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Public vs. Private Sector? 353

Posted by Cliff
from the where-would-you-prefer-to-work dept.
yusing asks: "Public sector or private sector? Which would you rather work in? What are Slashdot reader experiences like? What are the differences in work environments? What are the frustrations of each? This person chose private sector after working in public. This article argues that the public sector should be expanded. There are definitely political considerations in this choice (bigger/smaller government for example) but I'd like help deciding which would be more appropriate for me. Where can I find quality reading to help me decide?"
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Public vs. Private Sector?

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  • Job security (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jesus IS the Devil (317662) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:33PM (#4200995)
    Many have chosen public/governmental because you are very unlikely get get laid off. After all, there's no end to taxpayer money.

    And then once you're in and want to switch jobs governmental agencies will give you preference over someone who's not working in the public sector. This is why a friend of mine is looking to land an airport screener job. He doesn't really want to do that for the rest of his life. He just wants to get in and later on move to some computer position elsewhere.
    • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:38PM (#4201042)
      There are many downsides to the public sector. Pay is often not very good. Your office is often a petri dish for government social engineering...which also breeds the worst kind of office politics.

      Added to which, to be frank, from my experience you will end up working with the most mediocore people the market can bear. Sorry, but many government offices are staffed by the otherwise unemployable. Do you really want to work with these people??

      • In my years working for both the government and the private sector, my experience says mostly that there is little difference in work environment; the bosses all read the same stupid management fad literature and tend to act in the same, typical ways.
        That said, though it still surprises me to say it, of all my work experience, the US Army was the least screwed up of any organization I've worked for, public and private. When I was in, I always thought "man things are so screwed up here, I bet things run much more efficiently in the private sector."
        Was I ever wrong.
        • the US Army was the least screwed up of any organization I've worked for

          Man, it's nice to hear someone say that. I spent 10 years in the Marine Corps, and while I experienced my share of bafoonery, all in all I'd say things ran pretty friggin well...most people worked hard and most bosses took care of their people.

          ...my experience says mostly that there is little difference in work environment.

          I'm self employed now, but my wife works for the federal government. She's been enduring some really stupid stuff lately, and has talked about leaving for a private sector job. I said fine, if you want to leave then leave, but regardless of where you work, your boss will always be a knucklehead and your co-workers will always play politics (not that I'm so negative, but those are the complaints that bubble to the surface over time, and can start to outweigh the good.)
    • While unlimited job security in government may have been a thing of the past, it is not anymore. Recently, my ex-government employer decided to outsource almost *everyone* that was not an engineer. And by everyone, I mean *everyone*; security, maintaince, computer support, librarians, etc.; only a few VIPs would remain to supervise the winning contractor(s).

      Low and behold, there actually are companies that specialize in taking over a variety of tasks in this sort of manner. A single firm bid to do all of the things I listed above, and then some. The winning bidder (Johnson Controls World Services, Inc.) tentatively has a $60 Million, 5-year contract. Approximately 250 jobs will be downsized and/or replaced at this single, government location.

      Mind you, the facility I worked at already had outsourced HVAC, groundskeeping, and several other tasks, so the lost of jobs is somewhat minimal. But if 1,000 government facilities all decided to do what mine did, the lost of jobs and/or salaries could skyrocket.

      Please pardon my skeptism with outsourcing; the two other cases I've seen of outsourcing have involved people fired from $30K salaries to be replaced with minimum-wage workers. Somehow, the prices still manage to go up, and quality goes down. In one case (a school cafeteria), prices more than doubled. So either the school was selling things too cheaply, or the contractor has seriously marked things up.

  • Stability (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Yuan-Lung (582630) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:34PM (#4201006)
    Personally I chose working in the public sector. Basically for the stability. With a family to feed in an slow economy like this, working for the government doesn't seem such a bad idea.

    Besides, my health has already went all the way down hill after pulling the countless overtime in the private sector. I need to take time and recover quiet a bit, and the resonable working hour is just great for that.

  • Thanks but no thanks (Score:2, Informative)

    by Lil'wombat (233322)
    I worked in government contracting for the department of defense. It was not a pleasant experience. As a consultant, you had to allow your books to be audited by the DOD and you were limited to a 7% profit margin. I imagine the same applys for government employees - here's your salary and the best raise you can expect is a cost of living adjustment.
  • Much better pay, equipment and training in the private sector in my experience. Will be interesting seeing some other reactions.
  • Academia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by angst7 (62954) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:35PM (#4201016) Homepage
    I enjoyed working in Academia more than any other sector, though I'm not certain whether a BIG 10 university is considered Public or Private. (Since it draws a large amount of funds from the Government) Whatever it may be considered, it was terrific for me. The flexibility you have in when you do your reasearch and how you choose to conduct it is unparalleled.

    Just my .02
    Jedimom.com [jedimom.com], ph balanced, for women.
    • Re:Academia (Score:2, Insightful)

      by GT_Alias (551463)
      I second that. Academia seems to have been fairly impervious to the economic crises lately (at least the school I work at). Yeah, they've been tightening budgets up, but they sure haven't been laying people of in droves.

      In addition, they've been fairly generous with training, equipment, hours, and pay.

      The downside? For me, its been politics. Lots of people making noise, very few actually getting anything accomplished. I work for an auxiliary part of the college though, not for an actual school or research department, so I can't speak for those.

      In addition, you don't have the opportunity to "make it big" like you do in the private sector (however small an opportunity that is). You're pretty much guaranteed a modest, but steady salary for as long as you work there.

      • Yeah, they've been tightening budgets up, but they sure haven't been laying people of in droves.

        Depends on where you are. I bailed from Virginia Tech when my 3-year contract got reduced to a 1-year on renewal. Being the newest non-tenure track person in the department I had a bad feeling about that. Talking to my old boss recently, he commented that I'd made the right call: Tech is $25M in the hole and is laying off people. [vt.edu]. He's already attritted 3 positions (including my old one) and will probably have to do more soon. Overall, the university is shedding about 300 people- not horrible in terms of percentages, but very rare in academia.

        My current job at a small private school seems to be safe since they're doing everything possible to avoid layoffs, but we're losing people by attrition. My boss (head of IT) is moving on and they are replacing him with the assistant director, but not filling her space. Raises were close to nonexistant this year and my budget got cut by 5%- again, not much, but the days of getting everything we asked for are over.

    • Speaking from experience as a grad student.

      Want back stabbing, gossip, alliances and enemies? Join the ranks of academia! If you are a prof you get amaazing leeway to abuse your grad students and use them for free labor. Thats if you can survive the constant oversight of the head of the dept. If you are a grad student, bend over and lube up. You are free labor and you have no rights as a worker. After a while you will notice that it is no coincidence that your advisor won't let you leave. Why would they? You are a well conditioned mule. Letting you graduate would mean your advisor would have to break in another.

    • Hell yes. Amen my brother! Tell it like it is!

      Acedemia is great. You tend not to have that "Corperate Bottom Line" mentality, and things are just... nicer.

