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Thoughts on Middle Class

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I came across what's wrong with being middle class by Mrs. Micah the other day. It's a simply and beautiful question. Some of my closest friends who are doctors, lawyers, and financial Wall Street somethings or others. (I can never really figure out what the Wall Street guy does, but I think it involves TPS reports and a high degree of education and I expect pay). While they are still a little young side to be in the upper class, I suspect they are in the upper-middle class - and probably will be in the upper class in 5 to 10 years.

I'm not sure we are headed in the same direction simply because I made the choice to skip the big paycheck for two reasons. I wanted a better quality of life. I was not happy with being a software engineer. I think it's a fine occupation, but it's very competitive and I'm at the point where there's more to life than coding a computer. It's nearly two full-time jobs - one producing code and one learning the latest tools and technologies. It's extremely difficult to do both and have an outside life for any length of time. I was simply juggling too much at one time.

The second reason is that I wanted to build something sustainable for the long-run. You can call it a rat-race or a treadmill, but unless you love what you do exchanging time for money is a losing proposition. Earlier this week, I was recently reminded that time is our most precious commodity.

There was a time when I had to have every new electronic gadget when it came out. I was one of the earlier adopters of Smartphones, DVRs, home automation equipment (everything that X-10 had to offer), and MP3 players (my first had space for 7-8 songs). Even though I had all this stuff, none of it made me happy. Not only that, but each purchase meant that I had sacrificed precious time for what amounted to very little. It was not until the last few years that I realized that experiences made me happy. I now evaluate purchases by their possibility of providing those experiences. It's one of the reasons that I recently purchased a Wii. Thought we've had it a short time, my wife and I have enjoyed a few hours being active and playing tennis.

So to sum up all these thoughts on what's wrong with being middle class... there's nothing wrong with it. I will be happy to trade extravagant meals of caviar for hours of simpler pleasures with the people I love.

Last updated on June 14, 2008.

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15 Responses to “Thoughts on Middle Class”

  1. Mrs. Micah says:

    If passion is what’s helping people succeed in business, that’s great. Me, I enjoy libraries and blogging and quilting and maybe someday writing. None of those is necessarily a million dollar occupation, though I plan to pursue them all with zest and passion.

    I hear you on the tech work. My dad often relaxes in the evening with books or magazines on the latest tools and technologies.

  2. jim says:

    Wow I had a Rio from back in the day… 7-8 songs, about the length of a short CD. :)

  3. The similarities continue LM . . . I had the PMP300 too! I actually gave a speech about MP3s and no one knew what I was talking about. They did ask me the same question over and over: “Why would I want to only have 6-7 songs on it?”

    How times have changed…

  4. I’m a software engineer, too, and I decided my life was better spent living. I’m currently the sole income for our household with my wife taking well to her stay-at-home mom role, but eventually my business (and hopefully my writing) will take off and start to give us both some more freedom while doing what we love.

  5. Frugal Dad says:

    “there’s more to life than coding a computer…” Man, can I relate to that! To steal a line from your already-referenced classic, “Human beings were not put here to sit in an office all day…” One day I hope to break free from the rat race, too!

  6. It is really a grind … creating and checking codes daily, you wonder, is this what’s life all about?

    I am really gonna save up and set up my won consulting firm maybe in 5 years. Gotta hand it to you guys for findings ways to be working and finding lots of ways to be happy with your love ones! Thanks.


  7. Cos says:

    LM, not still a software engineer? I must have missed something, I thought that’s what you did in Silicon Valley altho this post speaks to it in past tense.

  8. deepali says:

    Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed by something, I remind myself that there’s a greater reason for this. And if I’m still not convinced, I just stop doing it and go watch TV. :)

  9. Mr. Stupid says:

    I dunno, I think Jonathan Clement spelled out 3 pretty good reasons why being middle class isn’t ideal in his 1008th and final column in the WSJ:

    1) If you have money, you don’t have to worry about it.

    2) Money can give you the freedom to pursue your passions.

    3) Money can buy you time with friends and family.

    His purpose was to drive home the message that you should save now for the rewards that come later, but you could read it as “What are the benefits of being upper class?”

    Just my 2 cents.

    Mr. Stupid

  10. Llama Money says:

    deepali: Lazy Man’s no longer writing code all day long. Instead he’s busy, well, being lazy :) No, he’s just blogging for now, though I think he recently took a part-time consulting gig as well.

  11. Lazy Man says:

    Thanks Llama… I just replied directly to him. I should make it habit to reply here as well for completeness.

    You forgot to mention that I’m practice Wii Tennis. There should be a tour or something ;-)

  12. Money is a tool which we use to achieve certain goals. It shouldn’t be the goal of our lives. I agree that a person rich in experiences is a truly rich person. Material things are not that important ( sounds like a weird post from a person who talks dividends 24/7)

  13. kitty says:

    I am also a software engineer, and I pretty much plan to do it until I decide to retire. I’ve worked all my life for the same Fortune 500 company; more than half of it in a research center. During internet boom I resisted switching jobs and getting more money because I felt the job wouldn’t be as interesting as working in research with all the top scientists; also most other jobs would’ve longer commutes. I don’t regret it: I might’ve earned a bit less money, but I got to keep my job.

    There is a bright side to software engineering work if you are good, like what you do and find the right place to work.
    1. Flexible schedules. Nobody cares when you come and go, you can work from home, work more hours when you are busy, less when you are not. In my company you can also take time off for “personal business”, no question asked, always could even 20 years ago. The emphasis is on job done and not on hours spent doing it. This isn’t the case in every company’s division, but it is true in most. This type of arrangement is more likely with software engineering than many other profession. If you have your own business, it depends on a business, sometimes you just have to be there.

    2. Vacation. I have 5 weeks paid vacation + 3 personal choice holidays. Yes, I know it is a bit unusual; my company changed the policy of giving 5 weeks at 20s anniversary a few years ago, new people get 3 weeks right away (we got 2), 4 weeks at 10th anniversary and that’s it. But even 4 weeks is more than many people have. If you have your own business, you often need to be there to manage it.

    3. Unlimited number of sick days. I know this is a bit unusual even in software engineering, but some companies have it.

    4. Ability to get a little extra money by patenting. I have a friend who gets additional 20K just in patent awards. I am not nearly that good, but I usually do manage a few thousand.

    5. Little fringe benefits like company match for 401K, ESPP (not as good now as it used to be, so I stopped participating). Little things like free entrance to most NYC museums for myself and a bunch of guests because my company donates to arts.

    Most of the time I like being a software engineer. These days I spend less than 50% of my time coding. I miss it – it is so much simpler than what I do.

    Talking about upper middle class vs upper class. Where would you draw the line between those?

  14. Lazy Man says:

    In my time as a software engineer, I didn’t get nearly the same perks you did.

    Yes I got a flexible schedule, but work from home was very limited and looked down upon. Also, working when you want, when you have to work 60 hours a week and another 20 studying to keep up, doesn’t work for me.

    Five weeks of vacation? I think this is the benefit of working at a company for 20 years, not so much being a software engineer. ESPP, unlimited sick days, and 401Ks are related to many other jobs as well.

    I don’t have hard ranges on the classes, so it’s hard to determine where upper middle becomes upper. I’m sure everyone has their own criteria.

  15. Foobarista says:

    If you’re going to have a career in software, you have to find a niche where you _don’t_ have to do the “latest tools & technologies” treadmill.

    They do exist – I’m in one – but they are hard to find, especially for younger developers. I do “keep up”, but in my field, it’s new algorithms, not the hot scripting language du jour and yet another round of toolchain trivia.

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