Best college major for a future tele-commuter?

I recently attended a small family gathering where I was peripherally involved in a discussion between my sister and her daughter “Kim”. Kim is in her second year of college and has no real career path in mind. When asked what she wanted out of life, she said that she wants a secure if fairly modest income that is not hugely dependent on her physical location. She wants enough time and enough money to enable her to travel. Going into “the office” two, maybe three times a week could work if there is significant flexibility on the exact hours and days on site. Spending five or six days in the office every week, ad infinitum has been flatly rejected.

She asked me what I thought but I had no meaningful answer for her. Obviously a strong computer background is essential but beyond that, I had nothing. “Learn computer thingy, know all about zeros, ones too if have time.” was about all I could say.

One career that she has flatly rejected was anything related to traditional journalism. Yes, you get to travel, on someone else’s dime even. Unfortunately, you’re traveling on their schedule to places that are usually infested by IEDs, parasites and politicians. It’s also doubtful it would meet here career security needs.

What college major and career path would you suggest for Kim?

Probably something electronics related at this point in time. I know only a few people who telecommute exclusively, or almost exclusively, and all of them are in electronics, either as hardware or software engineers. One of them, as a condition of employment had to agree to move from Chicago to Idaho because his company wants everyone at least in the same region of the country

My wife and both work from home. I am a web developer and she a medical coder (has nothing to do with programming). So there’s those.

Basically, any job where you work on a computer and don’t HAVE to talk to people face-to-face.

Computer science would be my recommendation.

How about photography? If she can paint or draw, how about art? Is she a scientist? Biology, vulcanology, or astronomy might suit. Could she be a police officer? But I think Kim is going to get a shock when she enters the real world.

Not a college career, but how about truck driving / freight? Park ranger? Actually, why is she in college at all if she doesn’t know what she wants out of it?

Isn’t that true for most of us?

I get that but it’s not my place to tell her she’s on the wrong path. Too be fair, she’s working full time while going to school and is completely debt free. That’s better than I could have said at her age.

A lot of small computer companies don’t have an office. The employees just work out of their home and communicate over some sort of instant messaging system like Slack. They may get together once a week for status. And it’s not just programmers. The people working on documentation, customer support, accounts, etc. are all working out of their house.

I wouldn’t recommend she become a computer programmer unless she really enjoys programming. If you don’t like it, you’ll hate doing it as a career. If she wants to do more the non-programming stuff, a good major for that would be something business or marketing oriented. In a small company the employees do a lot of different jobs, so the person doing help tickets may also be writing documentation and working on the webpage graphics.

Since she’s in school, it’s a great time to start looking for an internship. She should start looking for distributed companies now, since they’re much more likely to take a chance on an intern. One place to look for such companies are in those co-working offices like WeWork. Most of the people working there don’t have regular offices. She might be able to find a company to hire her there that wouldn’t mind she works from home.

She shouldn’t get too focused on a work-at-home job right out of college. That will be difficult to find. Instead, get a traditional job for a few years to get some experience. Then it will be a lot easier to get hired at a distributed company. Without any experience, it will be hard to get hired when you work-at-home.

^ I agree with this. A newly minted [insert profession] will likely not be able to be very selective. However, times are changing, and telecommuting is more accepted now that ever before. There are some parts of the country where it may be easier to land a t/c job, tho: on the west coast companies are falling over one another trying to be as progressive with their benefits as the big tech/social media giants down the road, in order to attract young, bright, energetic talent. I know of another company based in the mid-west who has operations out here and banished telecommuting, so not sure how that will work out.

Anyway, I was an idealistic college student once, and I never wanted a desk job staring at a computer all day, but guess what happened… Fortunately, I work for a somewhat progressive employer based in the Bay Area (one trying to compete for that young, bright, energetic talent) that embraced t/c so I do it a couple days a week. I would suggest a degree in Business Management, which can lead to Project/Program Management jobs, which can easily be done remotely (albeit, with a lot of teleconferences). The key is getting into something flexible and with a lot of transferable skills. My 2¢

I think pretty much every company I’ve worked for since 2001 has allowed some form of telecommuting. These have been mostly management consulting, tech, accounting, insurance, and some other companies. Typically they’ve been companies with disbursed work forces. Like if I have to interface with people in Poland, London and Toronto, I don’t need to do it from my office.
I do recall a phone conversation I had with one of my managing directors a few years back (I’m in NYC, he’s in London).

Me: Hello
MD: Hey, I’m trying to get ahold of Amy but she’s not responding. Can you go grab her.
Me: I’m not in the office, I’m working from home.
MD: What do you mean you’re working from home?!
Me: Why do you care where I work? You’re in London.
MD: Because I can’t get ahold of Amy!
Me: Yeah…but you have me!

I work in pharmaceutical clinical research. A lot of people in my field either work from home a few days a week or work from home and travel the rest of the time to hospitals and clinics. A lot have a nursing or some other healthcare background. I have a BA in Music but I got into it decades ago and entry was a little different. There are internships and I’ve seen some people come in soon after college. Computer skills run the gamut from MS Office and some light database work to DBA to SAS programming and beyond. One thing is that if “Kim” wants to work in hip social media web whatever, this ain’t the field for that.

Do you know what she’s majoring in or what she finds interesting? Knowing what she’s passionate about will make it easier to make suggestions for career paths.

If she likes making art, there are many ways for her to work out of home. Many craftspeople create their inventory at home and then sell it at galleries and trade fairs.

I don’t actually know what her major is so I can’t comment on that. Prior to this discussion last week, I’ve heard her express interest in both early childhood education and the healthcare industry, but now, quite frankly, she just seems kind of lost. Even if these are still ongoing interests, I have no clue how to turn these into a tele-commuting job so I couldn’t help her in this.

