi Washington

    1. Stop smoking, you dumb ass.

    2. Fill out an application to teach English in Korea for a year or two. While you are there – getting some experience of the world – learn Korean.

    Stop complaining, get enterprising.

    • rbottoms

      More WoW type gamers per capita than anywhere else in the world.

      I’m just sayin’.

    • Redrabbit

      1. So, people actually do this? It’s not just a way to travel for free?

      3. Sickening.

      • PracticalGirl

        Xunzi gives a good piece of advice:

        1. Stop smoking, you dumb ass.

        Or at least stop making that part of your first impression. Not quite sure how this is playing out it Canada, but there are more and more US firms (especially health care related) who are refusing to hire smokers to keep HC costs down for all. And there is plenty of ad/marketing work in the HC industry.

        Additionally, I might suggest that you use your creative writing skills to create pieces that will get you noticed in the advertising/marketing field you say you want to work in. Put as much effort into thinking how to sell/distinguish yourself to potential employers as you do selling a perspective and you’ll get there.

    • KBKY

      “2. Fill out an application to teach English in Korea for a year or two. While you are there – getting some experience of the world – learn Korean.”

      To be fair, it sounds like he is only looking for summer work, this type of position wouldn’t be realistic for him.

      I’ve also met many who’ve gone this path (admittedly, most went to China, not Korea), but, while it is better than no job, that’s the best that can often be said. There’s no networking in your interested field or companies and teaching English, while a valuable profession, isn’t usually the path that many of these folks want, thus they are building less relevant experience. Yes, the experience is very valuable for personal growth, but going abroad isn’t as unique as it once was, meaning that this won’t necessarily help you get hired. The time it takes to learn Korean or Chinese to the point of fluency is also frequently underestimated. Of the roughly 10 kids I know that went abroad to teach English (7 China, 3 Korea), only one returned and is now employed in her desired field (and that’s because she started her own business). Only 1/3 are fluent in the respective lanague to the point that it would be a valuable asset on a resume. The rest are working at coffee shops, restaurants, or are unemployed.

      This doesn’t mean that the experience wouldn’t be incredibly valuable for personal growth, but it’s certainly not a situation that will work for the majority of unemployed students.

  • japhi

    A lot of successful people started in restaurants. I washed dishes at the keg when i wa 15. If this is your first job at 21 you are late to the party.

    The irony is that if you skipped the degree and bussed at 18, you would be serving at a decent joint now and making more than a first year teacher. If you had talent, you could be running a restauant at 25 and making six figures.

    Talent, not education, dictates career success. Either you have it or you don’t. I work in sales/business development and am surrounded by people with marginal educations making bank. I started at the counter of a Kinkos, outworked my coworkers and moved up the chain. I worked with a lot of guys with degrees that thought they were better than the job.

    • rbottoms

      I have an Associates Degree and I CLEP tested 80% of that, took one college course in writing and one to learn CP/M and I make ridiculous money. (Finally).

      Talent, hard work, and oh yeah hard work are the key.

      And two quote from my favorite motivational movie after Glen Garry Glen Ross (I handle my own sales).

      “Anybody who tells you money is the root of all evil doesn’t f*****g have any.”

    • Redrabbit

      It’s not talent, it’s all luck. That’s all it ever has, and ever will be. Period.

      The irony is that if you skipped the degree and bussed at 18, you would be serving at a decent joint now and making more than a first year teacher. If you had talent, you could be running a restauant at 25 and making six figures.

      Well, leaving aside the fact that someone who WANTs to be a first year teacher probably isn’t looking to make a career running a restaurant, there is the fact that MANY restaurant owners are hardly living in luxury. My family has been in that business before. It can EASILY go either way for many people, sometimes with little warning. It’s certainly not a business I would want to be in during an economic downturn.

  • Matt X

    Political science is one of the most useless degrees. College atheletes are encourage to major in poli sci because it’s cake. You’ll be lucky to get a bus boy job at a Jap restaurant when you graduate with that degree.

    Seriously, do we care if some college kid can’t find summer work? It’s not like his parents are not giving hiim money.

    • Redrabbit

      Anyone not working is wasted capacity. So, anyone who cares about the economy does indeed care about it.