      Great benefits like being able to take classes for free. What company is going ot pay for you to take classes that have nothing whatsoever to do with your job?... and 2 per semester at that! Day classes even!

      I have a reasonable work schedual (~35/hr/week unless we are in a start of semester project crunch or the shit otherwise hits the fan), a reasonable amount of vacation (everyone should get 4 weeks vacation damnit), and cool people.

      Frankly, I will be quite happy to never work for a for-profit again.

      -Steve
  • by Elbereth (58257) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:35PM (#4201017) Journal
    Dr. Raymond Stantz: Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything. You've never been in the private sector. They expect *results*.
    • Dr. Raymond Stantz: Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything. You've never been in the private sector. They expect *results*.

      I work for a university. This isn't funny because it's an exaggeration... it's funny because it's true. So very true.

      I'm not looking forward to my eventual move to the private sector - "What, you expect me to do work on all the weekdays? And start before lunch too? Tyrants!"

  • In this economy... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rtblmyazz (592071)
    ...take whatever the hell job you can find, cause there isn't squat out there right now. Not many people have the luxury of pondering such questions these days.
  • by GeneralEmergency (240687) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:36PM (#4201021) Journal



    Those who can't DO, TEACH.


    Those who can't TEACH, MANAGE.


    Those who can't MANAGE, GOVERN.



    -Alanism-

  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:36PM (#4201023)
    I think is the real question. Going to work in most large institutions, be it government or a large corporation, is an opportunity to securely rot for a long time. Note that I use the word secure, although in reality most large corporations are as likely to constantly trim/grow staff now as small ones.

    You should work in at least one small, on the edge company for some period of time when you are young and can take more risks. These are the types of places you really learn and grow without having your fate defined by a strictly defined job definition.

    This type of question is likely to be answered by all sorts of people crapping on the private sector because of the job situation out there. Come on folks, markets recover. Taking a risk on a smaller company when you have no dependents and no long term debt (like when you are first out of college) is a must.

    • Taking a risk on a smaller company when you have no dependents and no long term debt (like when you are first out of college) is a must.
      Hmph. Well, I guess those who have the sort of financial means necessary to graduate from college without a long-term debt would feel more comfortable taking risks...
    • I have a wife, two kids, and a mortgage, and I specialize in Internet startups. I simply plan to have 3-4 jobs in one year, and suffer on the average of 6 weeks out of work.

      Having done that, I've made a near 6 figure income in doing that, and this year looks good for a 6+ figure year.

      I think people tend to look at security as a "free" benefit, but in reality, it is a factor in negotiating salary just as much as is any other benefit. I've been able to make a lot of money without a degree in the field by assuming a lot of risky opportunities. The key is to stock the larder when the harvest comes in, keep your credit card debt low (because that can act as a buffer as well), and keep those skills sharp.

      Having said all of this, I've just accepted a perm position with a 25% salary cut ;). It is a private sector position, anyhow.

    • by Deagol (323173) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @02:26PM (#4201426) Homepage
      For single people (or D.I.N.K.s -- Double Income No Kids), get as risky as you want. As with stocks, prospecting, and starting your own business, there's no real wealth to be found without risks. I've got a wife and 2 kids, so I tend to be more cautious.

      I started my post-college career at a small private software firm as an admin/consultant. It was great for a while. I pissed off the CEO, though and got canned in '99 (the party line was for "insubordination"). The joys of being an "at will" employee.

      I've been working for a state university ever since. Initially, the pay was worse (by $8k/yr), however, the benefits were so much better that it more than made up for it: $75/mo for family medical/dental vs around $300; 14% of my gross given (not matched) into a retirement fund vs the pitiful maxed-out 1% 401K matching. My pay has since surpassed that of my former employer.

      My department (research computing) has weathered the recession well, whereas others on campus have lost their jobs or have been shuffled to other departments. We didn't get our annual cost-of-living raise this year, but I can't complain.

      Though the pay is comfortable (still not great) and the work reasonably stimulating, I don't forsee myself here for very long. In spite of the fact that I could very likely become the cranky suspenders-wearing "unix guy" from the classic Dilbert strip, a secure and well-paid fixture on campus, I will likely move on in a few years. I like variety, and I suspect I'll hop to a small ISP or local business.

      But the public sector has been good for me. There's no way I'd ever have admin'ed a 64-way Origin 2000 or other various other clusters or large servers at a mom-n-pop company. Big institutions allow one to get experience with big systems. I've found that experience with large systems scales down to small systems much easier than the opposite direction. So once I find another small company, I should have a lot of fun with it.

      My family lives modestly, so my current income (about $52k/yr) is equally modest and I don't need to pursue a 6-digit salary. And I'm not short-changing my life, either. I've got 20 acres of retirement land and we put good money away for kids college and nest egg. You just gotta know how to wisely manage money.

      Of course, other lifestyles will vary. :) That's just my (abridged) story. I'd really recommend that everyone try employment in each sector, just so you get a feel for both sides: the secure bloat of most government institutions or the dog-eat-dog world of private comapanies. Both are interesting in their own ways, and both have good and bad points.

      • I've got 20 acres of retirement land and we put good money away for kids college and nest egg. You just gotta know how to wisely manage money.

        If you're in a climate that can handle it, and don't mind investing about 1k$ now for a pretty good return in 10-12 years, plant pine trees all over every free inch of land you have. They grow to maturity in approx 12-15 years, you sell them all to a logging company and you replant. It's pretty good money and it's not subject to the vagaries of the stock market. Lumber prices stay pretty constant.

        Kintanon
  • Personal Achievement (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Neil Watson (60859) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:36PM (#4201024) Homepage
    It's possible that you could get a great sense of accomplishment from working in the public sector. However, here in Canada, government services are heavily unionized. I fear that most attempts at accomplishing anything could be burried under government and union red tape.

    • >It's possible that you could get a great sense of
      >accomplishment from working in the public sector.
      >However, here in Canada, government services are
      >heavily unionized. I fear that most attempts at
      >accomplishing anything could be burried under
      >government and union red tape.

      Oh yeah, there's no red tape in the private sector, right?

      I worked for a Very Big Oil Company, and I've also had a couple of provincial government jobs.

      Compared to Big Oil, my experience in government was the essence of thrift, accountability, planning, empowerment, and clueful use of technology.

      Working for the government did indeed suck, they certainly did have a lot of problems in need of fixing, but that's not unique to .gov.

      • Working for the government did indeed suck, they certainly did have a lot of problems in need of fixing, but that's not unique to .gov.

        Very true. While both have red tape, the corps are less likely to get bogged down in it. Corps are driven to make a profit and red tape costs money. Governments however do not consider the bottom line as much as they should. A nice happy medium between between the fanitic corps' persuit of profits and some governments total lack of business sense would be ideal.

        • >While both have red tape, the corps are less likely
          >to get bogged down in it.

          No offence, but what's the biggest company you've ever worked for?

          True story from my days at Very Big Oil Company: At my office, someone bent over to pick up a pen, and when they stood up, they bumped their head on a thermometer mounted on the wall. This was officially written up as a "safety incident", meetings were held, and the thermometer was remounted to a higher position on the wall.

