Is your job prestigious? (and a lesson in survey creation)

Thanks to my friend Laura, I came across a survey from Harris Interactive that shows Americans' evaluation of how "prestigious" specific occupations are. I found the results interesting, as they reminded me of a discussion my corporate ethics and responsibility professor, Chris Michaelson (now of NYU), raised to a Wharton classroom of very eager soon-to-be consultants and investment bankers. The discussion hinged on two simple questions:

What will you do when you leave Wharton?

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Not surprisingly, the answers to the first questions were potentially lucrative, business-oriented professions: banker, consultant, entrepreneur, and so on. The answers to the second question differed quite drastically: teacher, police officer, firefighter, astronaut, doctor, etc. In short, the discussion highlighted that people often begin life wanting to do jobs that they see as beneficial to society and often trend toward choosing professions that are more economically viable. (Doctors, perhaps, being the noteworthy profession that accomplish both goals)

The Harris findings mimic our discussion perfectly. Among those professions perceived as most "prestigious" are the usual "when I grow up" answers: teachers, firefighters, doctors, police officers, military officers, clergy. And among the low-scoring professions are many that we find adults striving toward, or at least idolizing for the related financial security: bankers, business executives, athletes, lawyers, actors, entertainers, stockbrokers.

So why there is such a disconnect between perceived prestige and potential financial reward? If teachers are esteemed so highly by Americans, why do we pay them so little- and demand next to no proof of performance? And, conversely, why can CEOs, athletes, actors and stockbrokers walk away with millions of dollars in compensation? Why do we glorify these "unprestigious" roles to the extent we do through film, magazines, newspapers and other media?

Either Americans love to celebrate and reward les (perceived) miserables of our society, or these survey results are suffering from some classic pitfalls, namely that respondents (much like children) will tell you what you want to hear to gain your approval, and that they are likely biased by their own experience (alas, teachers, doctors, firefighters, etc. are far more numerous CEOs, athletes and entertainers).

Or, perhaps, this is merely the market at work. Want to do enriching work that will gain the respect of your neighbors? Fine, you can, but we won't pay you much; the prestige is your pay. Of course, ask most CEOs and pro athletes if they feel fulfilled by their jobs and I doubt you'll get too many "no"s.

And the techie in me must point out the sad truth that only 30% of Americans see engineers as having "very high prestige," a number that has barely changed since 1977, internet revolution and all. I bet Bill Gates is crying in his bowl of gold-plated Cheerios.

About the survey

"These are some of the results of the annual Harris Poll measuring public perceptions of 23 professions and occupations, conducted by telephone between July 10 and 16, 2007, by Harris Interactive� among a nationwide sample of 1,010 U.S. adults. However, only about half of these adults were asked about each occupation."

View source for more details


Barack Obama Announces Innovation Agenda at Google

At a Googler-only event today in Mountain View, California, Presidential candidate Barack Obama formally announced his "Innovation Agenda." Prior to the event, some insight into Obama's platform could be found on his official campaign site:

Technology and Innovation for a New Generation

"Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America."

The message delivered by Obama today largely resonated with this statement, adding that America needs to "recommit itself to science and technology" in order to ensure that we can compete in the future. In his opinion, this would include:

* Maintaining an open internet through a full commitment to network neutrality
* Building infrastructure, providing every American broadband access
* Making government data accessible online to all citizens
* Empowering citizens with technology, allowing them to provide active input into decisions and legislation
* Committing ourselves to electronic medical records to reduce wasted healthcare expense
* Investing in technology for clean energy sources
* Making the R&D tax credit permanent
* Encouraging start-ups by enforcing intellectual property law
* Enacting comprehensive immigration reform, including stronger H1-B visas to keep talented foreigners working in the U.S.

The message that education is at the heart of the problem resonated with me, as I find the state of math and sciences education, particularly in primary schools, appalling. Thus far, America has been able to keep pace in technology by attracting top talent from other nations through our strong university system. While this will remain a competitive advantage for us in the near-term, I have serious concerns about how long we can ride this strategy. As other nations develop more vibrant tech communities (as India, China, Israel, Ireland, Brazil and others are doing at an alarming rate), the incentives for foreign nationals to remain home will grow, meaning less talent drain in favor of the US.