  • Bagok


    Remember back in the 90s when everyone was a web designer? The software industry was flooded with minimally talented people who didn’t know code from a hole in the ground. They knew syntax but had no idea how to solve problems. After the bust they were gone. The whole industry was strong engineers with 10+ years experience. I didn’t interview a BSCS for an entire decade (however I have helped hired plenty who never finished degrees, all about talent).

    Please stop telling random people they can make it writing an app. Software is not a good place to look for work unless you can damn well write the stuff. Mean time for an engineer with 20+ years in a good market is like 9 months right now. And what percentage of startups fail? 90%? Hell, my own huge, multinational, well-established company just laid off 10%. 10%!

    I’ve had to tell good, hardworking people they weren’t going to make it as a developer. QA, tech writing, product marketing, project management, marketing, sales, content creation. There so much else people with differing talents could be doing. Locking themselves in a room with “Android for Dummys” trying to find their niche is just counterproductive.

    I’m sorry to dump on you, rbottoms. I enjoy reading your posts.

    • rbottoms

      You must not be reading the same posts I am writing.

      Partner with someone who knows their stuff.

      There’s plenty of room for low end for “make me an app” especially if the job comes from inside your social network.

      Engineers with 25+ years software experience don’t waste their time on five page web sites or five tab iPhone apps. But there is plenty of cash to made doing exactly that. What went away after the crash was 21 year old kids making 100k building sites for eyeballs.

      The dare still stands.

      Anyone, anyone of you at all, I’ll will take you from zero to a paid app making money using mobile devices & social networking in three months. Won’t cost you a dime, you can keep everything you make.

      • Banty

        Why would someone who “knows their stuff” be looking to partner with random English grads?? I’m with Bagok on this. And your comments are beginning to sound like those MLM pitches.

        • rbottoms

          Am I speaking Swahili? Who said anything about random.

          Your. Social. Network.

          Christ on a pogo stick.

        • Banty

          Interesting picture, but my *question* is – why would someone, yes including someone in one’s social network, who has the knowledge to be writing aps, want to partner with a broke English major? What would he bring to the table? Other than a “like” button.

        • rbottoms

          Because I’m not an English major but played one in high school.

          I can think of a dozen classic books that could stand to have a $.99 mobile app that delves into plot, grammar, even the history of the author.

          More secrets, the Unreal Engine has native support for 3D.

          AppleTV+AirPlay+K-12 = lots of money for the right implementation of learning software.

          Sure would be helpful to have a credentialed teacher help me craft my apps. And the point isn’t whether that apps can sell, it’s whether I’m willing to pay someone to help me build them or that someone who has the knowledge is daring enough to try getting them built on their own.

          I already make $70hr. so my problems are pretty much over.

          Hell, I don’t even like the idea of helping someone who will very likely go vote for the GOP again next year very much, but not enough that I’d keep from doing it if it helped make me money.

          You think Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch like each other?

          Not a chance, but I am sure there’s programming on TNT & TCM putting coin in the old pirate’s pocket.

          It’s business, not personal.

      • Redrabbit

        I think you are overestimating just how unlikely it is that this will actually work for the majority of people who try it. You would be better of just buying a bunch of lottery tickets every week than you would be trying to build a future for yourself using this method.

        • drdredel

          I’m sure times change (or so they say) but in the last 20 years that I have been a software developer (and the last 10 where I’ve been running my own consultancy and managing/hiring groups from 5 to 20) I have yet to encounter an environment in which someone skilled has to wait more than 15 minutes to find a job.
          Their actual experience (time in the field) matters VERY little. There is an absurd dearth of qualified people and the minute they turn up they’re vacuumed up by Google/Apple/Facebook/Microsoft etc. If you’re a small or mid-sized company today trying to develop an Android app you have to be prepared to pay upwards of 200k to woo someone with that skill-set away from their current position, or be lucky enough to find someone that has just been tinkering with it on their own, and can spin-up on whatever you need in a short time.

          Obviously this has nothing to do with bussing tables, and I agree that not EVERY chimpanzee can be taught to write Java over a weekend (some require 2 or 3 weekends), and of course, not everyone WANTS to be a programmer. But if you’re just out to make money and have a 1/2 decent simian brain, you can be making 80 bucks an hour in no time flat (and not have to deal with some dick head restaurant manager… I’ve had my share of those back in the day too).

    • Redrabbit

      I have to concur with this. I see a lot of similar talk about coding, programming, and ‘engineering’ these days, that excludes all other elements of computer science, research, and engineering in general. We don’t need all THAT many software engineers or code monkeys.