          Dilbert isn't a comedy, it's a documentary of the Fortune 500.
          • At my last place of employment I was on the Health and Safety board. Given all the legal details of worker's safety I'm not surprised about the meetings for your head bumping thermometer.

            The worker safety laws are badly abused by some. Documenting as much as possible can help prevent this kind of fraud.

  • Easy choice... (Score:3, Informative)

    by toupsie (88295) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:37PM (#4201032) Homepage
    If you don't want to judged on your work performance and get away with all sorts of employment misconduct, by all means, take a civil service job. Its almost impossible to fire a Government employee compared to an employee in the private sector. That's why Government is completely inefficient (idiots survive easily) and why President G.W. Bush does not want typical civil servants running the Homeland Security Department.
    • Re:Easy choice... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by krwren (549346)
      Yes, a state job is more secure and it is not easy to get fired, but speeking for the department I work in, we take pride in our work. We can not be made to work over but we do when needed (without overtime or comp) because of PRIDE in our work. You can run into the same problems in any department private or public. Always judge the MANAGEMENT over the position more than anything else. They can make hard jobs injoyable or make easy jobs killers.
      • Yes, a state job is more secure and it is not easy to get fired, but speeking for the department I work in, we take pride in our work

        Wish your attitude was more common in the civil service.

        I'm not saying all civil service employees are idiots but a far larger percentage of them are compared to the private sector. Since Government doesn't have to produce a profit or even stick to a budget, the incentive for managers to motivate employees to peak performance is next to nil.

        Amtrak is a great example of a Government run business. Completely inefficient, full of fraud, nothing works and is bleeding money left and right.

        • Since Government doesn't have to produce a profit or even stick to a budget ..

          I'm not sure why you would think this. I work at a federal facility that gets a yearly outlay from Congress, the same as any other government agency/facility. When the money is gone, we can't just go ask for more. In the past year we've had to cut training budgets and even lay some people off because of budget shortfalls.
        • Count me as a second Civil Service person that takes pride in his work.

          Listening to my wife, there are JUST as many doofuses at Her office (coding) as there are at mine.
  • Whoever's hiring (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Brento (26177)
    These days, the choice seems to come down to whoever's hiring.

    If you're the kind of person who really shines, who likes working hard and wants to impress your boss, stick with the private sector. If you just want to get by until you retire, and you'd rather do your more challenging work in your spare time, then work in the public sector.
  • It really depends on what kind of job you are looking for. I, as a researcher, am pretty much tied to public/non-profit, since I like the flexibility I get. If I went to a for-profit company I would not be able to direct my own research, and would pretty much be a monkey boy for my boss ( at least until I get my Ph.D. ). My roomate is thinking of switching out of a BIG computer company and going to a non-profit, so that his job is more interesting.
  • by jukal (523582) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:40PM (#4201053) Journal
    In your own head. What rewards you? Is it money? Is it scientific fame? Is it making products used by millions? Is it doing something ethically good? Is it long lasting research work? Is it the ability to change work-description quickly?
  • by HBI (604924) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (enidarapk)> on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:40PM (#4201054) Homepage Journal
    I have no idea where to find good reading on this, but I have my own anecdotal experience. In the private sector, everything is based upon relative merit. Those who have wealth and power control things, those who do not are inconsequential. My job was clear: service those with wealth and power. When the CEO screamed, we jumped. We were paid well for what we did. The job security sucked, but there was always another job. This is turned on its head in the public sector, where each minor functionary has their own storehouse of power and can stymie your attempts at doing your job through the use of simple intrangisence or procedural issues. We liked to say when I was working for the military that you don't care what you look like to the General. You care what you look like to the lifelong government employees, because the General is long gone and reassigned, while the lifers are going to be there forever. I find the public sector to be immensely annoying to work for, and there is the very great risk of being 'captured' by the system and becoming another functionary obsessed with procedure. Left to choose: private sector, every time.


  • Public sector people may disagree, but I believe if you desire to work in a truly competitive market, where you earn yoru pay, and if you wish to work with the most motivated and motivating (good and bad) people you need to work in the private sector. However if your looking for security then the public sector is best. I have a friend who is a sys admin for a gov facility and his job is so easy, no stress, they are all unionized. And there is never ending breuracracy.
    If you wish to make any sort of change it has to be approved by ten different commitiees. ten commitees who know nothing about the technology. Where in private sector is driven by demand and performance.
    • If you wish to make any sort of change it has to be approved by ten different commitiees. ten commitees who know nothing about the technology. Where in private sector is driven by demand and performance.

      What a silly stereotype! I've worked in both worlds and my experience was the opposite. I was a systems engineer for a Big Private Company and we were having "paradigm shifts" and Dilbert-esque reviews every day. I've also spent time working on a government-funded project where everyone involved was completely professional and we did quality work.

      I know a lot of people in the private sector who do not "earn threi pay", but who just coast along the bureaucracy of a corporation.
  • I work for the feds in a small regional office. However, I'm the kind of person who likes to have input on all the big IT decisions, so for me, this sucks!

    All the decisions are made at a National level with very little chance for the regions to comment or even make suggestions. If your IT folk at the national level are not great, your job gets harder. We have a lot of inhouse developed solutions. However, they rarely work properly when a new version comes out, and there is very little documentation (read: none, except install instructions).

    Also, a lot of the time the public sector doesn't have a lot of control over the products it uses. For example, we're preparing to rollout Windows 2000 for our server environment (with Exchange, MSSQL, etc.) without ever making a choice on looking at other OSs. Why? Because, they decided to contract the job out. So, basically lowest bid that meets the requirements wins. They don't bother to look at other options, like taking the money to pay the contractors and instead training up people to implement the solution.

    Yes, I'm bitter, and slowly starting to find contract work to get myself out of this job. But what I have to say is still valid. If you like being in control, or at least working close with those who are, make sure you work in the top of the pryamid office. Of course this doesn't just apply to public offices, I'm sure large private sector corps aren't much different.

  • Big public companies are chock full of nasty politics and can be frustrating at times. They are secure, and promotions are easier, but being someone the company cherishes is harder.
    Small private companies keeps you free of politics and its easier to be recognized, although, it is usually more difficult to move up the chain (promotions) when in a smaller company.

    Personally, I enjoy the small companies, because I hate company politics. I do plan on changing in a few years (after my MBA and some project management experience) to get more responsibility and more cash.
  • Academia. Working IT at a public university lets you do pretty much what you want, decent pay, and you don't have to sell anything.
  • Is that it is actually in most cases harder to get a job in the public sector. The government has very strict hiring practices and if they say you need a degree, they tend to not accept equivalent work experience. Sure you may not get laid off working for the government, but in most cases, if you were working in the private sector you could save enough money to handle being laid off. Sure you get nice hours, vacation working for the government, but again working in the private sector (especially as a consultant) you can save more money to take vacation, or even take a couple months off. Sure working for the government you might not have to work as hard and be as skilled, but you won't be learning skills and using your skills, so you won't be advancing your career either. Weighing it out, it's any easy choice for me, if I'm going to work for the government, I'm going to be a marine so I can kill people, because that's about the only real benfit it has, (aside from stability which can be countered by money, because money = time)
  • GOV'T CONTRACTOR!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mekkab (133181) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:45PM (#4201086) Homepage Journal
    I work with a major company who's prime source of contracts is with governments (US, UK,some china)and its the best/worst of all worlds.

