In a recent essay about how to come about ideas for start-ups, Paul Graham was able to explain to me why I feel the way I do about my life in the “Enterprise.”
In an essay I wrote for high school students, I said a good rule of thumb was to stay upwind– to work on things that maximize your future options. The principle applies for adults too, though perhaps it has to be modified to: stay upwind for as long as you can, then cash in the potential energy you’ve accumulated when you need to pay for kids.
I don’t think people consciously realize this, but one reason downwind jobs like churning out Java for a bank pay so well is precisely that they are downwind. The market price for that kind of work is higher because it gives you fewer options for the future. A job that lets you work on exciting new stuff will tend to pay less, because part of the compensation is in the form of the new skills you’ll learn.
So, there’s little future in unexciting jobs, and the least exciting ones pay the best? I don’t know if he’s right on, but I think he’s close. One thing’s for sure, being downwind of most things definitely sucks.