      If I were advising someone going in to engineering, I would encourage them to look to mechanical, electrical, civil, or some other field, since those seem to have more of a genuine shortage than the software related fields.

      You mention the situation in the 90′s. It isn’t the same now, certainly, but there still seems to be this phenomenon of people going in to software related fields/disciplines because they think it is a moneymaker that is also ‘easier’ than other technical fields. This no doubt owes to the number of low-skill ‘programmers’ and other ‘engineers’ out there even now.

      And in this job market, who will get more attention? The self taught individual, or the one with a degree from Caltech or even just Generic State U?

      • drdredel

        see my post above. I have no idea what the mechanical engineering pool is like (as I’m not in that field) and would not doubt that you’re right in that these people are also sorely needed, but don’t be too hasty to dismiss the code monkey needs of the current software industry. Seriously… we need lots and lots of code monkeys, and we need them NOW. If you know any, please send them my way! I live in the bay area and every time I throw a stone I hit an over-employed software engineer in the head who thanks me for providing him with an opportunity to take a break from work and sit and rub his sore skull for 5 minutes.

      • rbottoms

        Degrees matter zero if you can code.

        Now it may be why I’m stuck at $70hr or so, but really is that a problem?

        There’s nothing stopping a 14 year old from being a developer.

        If you have the chops you will have more work than you can handle. But chops don’t come overnight and the longer you wait to buy a book and start the further behind you get.

        To my thinking it’s idiotic to go $150,000 in student loan debt when you could buy every book on the subject and get instant premium help from Apple or whomever for just a couple of grand.

  • Banty

    There’s a phenomenon that pops up in these kinds of topics that I call “tough talk”. Some folks just seem to get high on being the tough guy, talking about the Real World, how tough it is, how they made it, how everyone else just just off their duff and make it.

    Sure, there’s a core of truth. But then it gets spun up to ridiculous heights, and it gets pretty clear that the “tough talk” is for the benefit of the talker, not the person supposedly being advised. And it gets silly. For example, in another discussion venue on minimum wage, a commenter blathered about how being paid barely enough to even be able to purchase gas to get to the job, was great incentive for high school kids to learn what crap jobs are so they can get off their duffs and get an education. A few posts more, the discussion branches out a bit, and the *same* commenter starts going on and on about how high school kids should be getting off their duffs and earning up enough to pay for their own college. Yeah. After he just told everyone all about how they should not expect much more than to pay transportation to the job.

    It wasn’t long ago, and hopefully will be again, that an English major had proven skills in communication, and could get into advertising, journalism, writing copy, or grad school. Well, right now it ain’t like that. So Mr. Portoraro’s path in life will need to be a bit more circuitous. Dumping on him for being an English major strikes me as pretty high-handed.

    • rbottoms

      Sorry, but I remember a time when putting on a uniform was a time honored way for a person with nothing, to gain a new life by risking everything. What’s changed is people in a certain social strata no longer even consider military service an option.

      • Banty

        I actually think the military is one good option. And said so to this blog author. You haven’t been paying attention. Coming from a military family, I’m actually partial to that option.

        But not everyone can do that. My son with a disqualifying eye defect, for example. Not everyone is suited to do that for any number of reasons. But they would probably be suited to take up a trade, for now. But those are getting increasingly hard to break into (and are getting increasingly offshored – if it ain’t anchored to the ground, they find a way to offshore it.)

        But my POINT is, let’s have a little perspective about our advice, and maybe question to what extent we’re actually helping people.

        • Redrabbit

          Thank you for bringing up the trade issue. There seems to be a lot of talk about how blue collar trades will save us all. The fact is, there are not enough open positions in trades to make a dent in unemployment in the near future.

      • drdredel

        Here I have to disagree with you. If you’re going to treat the military as a proxy for a social betterment program, we (as a nation) can save a LOT of money just offering a military-style education program. Sort of a “scared-smart”, if you will, and no need for anyone to die (or for us to shell out billions of dollars to lockheed martin). In fact, we can re-focus it so that most of the time is spent learning valuable skills (software anyone?) and no one has to “march up and down the square” if I may borrow from the pythons.

        • Redrabbit

          Hell, if we’re going to do that, we can just have some kind of generic civil service corps that cleans up graffiti or something. Skip the ‘scared straight’ concept you mentioned and just teach them skills while doing something that is useful that is not getting done.