    THE BAD: Since all government contracts start as bids, your company will invariably underbid. That means a death march. Tight schedules, reduced resources. Some marches are more livable than others. However, becuase the SW development field is so young, I think you are going to find death marches everywhere.

    Additionally, you are a servant to many masters. Those paying, those managing, and those who will eventually get your product. However I find politics to be quite fun, especially when you outperform (See above comment) and your adversaries "fall on their ass" (its an industry term...)

    THE GOOD: Everything you heard about public sector jobs, but with better salary. Whoo hooo!

    • Except for the security, comfortable working hours, and in many cases, even worse pay, as well as fewer benefits and less vacation.

      Depends very heavily on the contract you're on. In my first contract, I made less than the government employees who had more vacation, got to travel more, got payed better, and had less education and experience in the subject area.

      Plus they had fun treating me like a secretary and asking me to do things that were clearly illegal or against contracting regulations.

      Yaaaay, government contracting!
  • I'm sure i'll get flamed to a crisp, but what the hey......

    In my first job outside of school i was working for a consulting firm where we did a lot of work for the government (setting up networks, computer security, etc etc etc)

    After that experience I would say that I will never EVER work for the government myself, nor will I ever have much respect for those that work in government.

    Some reasons:

    -well, it was the government. Slow moving people mired in burocracy.

    -minimal accountability. The amount of $$$$ that was being spent on stupid stuff, plus the amount of $$$ being wasted by incompetance was just sickening.

    -institutational paralysis. Try to get anybody to make a freaking decision? Forget it - we're gonna need three comittees and a dozen meetings to make the most trivial decision. I think this is part of the government mentality - it's part of the job security.

    That being said, there are good people working in the government. But i'll never go anywhere near that sector again. My self respect couldn't take it.

    • I tend to agree. I've never worked for the government, but I have worked for government contractors. In some cases, they're mirror images, only smaller.
    • I work in state government and agree with you 100%. If it weren't next to impossible to secure employment elsewhere in the industry, I would have been gone two years ago. Why am I still here? I don't want to work 60 hour weeks on a regular basis with the persistent threat of getting sacked so a company officer can keep his vacation home.
  • I'd a lot depends on the general "public vs. private" sector arguements in the country you're in, and how politicians, decision makers and the public generally respect these sectors.Depends what you're trying to get out of it as well - security? money?


    I'd make a guess you'd be better off working in the public sector in a northern European country (scandinavian social democracy model) and the private sector in the USA (laissez faire free market policies). I guess the surrounding working condition issues offered by those countries affect both private and public sector workers. Not sure what I'd choose in former soviet countries, probably working for the mafia... :-(

  • by jht (5006) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:47PM (#4201100) Homepage Journal
    Working in the public sector (I assume federal, rather than state) gives you very good job security, reasonable pay, strong benefits, and the potential to retire young with a nice pension - allowing you to either live frugally and well or take another job afterwards with extra gravy courtesy of the feds. State governments are generally similar, but the workers are more prone to layoff if the budget crashes.

    Public sector employees, though, often have fewer opportunities for advancement, no ability to get things like bonuses, and less flexibility in some of the "little things" you might encounter (like flex time , for instance). Also, if your boss is a moron in the private sector there's a chance they might get canned. If your incompetent boss is a civil servant, it's likelier that they'll stick around and make you miserable.

    In the private sector, there's more opportunity for talented people to advance rapidly, more competitive and flexible pay scales, and in many cases, a workplace that's open to change.

    But the downside is little to no job security, a less generous retirement plan (at most companies), and less time off.

    So you need to decide what's more important to you. If you like stability, and/or aren't supremely confident in your abilities, then you can perhaps get on a career path with the feds and have a nice, solid, middle-class life. You'll probably get to keep working there through thick and thin so long as you're not a total screwup.

    But if you think you really have the ability to go be a star, stick to the private sector. If you're really good, there's at least a chance of getting the appropriate reward. Just keep your resume up-to-date.
    • I hypothesize that if you really want to be a star, especially in the software development biz, you should chuck your resume, pour your efforts into a project (open source anyone?), and become an authority for that niche. Stroustrop? C++. Torvalds? Linux. Wall? Perl. See where I'm going with this?

      IT resumes are worth more as shit squares than they are for distinguishing talented individuals. Buzzwords have rendered them absolutely useless, because anybody and everybody splatters everything inside the margins with them. An IT staffer might as well sort IT resumes by weight or coloration than by reading them. If you reduce yourself to your resume, you're one of hundreds if not thousands of applicants for most jobs. Disco will be wildly popular again before you get an interview. If you get an interview, pangea will occur again before you get a callback. If you get a callback, species will evolve before someone will make a serious offer to you.

      Another decent alternative I've come across to resumes, are well-written letters to companies stating what you believe they can accomplish and how you can help them achieve to that end if they give you gainful employment. You show initiative and interest in the company all in one shot.

  • I do IT for a big government contractor. Not going to say who but we're the biggest construction and engineering company on Earth. I can't speak for all of the other people in my company doing contractor work but for me the level of bs politics is unbelievable. Getting ahead where I work is 5% skills/talent/experience, and 95% how well you can play the game. I actually had a meeting this morning where I had to quit working to go into a meeting and give a status report about the current status of my work, which I had to postpone for the meeting.

    Yes, I am going slowly insane.

    The best jobs in the world, ESPECIALLY IT, is workign for the city. Nothing else comes close. Awesome benefits, wicked tax benefits, great pay, awesome equipment/technology(usually). If you can get one, get it. Kill if you have to, but get it.
  • that's the one thing that keeps me in the Public sector - after 5 years of service I'm up to 5 weeks paid leave... plus all the O/T I crank up fixing servers etc on weekends.

    Doubtful that many private companies would offer such a great incentive after so few years.
  • I've been working as computer support for a large state university for over a year and a half. Tomorrow is my last day. I'm leaving to go back to school full time. Why am I quitting?

    My pay is 25-35% lower than people with my same job in the private sector. And there really isn't any less stress at this job, unless you are a brain-dead slacker who could care less about enabling people to be productive. If you're interested in sitting on your ass all day and not helping people, and are reasonably sure your supervisor won't be willing to file the stress headache of termination papers for you, then the public sector is right for you.

    Yes, public sector is stable. But the lack of money takes away from that. I can't afford a house, a new car, and I can barely keep up with my student loan payments. How stable is having to eat a dinner of rice and beans several times a week just to make payments on things you can't afford?

    And public sector jobs depend heartily on funding from government. I've had plenty of experience lobbying the legislature of my state for funding for the past few years. If budgets need to be cut, the "bloated infrastructure" of a university looks is a mighty easy target for legislators.

