An EOW Question for the reader of this blog

A personal question on day 2!


Think of the work you have done in your life.  How does it compare to the work that your parents did?  Your grandparents?  How many of you are doing work that your parents either couldn’t have done at all (because the job you do now didn’t even exist in your parents) or is substantively different than how they did it they wouldn’t recognize what you do as like “their” work?

I started as a computer programmer a job that barely existed when I was born, and didn’t exist at all in my father’s time.

In a related vein, how much of the work that we do now existed in a similar fashion for our parents, but in a social context that would not have been possible for the older generation?  Women are the most obvious example here, but what others are there?




Filed under EOW question, Ron

9 responses to “An EOW Question for the reader of this blog

  1. wj

    One of the biggest irritations in my working life (also in IT) was the habit of my annual performance review including this question: “What would you like to be doing 5 years from now?”

    I suspect that I know now where it was coming from. The reviews were lifted wholesale from those given to management types, due to the salary levels we were at. And for them, it actually was relevant to know how far up the management chain the individual want ed to go.

    But for me, it was meaningless. I cannot remember a time in my whole career when the job I was doing even existed 5 years before I was doing it. The field just evolved too fast.

    My parents, at least, could understand something of what I did, and that it was “work.” But that was partially because I learned how to describe what I was doing in terms that they could relate to. (“I look at what the computers are doing, and figure out how to make them do it more efficiently.”)

  2. My work compares not at all with my parents’ – my father was an electrician who later joined the school board and rose in the management ranks to retirement and my mother was a housewife who, post-divorce, was employed as a clerk-typist until her early death. I’m an accountant. I’d planned and trained to be a writer. Go figure.

    The accounting field, though, has been around for a long time. If my parents were so inclined, they could have been accountants as well as their parents. My father’s blue collar background has never prohibited him from seeing the work I do as real work – I work indoors, do no heavy lifting, and I’m my own boss, something that he didn’t have the opportunity to do until later in life. If I had become an electrician he would have gladly welcomed it. Instead, he’s proud of my accomplishment and I’ve managed to fool him into thinking I’m kinda good at what I do.

  3. Icepick

    My jobs, and how they relate to parents and grandparents:

    1) Switchboard operator at a hospital. My maternal grandmother had been a switchboard operator for AT&T back when it was a monopoly, and the switchboards included all those wires that needed connecting by hand, and sometimes the operators wore roller-skates!

    2) Construction worker – specifically building roads. My Dad did this too, and in fact he got me the job.

    3) & 4) Cashier and bagger at various grocery stores. The father of my maternal grandmother mentioned above used to run a little country store of his own. Of course, to hear it told now he mainl had the store so he and his buddies would have a place to sit around and pla checkers away from the women folk.

    5) Mathematics tutor. No one I know of in the famil did this, but I’m sure they could have. The algebra, trigonometry and calculus I taught has been around a while.

    6) Back into grocery stores to bag groceries. I also got to do fun things like blocking shelves and cleaning public toilets. BIG fun!

    7) Teaching Assistant,which is to say “teacher”. I taught math in college, mostly college-level algebra, but some calculus.

    8) Actuarial Analyst – no one in my family had ever done this, to my knowledge. But they certainly could have, as actuaries have been calculating insurance and pension numbers since at least the Ninteenth Century that I’m aware of – I remember seeing railroad worker actuarial tables that went back that far. The big difference is that we used desktop computers. Incidentally, one of the brighter men I worked with had started back in the 1970s. Back then one of his tasks was to enter data onto punch cards that would then be mailed to the company’s one computer in (I believe) Kentucky. !!!!

    9) Financial Analyst, specifically I did budgets and budget reconcilliations for employee benefits for a large Dow Industrial firm. Again, no one I know of in my family did this, but they could have. Only the tools have changed. (And not all for the better. PowerPoint is a plague upon the human spirit.)

    And since then I’ve been unemployed, which I’m pretty sure has been done before in my family. A hypothetical tenth job might have been in IT, but that never happened.

    As for my parents: Dad worked in road construction most of his adult life, but he started out working coal strip mines in the Appalachian Mountains. Mom did a lot of things, but mostly it was clerical/secretarial work of one sort or another.

    Honestly, I have no idea what my paternal grandfather did for a living. He had been dead for a long time when I was born. M paternal grandmother was, I believe, a homemaker.

    My maternal grandfather (also dead before I was born, but not by as much) worked in oil fields. His specialty was recovering lost tools in the wells. He was apparently one of the top guys in the business. My grandmother worked for a while when she was younger, as a switchboard operator. I don’t believe she did anything else formally, but was of course a homemaker.

    Incidentally, all my grandparents were born in the 19th Century. All my children (both the current actual child and any future hypotheticals) will be born in the 21 Century. My parents took their sweet time getting to me, and my wife and I took our time getting to our daughter.

    I’m pretty sure all jobs would be recognized as work, although the tools would seem strange. (Frankly, I’ve never been in an oil field!) But perhaps I’m atypical in this regard.

  4. Icepick

    GRRRR. I’m missing several ‘y’s in my comment, as that key is getting wonky. Also, by’eight’ ‘parenthesis’ got turned into an emoticon. GRRRR.