    • Redrabbit

      I’ve noticed this as well. This is the prime reason that I consider people who “tell it like it is” or act overly opinionated all the time to be totally full of it.

  • Bagok

    Yeah, you’re right. I totally blew past the sentence where you said to partner w/ a 20 yo. before I started ranting. Gah, sorry rbottoms. Obviously a pet peeve. I hate having to tell people things others should have told them. What did they call that on Larry Sander’s, social assassin?

    However, doing what you suggest (partnering to produce a social/iOS/Android app) is still nontrivial. I have written a couple of iOS apps ago at the behest of a friend (and because 25+ year engineers enjoy playing with their toys). Easy and fun enough. Nothing went anywhere because decent enough apps already existed (carpentry, precision measurement, some tool & die stuff). You still have to bring something to the table, a new idea, a better idea, better marketing, something. Sounds like you have that something. Thinking everyone has it is unrealistic.

    The woman you replied to has so much at stake, she and her family stand to lose so much more.. And I have nothing to offer her except my sorrow for what she is going through. Perhaps you are right, rbottoms, anything is better than nothing.

    I guess I do have a couple of thoughts for her. Even the most horrifying situations eventually end, life will not always be as it is now. Don’t turn away offers of help and support from your friends and family, they would not offer if they did not mean it. Try to remember you’re going to lose it occasionally and forgive yourself when you do.

    • rbottoms

      And I was precisely in her position 18 months ago.

      My spine had just been opened up in a surgical procedure to save my life and my wife who is disabled was in no better shape.

      Not a quote this time, more like a speech. Substitute my home for the word “Pandorica” and you get the idea. I just finished watching it again because I like how it makes me feel and reminds how determined I am that I won’t lose MY house and I will win.

      The Doctor: [transmitting to the alien fleet at and using Stonehenge with the local effect as though through a loud speaker] Sorry, dropped it. Hello, Stonehenge! Who takes the Pandorica takes the Universe! But, bad news everyone, ’cause guess who! Ha! Except, you lot, you’re all whizzing about, it’s really very distracting. Could you all just stay still a minute because
      [shouts louder]
      The Doctor: *I* *am* *talking*!
      [all ships stop]
      The Doctor: Now, the question for the hour is, “Who’s got the Pandorica?” Answer: I do. Next question: “Who’s coming to take it from me?”
      [the Doctor gestures widely to all of the ships]
      The Doctor: Come on, look at me! No plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn, oh, and something else: I don’t have anything to lose! So, if you’re sitting up there in your silly little space ships with all your silly little guns, and you’ve got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who’s standing in your way! Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, *and then*, do the smart thing!
      The Doctor: Let somebody else try first.

  • JohnMcC

    Gosh, this thread sure has legs! Must touch a nerve, eh? Just now revisited — something I don’t usually do — and noticed a peculiar thing. No one here mentioned the way that most jobs are filled: personal and family contacts. I remember years ago hearing that only 10% of positions are filled by the application process and that 90% are filled because someone knew someone who knew someone. Used to be (damn I’m getting old — I say that so often!) that the advise given to Mr Portoraro would have started with ‘contact all your parents’ friends, your aunts and uncles and ask them if they know anyone looking for an employee.’

    Has the world changed that much?

    • llbroo49


      Thats not bad advice. However, to avoid discrimination or charges of nepotisim, the job application has gotten a new lease on life. That does not mean you can’t benefit from being a member of an organization.

      My advice to the author would be to march in to his schools career development center and see what they can offer him. I have come to believe that the worth of a school is not about how well it can teach students, but rather how well its job placement abilities are.

    • rbottoms

      Could you be talking about your duh duh duh… Social Network?

  • Oldskool

    Fifteen years ago, when times were good, I was telling my employees how to handle their money and become a millionaire. I was closing in on that milestone myself so I thought I knew what I was talking about. Funny how quickly things change. Lets just say I’m no longer in the advice business.

  • rbottoms

    I’m in dire need of a junior HTML developer.

    If the woman in question can master basic skills in the next 10 days I have work for her.

    I’m willing to train her if she’s willing to try.

    I code HTML by hand and it’s boring as shit for me now, Dreamweaver and the other WYSIWYG editors are useful, but I prefer someone who can write it out if they have to first and can learn the tools later.

    So here’s your chance. Can’t say no one ever gave you one.