    Yes, it's a student's life and graduate school for me. Stick to the private sector if you can. Just don't get caught up in the lifestyle of extravagance, and you'll be fine.
  • by gosand (234100) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:53PM (#4201135)
    At this point in the economy, I think you should take whatever you can get. If you have that big of a choice where you can decide between one or the other, then you are doing better than most. Probably no matter what you choose, things will change in 5 years. Personally, I wouldn't want to work at the same place for life, but I don't want to be switching jobs every 2 years either. A lot can happen in 5 years, especially in the IT industry.

    A great band once said:
    Yes there are two paths you can go by
    But in the long run
    There's still time to change the road you're on

    • (* At this point in the economy, I think you should take whatever you can get. *)

      I am still getting rejection notices from local and fed jobs I applied for *14 months* ago. (I later realized that I did my application "wrong" back then. There is a certain reviewer thinking pattern you have to cater your application to, and I am still learning the tricks.)

      By the time a gov job pans out, the economy will probably be back on its heals (unless the 1930's are repeating).

      I am not saying, "don't try", but never expect/plan-on "soon" from the gov.
  • The private sector is typically faster and more efficient than the public sector. Private companies need to be nimble in order to remain competitive in a changing marketplace, and of course they have to keep a close eye on the bottom line. Conversely, the public sector has a responsibility to make thoughtful, conscientious decisions through due process.

    As for pay, "everybody knows" that salaries are better in the private sector, but the difference is smaller towards the bottom of the org chart. Laborers, techs, and line managers don't make that much less in the public sector than their corporate counterparts. There is a huge disparity in executive salaries. It is fairly common for people to gain initial experience as civil servants, then make the jump to private organizations for the better pay later on.

    Some people simply feel better about working for a public organization. Many civil servants have a sense of duty to their community. This drive is probably responsible for the high rate of burnout among civil servants. The average turnover among public managers, for example, is 18 months.

    I enjoy the stability and rewarding nature of my position in a municipal government, and I don't plan on going back to the private sector any time soon.

    --

  • I'm comfy in my stable IT based state job. I have seen the typical stereotypical government worker in BOTH sectors.

    While there are some backwards, misdirected, IT shops in the state, OURS isn't one of 'em. I'm proud of the work and accomplishments my fellow cow-orkers and I have pulled off on a small budget and not enough people.

    I appreciate the stability, and the pay has actually jumped up to equal the lower pre-dotcom network admin salaries. I appreciate the 40 hour work weeks, and the flex-time/place work environment. But I also know that my position is a unique one and there are a WHOLE LOT of state jobs I wouldn't want to have. ...but there are a bunch of those jobs in the PRIVATE sector too. The grass ain't greener on the other side, it's pretty much painted dead grass there too.

    Will I be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs this way? Nope. But I'll have plenty of time to watch my kids grow up and _assist_in_that_process_.

    I've learned reciently that being rich ain't all that. I'm pretty happy with slightly more money than I need to live on comfortably.
  • I've been working in state government the last three years as a web programmer + whatever else needs to be done. Stability is a plus. We also have a sizeable budget for hardware, software, and support contracts.

    Unfortuntately, we have a sizeable budget for hardware, software, and support contracts. What does that mean? The prevailing philosophy is to buy something off the shelf rather than developing it in house. Even for simple stuff like messaging systems, content management systems, etc. As a result, I have to look elsewhere during my spare time in order to learn new things (e.g. XML and Java to name a few). Like any other programmer, if I'm not learning new things, I'm not worth much.

    This is great if your on the management side of the equation. CYA can't get any easier. Something doesn't work? Fall back on a fat support contract or buy software and hardware.

    This sucks if you're a hack with a curious itch looking to take your game to the next level. Your proposals are going to be trumped by your department's need to "spend the budget or risk losing it come the fiscal new year."

    My suggestion: If you're young and excited about learning new things and doing more with less, run don't walk from a gig with the government. If you've lost a step as a hack or are management material, get on board, ride it for twenty years, retire to Guadalajara, and sip tequila sunrises until your liver explodes.

  • by bobdehnhardt (18286) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:56PM (#4201161)
    Having worked in both public (DoD, DoI) and private sectors, I must say that I greatly prefer private.

    The public sector is not as stable as one might think. New administrations tend to undo what previous ones did (even if they are the same party - the transition from Reagan to Bush caused a number of shakeups). RIFs and reassignments are dictated by the political climate and public opinion. And if the majority in Congress happens to be of a different party than the Prez, and Federal budget gets delayed, you don't get paid (and retroactive pay is not guaranteed).

    Private sector is far more volatile, but the opportunities are also greater. I'll accept the higher-but-manageable risks of the private sector.
  • IF you are an innovative person. If you are constantly trying to fin new and better ways of doing something or are interested in efficiency at all then you will be utterly miserable in public work.

    I spent 7 years in it... The supervisors are idiots, their managers are morons, and the people that run the city are scumbags. (city managers) Add to that the usual UNION workforce that is interested in making sure that you DO NOT make your job more efficient. I shaved 10 minutes off of a proceedure while increasing it's reliability.. the union filed a grievance against me for trying to change my job profile.

    If you are innovative or highly skilled... you will hate public work.
    • "IF you are an innovative person. If you are constantly trying to fin new and better ways of doing something or are interested in efficiency at all then you will be utterly miserable in public work."

      You will also be miserable in the private sector. We have ll the same problems.
      My suggestion, start your own business.
  • It's been a simple opinion for me.

    But, there's something else even more important that being what type of job you have. For a typical slashdotter, the most important thing is finding a job where Internet Access isn't monitored or restricted.

    The other thing is, the only one truly looking after you is yourself. With that said, I've basically advanced my career/skills through my spare time on the job. Find a job with plenty of spare time and be sure to take advantage of it. I had a three month non-busy spell a few years ago and studied my ass off in Java, got certified, within one year, was making $25k more and still making it.

    Govt. is under too much political scrutiny. Some locals find out we're paying public employees to browse the net, and it gets shut down for the workers. Shit man, browsing the Internet on the job should be a civil right!

    Some of my friends in govt. actually have to walk to a different floor of the building to send an email to the outside world. I aint kidding, this is a fairly high up job.

    Local munie? Well that's another one. I would never, never work for a local municipality. This is the absolute bottom of the food chain. I know this is an ugly steatement, but I've never seen a fatter bunch of duffers than when visiting my local county office to pay some tax, or fill out a form or whatnot. Not even the DMV is as bad.

    Teaching? All the teachers I have adult converations with seem to have no sense of what the real world is all about. Part of them regresses back into childhood (or to whomever they teach their subjects to).

    Private Sector is fractic by nature. It'll keep you from becoming obsolete. You may switch jobs, but you'll be a smarter/stronger/richer person of you can roll with punches.

    Work Hard Play Hard
  • by Markgor (413027) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:57PM (#4201168)
    It goes without saying that for job security, the public sector is the best. The variety of positions available within the public sector is also much better.

    However, the stereotype is that a job in the public sector is mundane.