  5. wj

    Ice, you embarass me with the completeness of your reply. So I’ll take another swing at it:
    1) share cropper. No really. My little brother and I (I was in Jr. High at the time) leased a field fromthe dairy next door, raised hay on it, and after it was baled, paid the dairy in bales of hay. (Also paid our parents for the use of the equipment that way. Then sold the rest — helped pay for college eventually.) Share-cropping has been around a while.
    1a) all the other work you end up doing when you’re raised on a ranch. Except, like most farm kids, you mostly don’t get paid anything beyond room and baord (and a lot of love!) for it. Does that still count?
    2) maintenance — as in hauling trash and cleaning bathrooms. Ah, the joys of putting yourself thru college. Certainly jobs my parents could have done.
    3) dishwasher — ditto.
    4) clerical. Mostly typing and filing. Fortunately, it was a defined 20 hour week, and the actual work (once I caught up on my predecessor’s backlog) only took 6-8 hours. So I essentially got paid to sit there and study. Fortunately, academic departments are reasonable about that sort fo thing, as long as all the actual work is getting done. Not all that different from my mother putting herself thru school working in an accounts payable department for a department store.
    5) counselor. Which is a fancy name for being one of the designated adults in a dorm full of college students. (Although “cat herder” sometimes seemed like a better term.) My parents would have no problem recognizing the job — if the term had been invented, they would probably have called it “parenting”. 😉
    6) Air Force Office. Like my dad, I did it during war time (tail end of Viet Nam in my case) and never got anywhere near combat. (He was in crypto during WW II. Liked to say he spent the war on beaches in the Pacific, and then list them: Santa Monica, Waikiki, Johnson Island, etc. Nothing within hundreds of miles of the action.)
    7) Finally, something new. IT jobs (for several decades) — systems programmer, breifly, and then performance and tuning, if you want gory details. It was nothing my parents could have been hired to do in their day. But I managed to at least make what I was doing explicible. (See below.)
    8) Unemployed. Certainly not unfamiliar to parents raised during the depression, even though they didn’t run up against it themselves.
    9) Working for a start up. It’s an IT company, but the idea of a small company, where you do anything and everything — whatever needs doing, would have been entirely familiar to several generations of ancestors.
    10) movie producer. I don’t think anybody in the family ever did anything like it. But the concept behind organizing entertainment (whether plays, or movies, or anything similar) would not be unfamiliar.

    My dad was a carpenter while I was growing up. Before the war, he had been some kind of tech at Western Electric. (Which should have kept him out of the military, but someone messed up the paperwork. Good thing, or I wouldn’t have been here.) Not sure what my paternal grandfather did (he died when my dad was 10). My paternal grandmother supported the family thru the Depression by playing the stock market — in the days where someone in Chicago like she was had to sit by the ticket and use the phone to place orders. *I* wouldn’t want to try that!

    My mother, after college and accounts payable, went to work for AT&T. She was on course to becoming AT&T’s first female VP (at only 30, too) when she left to start having kids. (How familiar does that sound today?) Once my youngest brother was in high school, she went back to school and got a teaching credential (I may have been the only one at Cal who was not only paying his own way, but also paying his mother’s tuition.) Then spend years as an elementary school teacher and school librarian. My maternal grandfather did a variety of things. He met my grandmother while he was managing a mine in northern Mexico (she was the camp nurse). By the time he retired, he was being a building manager in San Francisco. Grandmother being a nurse all her life, my mom and her brother were latch-key kids (another term which hadn’t been invented in the 1920s). Which meant that they spent summers on relatives’ ranches in the north end of California.

    I see one common thread: everybody worked. Everybody expected to work. What the work was was much less important than that you did the job you were hired to do to the best of your ability. As long as I was doing that, they could all have recognized that I was working, if not exactly what I was doing.

    • Icepick

      Does that still count?

      Yes. Raised in the suburbs, we were mainly expected to do minor chores around the house, which were done in desultory fashion, if at all. So busting a hump on a farm or ranch counts. Hey, it went towards the FAMILY livelyhood, yes?

      • wj

        Oh, yes.
        — Water the cow => milk. Not to mention a calf every year.
        — Feed pigs => change of pace from beef
        — Garden => vegies to go with the entree

        Happily, someone else got to feed the chickens and collect the eggs. I’ve seriously allergic to chicken feed. (Of course, I’m also allergic to just about any kind of grass. Which, when you are raising hay and feeding it to animals, makes life interesting. Also gives you a very anomalous reaction to the phrase “roll in the hay”! But sure makes marijuana unattractive.)

    • Icepick

      And if it makes you feel any better, I forgot to mention that my maternal grandmother’s father was also a jockey – he did competitive harness racing for many years.

  6. kngfish

    Ice, Pete, and wj I want to thank you for your long and interesting replies! I got so drawn in, I forgot my own post! Indeed, you made me think of an idea for another blog, “2 Generations Back”, a family history blog only about parents and/or grandparents! A sort of “living history” blog. (mind, not that I would do this blog!) It would be interesting to connect these family histories to people’s work experience….

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