She’s currently working in a daycare center and has volunteered at her local hospital before finances forced her into paying work. Honestly, If she wasn’t so set on being a tele-commuter and having time for travel, I would suggest she look into pediatric nursing. Once a person has their registered nursing certificate, that’s a hell of a springboard into a wide variety of healthcare fields. Given the nursing shortage in this country, a qualified person can find work just about anywhere and make a very respectable living in the process. The things is though that nursing is one of those jobs that can’t just be a paycheck. You have to love the work itself. If you don’t, it’s not going to work out.

Is there such a thing in America as a visiting nurse or district nurse - a nurse who gets out and about?

Such nurses do indeed exist but they’re not terribly common.

Yeah, given her interests, nursing sounds like a good option. You can work anywhere in the nation with a hospital, and you can usually work three 12 hour shifts or 4 ten hour shifts, getting a lot more of the week off than most folk. It’s definitely not a “stare at a computer screen in a cubicle every day” job. And there are travel nurses who travel to exotic locales and still enjoy that schedule.

If she was really determined to work from home either many or most days per week (which is really just “stare at a computer screen every day AT HOME” vs in a cubicle, so that may not be what she actually wants), she will likely need a highly technical degree in computer science, statistics, mathematics, or data science, and should intern at and apply for jobs in Fortune 100 companies. The jobs need to be technical but not high-touch in terms of interacting with a lot of other humans, because that requires more face-time and in-office time.

That’s the sweet spot for the right skills and right culture to work from home - Fortune 100’s are all huge and need to attract talent, and WFH is a perk that a lot of them offer (some vetting on Glassdoor may be warranted), and as long as you get the work done, being physically present isn’t as important. My current job is like this, and on multiple floors of the building, which is theoretically at full occupancy in terms of desks allocated to employees, you will ever only see 1/3 - 1/2 of the desks filled on any given day, and notably less than that on mondays and fridays.

My daughter does free-lance editing entirely from home. Of course, she did work in editorial offices for a couple decades before she had enough of a reputation to be able to do this free-lance.

Where I work, pretty much everyone has the option to telecommute at least one day out of the week. Some bosses allow folks to go up to three days a week. Most of us spend a lot of time staring at spreadsheets, writing and reviewing reports, and jabbering on the phone. The majority of us majored in engineering or the sciences.

But I agree with what has been expressed. Although telecommuting is slowly becoming the norm for office jobs, no one should base their career path on it. Especially someone who has a idealized picture of what telecommuting is. Like, telecommuters at my workplace must have a designated alternative workplace that is subject to supervisor or HR drop-in visits. So telling your boss you will be working while you are hanging out on some tropical beach isn’t going to fly. Bosses can also revoke telecommuting privileges if they think you are slacking, which unfortunately is a perception that is not hard to create when you are the only one on staff not present in the office. Telecommuters often slip through the cracks when meetings are scheduled. If a fire needs to be put, the boss is more likely to choose the person he can see to put it out as opposed to the person he has to call (and inevitably only catching the voice mail). So the life of a telecommuter is not necessarily easy.

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That’s largely what I thought but I don’t pretend to know anything about the modern tech job market. Yes, there certainly are people who are able to work while sipping a mimosa on the beach but these jobs are unicorn rare and held by people with either a proven history of productivity or by self employed, independent contractors.

If she’s serious about pursuing this, she needs to start clarifying her career interests and then talking to employers and internship program operators in that field.

Many thanks to all who posted their thoughts.

It sounds like she’s a little aimless and is lacking motivation. Shocking for a 20-year-old, I know! :slight_smile: She may be just expressing her wishful fantasy more than stating a goal she’s determined to achieve. I know that most of us would also like that same job and have wished for the same. If that’s the case, I might caution about encouraging her to pursue it. Since that kind of job doesn’t readily exist, it might set up unrealistic expectations if she thinks a job like that will fall into her lap.

It’s actually a great sign that she’s already working. Lots of kids don’t even get to that step. I suspect that she’ll meander on her own path until she finds a place she’s happy.

A job in childcare is actually a great way to make a modest living and be able to travel. It doesn’t have the work-at-home aspect, but it is a very portable job and doesn’t have the traditional office aspect. She can travel wherever she wants and always get a job.

I don’t think it’s fair to say she lacks motivation. Due to complicated issues of an unstable home life growing up, independence and self sufficiency are strong instincts for her. She bought her own car with her own money the weekend after her 15th birthday, spent most of the summer fixing it up and drove it to school the next autumn. She’s still driving it. Counting on others, including family or coworker, for much of anything is anathema to her. Where and how to focus that drive is what’s confusing her.

I’m not worried about her. The kids gonna be alright but she did ask me what I thought and I don’t have a good answer for her.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned - yes there ARE a lot of jobs that allow telecommuting either partial or total. But for all those saying “my employer allows telecommuting”, do they allow it for first-job new grads? In my experience, that’s VERY uncommon, because it’s also very uncommon for folks moving into their first real job to know the required job skills, and those jobs skills are also very difficult to learn when you’re sitting in a room by yourself.

My company, for example, has a huge 100% remote workforce, as well as allowing those who live near the office to telecommute several days a week. But we recently started a new college grad program, and those folks are required to work from the office full time. Given the kinds of things I see their manager dealing with (“no, you can’t watch TV while you work”, “Yes, you do need to be here 8 hours a day most days”, “Yes, you do need to attend meetings and you also are expected to be paying enough attention that you don’t ask me tomorrow a question that was clearly answered in the meeting today.”) it was a very, very good idea. There’s a lot of assumed workforce knowledge and behaviors that folks pick up in their first few years on the job. Expecting people who have never had a professional job to pick those up while working remotely is a pretty tough ask IMO.