    After many years of working in the private sector, I am now working at Health Canada in the development of a public health surveillance system. I went in with apprehension because I had heard so many stories of public servants sitting around their desks doing nothing - not my cup of tea. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the group I'm in was very sharp and very professional. No two hour lunches and half hour coffee breaks here.

    I started wondering why and began to realize the reason behind it all. Given that there have been many layoffs in the private sector, the public one has benefitted greatly from the pool of talent that has been made available. These people have brought with them skills and a level of professionalism that has changed many government departments for the better.

    Note, however, that this hasn't applied to all departments. I guess I'm just one of the lucky ones. :-)
    • (* I was pleasantly surprised to find that the group I'm in was very sharp and very professional. No two hour lunches and half hour coffee breaks here.....I started wondering why and began to realize the reason behind it all. Given that there have been many layoffs in the private sector, the public one has benefitted greatly from the pool of talent that has been made available. These people have brought with them skills and a level of professionalism that has changed many government departments for the better. *)

      Question: what happened to the *former* people at those same positions?

      Also, over time I bet they will be "ruined" just like the rest. Burocracies tend to reward a different kind of behavior than active businesses whose survivle depends on performance. Over time people's behavior will bend to fit what buroc's reward for, and productivity is rarely one of them.

      (If gov agencies *really* want to get something done, they tend to hire private contractors for the job. Not that contractors are always competant, but they get more done than insiders.)

      (I had a chance as an intern to be a perm civil servant "way back then", but was afraid of being "ruined". I wanted to see more of the real world before taking that risk. However, now it is harder to get back in the system because the unions rig the hiring process against experience because experience is seen as a threat to existing union members' careers. Thus, they favor interns and grads instead.)
  • Private, definitely (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hwestiii (11787) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @01:57PM (#4201170) Homepage
    I've worked in both and I'll take private.

    I spent 10 years in the public sector doing municipal engineering, and 6 years in the private sector doing various IT work.

    The public sector definitely has the appeal of stability, after all, the city/county/state/federal government isn't likely to pull up stakes and move to Mexico where the labor is cheaper, but with the stability comes stasis. There just isn't that much to be gained by taking risks in government.

    The private sector has greater risks, but as every economist knows, with risk comes reward. Of the three companies that I've worked for in the past 6 years, one has been acquired by a European conglomerate occassioning a major cultural shift, and subsequent loss of morale in the general employee population, one just folded without warning (a month after I left, luckily enough) and my current employer has been slashing the head count steadily since 6 months after I started.

    That has all been balanced by the fact that I've learned twice or three times as much in the past 6 years than I did in the previous 10. In addition, my first private employer picked up the tab for my Bachelor of Science, relieving me of the need to take out $15,000 in student loans, not to speak of the interest.

    There is a place for public employment, my father spent his entire adult life working for Uncle Sam, first in the Air Force, then in the FAA, and then in Customs, and is sitting on a pretty nice retirement packageme. I'm not sure I could do that though. I haven't worked anywhere that I wasn't ready to leave within five years simply because there was nothing left there to maintain my interest.
  • My girlfriend works in the private sector (magazine publisher), I'm public sector (research scientist). Her joke is that her job is to make money, my job is to spend it.

    She likes private, because it's fast moving and you have to actually do stuff. I like public, because I have lots of money to spend on toyz, not many deadlines, and a lot of freedom.

    She's paid 3x more than me though :-(
  • by pdqlamb (10952) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @02:00PM (#4201184)
    What too many Americans don't realize is exactly what is being pursued under the "small government" rubric. Are the number of civil servants going down or remaining flat? Yes. Is total government spending going down? No. Where's the difference?

    What's called "private sector" is all too often government contractors. We, your government contractors, aren't bound by all the government's rules, restrictions, or protections. We can be laid off or fired relatively easily. We can use private databases to watch you. You can't see us, because we're private. But we can contribute to PACs, to keep the money flowing to political campaigns. We call it "access" and as a result your elected officials pay more attention to our lobbyists than they do to you.

    As one of my previous bosses put it, "Our company has no problems that cannot be solved by more growth."
  • I worked in a government position for two years, then switched to a private industry job. I can't recommend any books on the subject, but I can relate my experience.

    Government Job: Pros
    • Deadlines were meaningless
    • Very low stress level
    • Projects were unique and interesting
    • If you really need something, money is no object.
    Government Job: Cons
    • Lots of paperwork
    • Limited salary
    • Unmotivated peers
    • Politics
    Private Industry Job: Pros
    • Good Pay
    • Good Equipment
    • Competent Peers
    • Good Benefits (insurance, perks, bonuses)
    Private Industry Job: Cons
    • Tough deadlines
    • High stress
    • Mundane projects
    • Lots of hours

    Every work environment will be different, so don't take these items as a hard and fast rule. I'm sure others in this thread will have widely different experiences from my own. Private companies that do work for the government (Raytheon, Boeing, Northrup) will act more like government jobs, and conversely, government labs (Sandia National Labs, MIT Lincoln Labs, John's Hopkins Physics Lab) will act more like private companies. Finding the right fit is a trial and error process that everyone must go through. I've found that I prefer to work for a small, private firm where I have more influence on my job, but at the same time take on quite a bit more stress and responsibility.

    Whatever job you decide to take, a good idea is to first define what your goals are. Do you want a job that requires you to spend long hours, but rewards handsomely? Are you looking for a job where your tasks are well defined? What is your tolerance for stress? Do you prefer to work on a team, or alone? Do you want to perform research into new areas? Ask yourself these types of questions, and when you are sure of what you are looking for, ask your prospective employer about them. If you have a chance, ask the existing employees. Compare what the job has to offer against what you want from the job, and you will have a better chance of finding a position that is right for, regardless of whether it is public or private.


    • Private companies that do work for the government (Raytheon, Boeing, Northrup) will act more like government jobs, and conversely, government labs (Sandia National Labs, MIT Lincoln Labs, John's Hopkins Physics Lab) will act more like private companies.

      This has been exactly my experience. I used to work at a large defense contractor where I came in late, took long lunches, and left early every day since there was nothing else to do. I was a just a body they could use to charge the government their ridiculous overhead rates. I was paid very well, but the price is severe brain atrophy.

      I then took a job at a government lab. The work is interesting and challenging, the people I work with are motivated and take pride in their work, and the pay and benefits are pretty good too.

      You can't paint jobs with a broad "public" or "private" brush.
  • Having worked in the public sector, I'd choose private. Public sector puts you at the mercy of the taxpayers, and ANY attempt to secure money for ANYTHING is met with derision and scorn from the people paying your salary, the taxpaying public. Given a choice, I'd remove myself from that sort of scrutiny and go private. Example: If a company wants to send you to a convention in Vegas, no one cares. The public enterprise, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, has to send you to a similar conference in Fresno. Ugh.
  • I've worked in both. I prefer entrepreneurial environments. You'll likely never find that in the public sector. You'll likely never find that in a huge corporation.