    Hell, I’ll even make the same offer to the jobless kid. Work is piling up, it won’t make you rich but you can leverage it into a living.

    • Banty

      Amway is hiring too.

      • rbottoms

        What’s your point? I suspect you aren’t on the verge of losing your house or on food stamps or you wouldn’t be making smart ass remarks. There as moment four years ago where anything that paid a dollar was salvation for my family.

        I’ve never forgotten that feeling.

        And BTW, if I hadn’t been blessed with health insurance at the time of my diagnosis I would either be dead now and if not destitute from paying for the surgery.

        The jerk party indeed.

        • Banty

          It’s not “smart ass”. As long as you’re proposing a slow-start up line of work, the success of which relies on having a big social network, she might as well go for an established slow-start up line of work, the success of which relies on having a big social network.

          And she has something to lose – - her *time*. And that’s one of the problems I have with the ‘tough talk’. What an unemployed person *does* lose is their time, if they go in to low-return activities (and they do abound), that look so-so on the resume, and that’s a real opportunity cost to them.

          Sure, maybe she should take you up on your offer. You *dared* the rest of us. Who knows, maybe it will work. But I haven’t been in this world a week, and my S&P rating on taht sort of thing is B+.

          P.S. – you offering her health insurance? See – that’s the thing. She needs a *real* job.

        • rbottoms

          She has no marketable skills and neither does this kid at the moment.

          I am offering to train her or anyone else who wants to restart their career. Same a I did four years ago when there was no proof that the iPhone would be the world changing technology it has become. I’d be happy to offer her the chance to code in Objective-C and write iPhone apps, but I suspect that is beyond her reach, however.

          Anyone who can read however can write HTML.

          So as you are offering only sarcasm and bullshit, I suggest you either put something on the table or shut the fuck up.

          I need a Junior HTML coder, you have 10 days to attain the most basic, Hello World level of skill before I give it to someone else.

          You have something better than that to offer now is the time to present it.

        • rbottoms

          P.S. – you offering her health insurance?

          I voted for the guy who tried to get it for her, you probably call it Obamacare.

          I kind of favored the version where we act like the rest of the industrialized countries on the planet who give healthcare to their citizens as a basic right.

          You might be among the people who call that socialism and tell her to go to the emergency room if she has a health problem.

        • Banty

          ” P.S. – you offering her health insurance?

          I voted for the guy who tried to get it for her, you probably call it Obamacare.”

          No, actually I call it the Affordable Care Act, or just ‘health care reform’. And I voted for the guy that is trying to get it for her too. Me thinks you’re making some pretty large presumptions here.

          But, my POINT is, if she needs health care insurance, in today’s environment, she’ll be needing a job that offers that as a benefit, unless she makes some major money right quick. So, my question STILL is – - are you offering her health care as part of this HTML writing gig?

        • rbottoms

          Nope, but then she is free to go work at Starbucks to get it. I don’t require full time, nor care where you work from.

          How do think I’m free to spend night & day verbally jousting with members of a political party I find to be selfish, mean spirited, and racist? You find me popping in here 18-20 hours a day and because I’m working cranking out code, fiddling with Photoshop, and chasing down sales opportunities 80 hours a week.

          I hit refresh every now and then to see which fool Republican idiocy I feel like countering.

          Like the one that says not only am I required to train someone who has no skills (gladly, it’s not that hard) and pay them, I have to commit to a full time job with benefits to boot.

          You care so much you f*****g buy her health insurance.

          And I hate talking about the woman like she’s not here, so I’ll just drop her from the conversation and drop you in my ignore list. I got work, I have tons of it. I work from home, I set my own hours, thank God for Steve Jobs.

    • Oldskool

      I’d jump at a chance like that, even at my age.

      • rbottoms

        I need more than one, drop a Tweet to @JubaCityTV and I’ll buy you a book from Amazon to study from.

        • Oldskool

          I still have an aol email adress so you can guess that I haven’t tweeted or done much else technology-wise since buying a computer. But I’ve had a feeling there has to be a better way to make a living than they way I do now.

        • rbottoms

          Twitter is easy as signing up for AOL, even easier. My mom can figure it out, I suspect you can too.

          The offer is as simple as it sounds, learn HTML, get paid via PayPal. I need lots of pages updated and simple stuff done that I find tremendously boring.