That said, I have serious questions about the validity of Obama's (or any candidate's) claim that he will hold teachers accountable for performance, due to both technical hurdles and political will. The technical hurdles include technological barriers driven by underinvestment in schools' IT systems, as well as the difficulty of identifying effective, appropriate performance metrics. Politically, many leaders in the education community fail to realize that being held accountable is in everyone's interest, including teachers. I'd love to hear how Obama will overcome these specific challenges through future campaign messages.

Study Finds Working At Work Improves Productivity

Been meaning to post this hilarious article from last week's The Onion. Who knew working at work could help get work done? That said, I should probably get on that...

Study Finds Working At Work Improves Productivity

The Onion

Study Finds Working At Work Improves Productivity

WASHINGTON, DC—The groundbreaking research found that by simply sitting down and doing work, employees can dramatically increase their output of goods and services.


Android Demo and $10M Developer Contest

From TechCrunch this morning, a commentary on the Android platform for mobile application development. Also, the accompanying demo video on YouTube. Just helping to spread the love...at the very least, check out the video.

I, For One, Welcome Our Android Overlords
Duncan Riley

As we reported yesterday, Google has released the software development kit for its Android operating system for mobile phones.

The above video accompanies the launch and the $10 million apps contest.

Admittedly Sergey Brin is soo wooden he might be trying to impersonate an android, but ignore the intro and look at the demonstrations of what Android can already do. Now pretend the iPhone didn’t exist. Cool, right?

Scoble thinks it’s rubbish and I don’t agree. Sure, it’s not an iPhone, but how quickly we all forget life before Apple entered the cell phone market. The combination of touch screen and key stroke makes for an interesting experience, and the graphics and interface are a generation ahead of the ever reliable but archaic interface of the last 5 Nokia’s I have owned.

What do you think? Is Android lame or are we seeing a possible competitor to the iPhone. Remember that competition is always good, even if it’s still being worked on.


John Doerr on the need for Greentech

Today I had the pleasure of hearing legendary venture capitalist John Doerr (KPCB Bio, Wikipedia) speak about the need for investment in green technology. As one of the champions of Kleiner Perkins' Greentech Initiative, John has spent a good deal of time studying the issue in-depth and it shows. It's no secret that greenspeak is all the hype now, but I'm often disappointed by advocates' ability to make the argument in a way that is poignant and actionable. Before today, Al Gore might have been the only person I'd ever heard present on the issue and left me thinking "wow, I need to help."

John did a great job, though, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights. The two key tenets of John's speech were:

1. "It's not enough"
The amount of change needed to have a chance at avoiding an irreversible climate shift is orders of magnitude greater than what's happening today.

2. Solutions must be economically sustainable
Because solving this problem ultimately requires altering the consumption habits of people worldwide, solutions will only come from creating tangible incentives for change.

With regard to tangible impact, John pointed to large corporations as a key enabler. Wal-Mart for example, vowed to decrease per-store CO2 emissions and green it's truck fleet. Wal-Mart is especially important because of it's influence in environmental danger zone China. How great is that influence? According to John, Wal-Mart is China's 6th largest trading partner...or it would be if it were a country.

More important than any single entity (corporation or government) is the role played by commercial standards. Energy star appliances, insulated buildings and energy efficient light bulbs are examples of some such standards that can have massive impact, but are sadly poorly adopted in the developed world, let alone emerging markets. In many instances, though, such standards are lacking. Examples include energy-devouring SUVs, flat screen TVs and Windows-based computers with little to no energy conservation rules.

Some facts and stories to ponder:

- Scientists estimate that reducing emissions by over 50% globally (despite population and economic growth) will give us only a 50 / 50 chance of solving the crisis.

- Brazil has lead the way by mandating two years ago that all cars sold in the country are flex-fuel compliant (i.e. can run on ethanol). As a result, Brazil cut nation-wide emissions by 10% and is now energy independent of the middle east.

- <5% of energy created by humans comes from natural, renewable sources. >50% of all human energy consumption is wasted.

We can do this people. Who's with me?