Patrick McKenzie, in a blog post at Kalzumeus Software entitled "Don't Call Yourself a Programmer, and Other Career Advice," writes must-read advice for young engineers, something he also calls "Realities Of Your Industry 101."
For instance, while it's fun to create things like the Google's "Do a barrel roll" sensation, as McKenzie points out, developing most enterprise software will leave you far from giddy:
Five Tips for a Well-Done Tech Resume
A tech pro's resume has to match the speed of this fast-changing industry.
It tracks expenses, it optimizes shipping costs, it assists the accounting department in preparing projections, it helps design new widgets, it prices insurance policies, it flags orders for manual review by the fraud department, etc etc. Software solves business problems. Software often solves business problems despite being soul-crushingly boring and of minimal technical complexity.
His advice: If you want to work on customer-facing software, you have to work to make that happen. And here's an unpalatable reality: Engineers are hired to create business value, not to program things. One of the points I found most interesting, though, was how to put a buzzword on your resume. As McKenzie tells it:
There are companies with broken HR policies where lack of a buzzword means you won't be selected. You don't want to work for them, but if you really do, you can add the relevant buzzword to your resume for the costs of a few nights and weekends, or by controlling technology choices at your current job in such a manner that it advances your career interests. Want to get trained on Ruby at a .NET shop? Implement a one-off project in Ruby. Bam, you are now a professional Ruby programmer - you coded Ruby and you took money for it.
Oh, and that ban on calling yourself a programmer? He advises instead to describe yourself in terms of what you've done for previous employers in terms of increasing revenues or reducing costs. That's the mantra in business, he says: increasing revenues or reducing costs.
It's a long piece, with lots of good advice, including this:
... family, faith, hobbies, etc etc generally swamp career achievements and money in terms of things which actually produce happiness. Optimize appropriately. ...Work to live, don't live to work.