          Ball is in your court:

        • Oldskool

          Apparently I twatted once several years ago and there are people following me. lol. That’s comical. But I have to log in somehow. I checked out a youtube tutorial on html code and it looks simple enough. Once you become proficient, what kind of pay can someone make in an hour or eight.

        • rbottoms

          You’re competing against everyone from Russia to Bangladesh so it can be brutal, that’s why social networking is so important. And whether you are on the coasts affects things.

          Straight up by price between $10 – $30hr. If you have skills in Photoshop, Illustrator, CSS, JavaScript, JQuery, Sencha then you can price between $25 – $45hr.

          Where social networking comes in, work your Facebook, Twitter and other blog & social networks to find flat rate jobs. I’ll knock out a quick shovelware site in a few hours for $500 bucks and most quick work like that comes from Craigslist or someone knows me.

          Being local helps, there are guys in India responding to every single post n Craigslist who will work for practically nothing.

          Smart folks look for someone they can sit down with and talk about the project over coffee.

          Don’t bother with the reverse auction employment sites, it’s a race to the bottom against Belarus.

          Download the Adobe Suite, it’s free. Certain people, not me have a cheap Windows box they can wipe over and over again so they never have to pay for it. I have CS2 from years ago and it works fine.

        • Oldskool

          That’s pretty good. People underestimate networking in a service business. I’ve worked out of my home for years strickly from referrals. The best part is moving around though. After day or two here, I get antsy and look forward to doing battle in traffic.

        • rbottoms

          I go out to go to the movies or the book store or hang with friends. For work I need absolute quiet which is why unless I am on deadline, I prefer swing shift or graveyard after the misses has gone to bed.

    • Steve D

      I’ll second the comment on HTML. I can’t begin to count the number of times something weird has happened on a Web page editor, and I’ve been able to fix it in seconds by going to the HTML code.

  • FancyPatrick

    This is a great article, truly an ode to the plight of the arts major.

  • Smargalicious

    “The university student has a sense of entitlement.”

    Bingo. Four years of partying his ass off in college, paid for by mama and daddy, memorizing history lists, probably a poor-mediocre GPA, and he expects a high paying job to support his luxury life of social networking with electronic devices.

    Hah!! Clean dem plates, junior, and shaddap!! Har de har har!! :D

  • poboy

    It’s not the economy, stupid

    The problem with you is you expect to be living the “glamorous” professional lifestyle set forth in a fictional cable television show about an advertising agency, what is more, you expect it right now. You ignore the glaring disconnect between what you studied and the “glamorous” advertising job that you think you deserve as well as your lack of work ethic and unwillingness to start at the bottom which is required even for the majority of grads who are applying for jobs within their field of study. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps you did not get call-backs because they hired someone else who also paid a fortune for their education and is also bussing tables but has does not have fanciful delusions about how to build a career and does not mismatch his area of study and the available job. The mere fact that you are complaining that bussing tables sucks compared to being in a “glamorous” ad agency like that illustrated in Mad Men just further shows how little you know about or respect the people in the field you so longingly wish to be a part of.
    I am aware that the economy and job market is a nightmare for ALL of us. I will concede that the job market is particularly difficult for those of us who expect $100k+ right out of college in a field that they know nothing about and are unwilling to learn about.
    I am wrong? Explain to me in specific details why you are qualified for any “glamorous” position at an advertising agency.
    You are right this is not a “one-off freak accident” there are tens of thousands of recent grads that come to the table with nothing more their sense of entitlement and shoddy work ethic.
    P.S. I have worked in advertising for almost 20 years prior to that I squeezed orange juice, bussed tables, washed dishes, line cooked and mowed lawns.

    • Steve D

      I discovered a startling truth when I finally got my degree and started work. In college, you’re not living your own lifestyle. You’re living your parents’ lifestyle. When you go home, you live in a house you won’t be able to afford when you graduate. You will have access to a reliable car. If something goes wrong, you have backup.

      You will be as old as your parents are now before you have as much disposable income as they do. Say 40.

      BTW, if you can fix a car or do carpentry, plumbing or electrical, you can save thousands of dollars. I don’t mean get a trades job, I mean do them yourself instead of hiring someone. Change brake pads or replace a muffler, install a switch, clear a sink trap. One of the articles in the series, or a comment, mentioned hauling roof shingles and not getting a chance to learn anything. As Yogi Berra said, “you can see a lot just by looking.” Watching how the other carpenters do things is a great way to learn.