    At my public sector (state) job, the head of IT was a typical PHB. He
    • knew little;
    • believed vendors, their salespeople, and consultants over his employees;
    • Had no vision and worse, no plan;
    • and he would not speak to his employees about any of the above.
    I actually had asked my boss once what my purpose was in being there and she didn't know. A group of us asked her if this "CIO" would sit down with us and help us figure out what our roles were, what his vision was, and what the 5-year plan was. Her answer: "No. He doesn't like confrontation."

    Then I asked if I could speak to him one-on-one so he'd be less intimidated. Her answer: "No. You can schedule a meeting with him, but it will be cancelled."

    Now, I was going through a difficult time (divorce) so I was looking for my job to have some meaning. It didn't. I was intent on using all those sick days they gave me (state jobs do have good benefits but it was actually a problem that I used the sick days) and my boss sits me down in her office and says: I know you have nothing to do (no active projects) and are struggling with having no purpose here, but it would be better for you to come in and sit at your desk playing SOLITAIRE ALL DAY than to take another sick day.

    Basically, in my experience, in the public sector you are treated like furniture. They may not use you at all, and they want to shuffle you around (...constant reorganizations make you look busy, you know...), but by God you'd better be where they put you day in and day out 'cause when they're ready to sit on you, if you're not there they get pissed.

    Working in the private sector, I've been laid off four times, three companies I worked for went out of business, and I've never been with any single company more than three years. AND I LOVE IT.

    But sometimes, now that I'm older and have a family and kids and all, I think: Those sit on your ass all day, do nothing, government jobs would really help my blood pressure right about now.

    YMMV.
  • I worked in government for many years, now I work in private industry.

    There is "big" government, where you work in a centralized bureaucracy, and "little" government, where you work in a tiny little outpost that nobody cares about. A large city might have some agencies that are "big", and the Feds have some agencies that are "small". Private industry has the same concept. For the IT worker, you want "big".

    In most (but not all) cases, private industry salaries are better than government. This can be used advantageously by young people who want to build experience. For any given skill level, you can get a "better" job in government because the salary structure locks out most of the highly-skilled competitors. So you work in the public sector and establish yourself in a job you wouldn't have otherwise, then switch to private industry to make real money.

    Government work can be enjoyable, but supervisory positions are to be avoided at all costs. It's hard to motivate anyone when you can't do anything good for the good people or do anything bad to the bad people. Since the good and bad get treated pretty much the same, mediocrity is par for the course.

    All the other things (training, advancement, benefits, stability of employment, toys to play with), are really functions of big/little more than private/public.
  • I manage the Info Systems Department for a local government. I ended up here purely by chance. I wanted to leave a very large, Plano, TX based outsourcing firm (didn't want to move to Plano) and my current employer was hiring.

    Here are the lousy parts of government:

    1. If you are fairly bright and motivated, you will likely be working with a lot of folks who aren't.

    2. Government is about accountability, not profitability. Things happen very slowly in government primarily because you have to document exactly how every penny is spent and why it is spent that way. Government will gladly spend thousands to select a product that costs $10 less than the competitor, just so any citizen or the press won't fry your ass if you made the wrong decision.

    3. Remember your spending taxpayers money! Forget about bonuses, nice office furniture, big training budgets, or any other perk found in the private sector.

    4. Because of 3 above, you will find that there is little reward for doing a job well. You'll likely get the same raise as the guy who hasn't put a line of code in production in years! Your average citizen would rather have you doing nothing than make more money than he does!

    5. Forget about getting rid of poor performing employees. The documentation required isn't worth a managers time. Want to be guaranteed a job for life? Blow the whistle on anything you even think might have been done incorrectly and call the local newspaper!

    6. Budgets are pretty much fixed yearly. If your priorities change during the year, you're screwed til next year. Just keep doing nothing.

    I intended to jump back into the private sector last year, but the employment market sucks.

    If you really don't want to work and don't mind hanging out in a drab government facility 8 hours a day, it may just be the right career move for you.
  • All union growth has been in the public sector for the last ten years. Therefore, for unions to avoid further shrinkage, they must necessarily encourage growth in the public sector.
    -russ
  • I did a temporary stint at a local government IT shop. Some of the practices were utterly silly. For example, every single database change had to go up through the hierarchy and back down to the DBA even in a project that was not in production yet. I like databases, but that kind of red tape makes flat files look appealing. Worse yet, the DBA did little to correct others' bad schema designs (I least I think it was them, because I rarely dealt directly with them). They seemed obsessed with their goofy naming conventions rather than the structure and logic itself.

    Second, I couldn't just go and ask a specific expert a question. I had to go through the "chain of command" even for a one-time quick question. It is true that people there a long time build up buddy-buddy ties such that they go directly to each other. However, the rest have to go through the proper channels.

    If you have to depend on other people to finish their part before you finish, then you might as well find another project to work on while you wait and wait and wait for the other party to deliver their part or approval. Everybody is highly protective of their "turf" and not making political waves is given a much higher priority over getting anything real done. If you are late to finish, the penalty is usually a minor chewing out (unless a critical system), but if you make your uppers look bad, watch out!

    Before you start work with a gov entity, rip out the part of your brain that likes to see real progress on real projects, for you will never use it, or get into trouble when you do. You have to be happy to go with the flow and navigate the maze of politics and rot-heads it contains.

    Perhaps they can't fire you for complaining about stupidity, but they can make your life miserable if you piss them off. Also, there were hints of people being framed so as to get rid of them. Thus, officially you cannot be fired for complaining about bad practices, but in practice you probably can if framed or they find some small infraction on your part that they can use against you (sexual joke, surfing slashdot, changing official desktop settings, etc.). Remember, they know how to "use" the system, and that includes aiming the system's barrel at you. If not canned, then at least moved to a closet or a Siberia-like working environment.

    The stress is not relentless technical deadlines, but dealing with relentless politics and silly obstacles. Maybe other places are different, but from the grapevine it appears that my experience is not unique.

    One other thing: it can be difficult to get hired on in the government. The hiring system favors interns and graduates because newbies are less of a career threat to union members. Thus, it is rigged against age and experience. I am surprised that there has not been huge lawsuits over this.

    You have been warned. You may get a paycheck and benefits, but leave your soul at the door.
  • Private-sector, duh! Anything with the word "government" in it means incompetence, mismanagement and waste. $300 toilet seats and $200 keyboards, maybe they should spend more on procurement management and analysis instead of throwing money at problems.

    As for working conditions in government jobs: lower pay, lower morale, less flexibility and more paperwork and bureaucracy than typical equivalent private enterprise jobs. Then again, some big businesses are run as horribly as governments.
    • "Anything with the word "government" in it means incompetence, mismanagement and waste."

      Lunar landing.
      Rural electrification.
      Cure for polio.
      Fighting back the Nazis.
      The atom bomb.
  • There are assholes and idiots pretty much everywhere you go, so the more important question is: "Of the places I've seen and interviewed, at which one would I be the most comfortable, happiest, and productive?" Remember, interviews go both ways, so be sure to ask enough questions to ensure you are making the right choices. And the hardest thing: only you are qualified to make those choices, we can't make them for you.
  • by Baldrson (78598)
    Being asked whether one wishes to expand jobs in the public or the private sector is a Zen Koan-like question to which one should answer "Mu" [ic.ac.uk]. I used to think private sector expansion was the answer [geocities.com]. I even got some NASA-reform legislation passed toward this end [geocities.com]. After that experience with the political process and public sector I realized the problem was due to the fact that taxation on anything other than net assets was distorting society at all levels [geocities.com]. This led to my realization that government is a hypocritical protection racket which may as well be a criminal gang [geocities.com].

    Finally I realized memetic systems defining reinsurance networks in terms of kin-selection were the most natural way to make stable technological civilizations [clanarchy.com] because other memetic systems (those that deny the importance of kin-selection) merely evolve hypocrisy at an unconsciuos genetic level rendering rational thought, communication and action nonviable.

  • 1) Public sector is inherently cyclical -- every time there's an election, funding changes.


    2) Public sector jobs are subject to the whims of the voter. A few years back, EVERY California state employee got an across the board pay cut. (I think it was 10%).


    3) There are little or no metrics to measure performance of public sector. Combined with employee unions, this means everybody gets the same raises, regardless of competence.


    Bottom line: If you are competent, you'll do better in the private sector. If you are incompetent, you'll do better in the public sector.


    A few years ago at a job fair, the recruiter for the state of Oregon came out of her booth and tried to drag me back to apply for a job. "Wouldn't you like to work for the state?" she asked. "I'd love to, but I'd have to take a 50% pay cut to do so!" I replied. This was literally true, since at the time I was making twice as much as a contractor as the state was willing to pay me.

  • I'm a young person. I took the first good job i could get when I re-entered the workforce after college. When you are a recent grad, apply to all industries, not just one. YOu can always move on later when you have a lot of experience.

    I could move on now (3 years total experience now) but I love my job, it pays well, and it's very secure (as far as private industry goes).

  • I have worked in both the public and the private sector in the UK and Europe, and I have to say that both have their advantages and disadvantages.

    However, one thing I do believe is that, at least in Europe, the competition for public sector jobs is much higher than the private sector, and the standards are much higher.

    You wouldn't believe what you have to go through to get a graduate level job in Brussels at the European headquarters. Microsoft like to boast about how difficult their selection process is, but I bet it's not half as difficult as the EUs process. I didn't get past the first hurdle.

    The first step is an exam which is incredibly difficult. I consider myself quite intelligent, and got a good degree from a good university, but it was the hardest exam I have ever taken. I don't know what my score was but I doubt it was above 40%.

    Then you have to do written and oral exams in two different european languages, and you are expected to be fluent in both of them.

    Only after that do you come to the interviews, and then I think there were a couple more stages after that.

    I eventually got a job in uk government, but for that I was competing against 200 others for a single position.

    I have to say that getting a job with a fortune 500 IT company was very much easier.
  • I worked at NASA/GSFC [nasa.gov] from 1995-1999, doing solar physics and operating an instrument [stanford.edu] on board SOHO [nasa.gov]. When I started looking for a more permanent, 100% science position, I got offered a ``hard money'' civil service position at Goddard.

    ``Hard money'' is the career goal of most young scientists, regardless of field. Those two words mean that your salary is paid regardless of what you do. A traditional way to get hard money is to work through the university system and become a tenured professor somewhere. The other main way is to become a civil servant at a government research lab. Once you're in, you're in. As a scientist, you're essentially bulletproof: it's very hard to fire a civil servant, especially one with as nebulous a set of responsibilities as a scientist carries.

    But there are drawbacks too. With the security of a government job come responsibilities ranging from the trivial (such as not being allowed to eat the free doughnuts at a meeting) to the ludicrous (I went to a meeting held at the 1998 eclipse site on the island of Guadaloupe. My civil service friends were required to book hotels 25 miles away to save a few bucks a night -- but then they discovered that their hotel was on another island!) to the onerous (e.g. it's difficult to travel, get equipment, or hire help).

    I ended up taking a ``soft money'' position at a nonprofit research institute. The downside is that I have to find sources of income (grants) to support myself. The upside is that when I want a book, I buy it; when there's a meeting I should attend, I go to it; and if I have an idea for a new instrument or analysis technique, I can just implement it. Management is very supportive.

    Civil service is great -- but on the other hand, the people who are most attracted to it are the people who value security above opportunity. That fosters a CYA culture and makes it difficult to get things done (such as science). Although tenure and absolute job security in principal make it possible to explore unpopular-but-important ideas (and many civil servants are very productive!), they also make it possible to relax into a not-very-productive rut.

    The entrepreneurial spirit of soft-money research labs, ironically, makes it easier to have (some kinds of) bold ideas, simply because you have to do something to keep yourself going. That small-but-significant frisson of worry about the future keeps people on their toes and thinking creatively. Ordinary entrepreneurs must get it in spades.

  • "Private" & "public" are not monoliths or monocultures. I've seen very good work conditions in both sectors - nice people, challenging work, reasonable rewards, good work environment; and very sucko conditions in both sectors - dominated by people scamming to get by without honestly doing much that's useful. On the sucko side, the most ambitious scam artists gravitate to the private sector until they have advanced far enough there to get elected or appointed into the higher levels of the public sector. Folks scamming the public sector at the lower levels are lazy, not greedy - so if you can stay out of the departments where they predominate you're cool. And most public institutions have some departments that, locally speaking, are good places. Keep your ear to the ground and you can transfer into them, especially once they recognize your own attitude is good, so you'll be a fit.

    On the private sector side, if you want less stress, choose your industry wisely. A friend switched from investment banking to insurance here in NYC, and, guess what, insurance is still the same old lazy industry it's been for centuries, quite resembling the ideal government backwater, for those attracted to such locales.

  • WRONG question (Score:3, Informative)

    by ellem (147712) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <25melle>> on Thursday September 05, 2002 @03:39PM (#4201990) Homepage Journal
    The RIGHT question is:

    How the Hell am I ever going to get a job?
  • by david_thornley (598059) on Thursday September 05, 2002 @05:55PM (#4202942)
    In my experience, there isn't enough difference
    to justify saying "private only" or "public
    only". In the public sector, you've got a lesser
    chance of losing your job, and you won't get rich.
    Everything else is up to the people and the
    politics.

    Yes, I've worked with people who should never have
    been promoted in the public sector, and were
    essentially unfireable. I've also worked with
    people who were unfireable due to office politics,
    or because they got the company started with
    massive code-and-test efforts to get mostly
    usable (although undocumented) software.

    I've seen both private and public shops where
    the bosses were power-hungry idiots in it for their
    own ego, and where they were good guys and worked
    hard at letting people do their best. Ditto with
    shops where you couldn't get anything new and
    shops where you could get new stuff and experiment.

    So, I'd suggest that you keep your mind open, and
    learn about each individual workplace, assuming
    you can get a choice in this job market. Avoid
    workplaces where there are large numbers of Dilbert
    cartoons on the walls, since they are probably
    there for a reason. Avoid workplaces where there
    are none, since then management probably had to
    ban them.

"In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." -- Thomas Jefferson

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