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Would you consider this government job if you were me?

Here's the deal...from someone who has never worked in government (previously laid off from a Telecom Eqpt Manufacturer followed by leaving another small company when they didn't make payroll).

Right now:

1) Working for a large defence contractor.
2) Making around 100K + Overtime (time & a half after 37.5 hrs) + Bonus (~5% a year). Overtime pushes things into the 140K-150K level.
3) Steady work outlook for next 2-3 years...after that...big unknowns as several large programs wind down.
4) Yearly raises are reasonable (3-6%).
5) Promotions into management (not eligeable for OT) would yield a base salary equivalent to my current salary + OT. Directors and onwards get significant pay and bonus opportunities.
6) Currently working as a Senior Dev
7) Experience here is very transferrable to other industries.
8) Job, recognition from upper mgmt, and company is good...but concerned about business outlook down the road.

Government job:

1) Permanent staff engineer type job. Near iron-clad guarantee of job security for life.
2) Mix of Project Management/Systems Engineering/Software Developement...with an emphasis on the first two.
3) Salary + Allowance ranges from 95-110K.
4) Overtime (time & a half/double time) starts after 37.5 hrs a week.
5) There is one more level above the one I'd be hired into (that is OT eligeable) and it ranges from 100-120K. After that, progression into management (director/director-general) is certain to be a salary cut (no OT...base doesn't increase much beyond this).
6) Work is potentially much more interesting and varied compared to current job...but obviously not a the level of cutting-edge development in private industry.
7) There is no concept of performance based get paid the same as complete idiots who cannot be fired unless convicted of criminal offences or something totally outrageously over-the-top.
8) May be difficult...but not break out of this role if I wanted to consider a private industry job after some years here.

What would you do in my position?
Hard Donkey
Friday, May 30, 2008
The thing about government jobs is that you have to adjust your time scale. Getting things done isn't necessarily a goal for any government project. Things will get done, but things will likely move quite a bit slower than in the business world. Some people can't adjust to that.
Friday, May 30, 2008
The key question, I'd think, is how important is job security for you.  Are you very risk averse?  Are you married?  Kids?  Does your wife work?

If you're thinking about the potential for less work in a few years and lying awake nights as a result, that's very different from the situation where the prospect of needing to look for something else in a few years is exciting.

It sounds like the other positive part of the government job is the opportunity to work on more interesting technology.  Are there other ways to get that opportunity?  Pushing to use a new technology for some small task at your current job?  A personal side project?  Going to grad school?

Bottom line for me is that if you feel like you'd be closing yourself off from future opportunities by taking the government job, I'd try to find a different way to get the things that make that job appealing.  Unless you really need the job security.
jacobm Send private email
Friday, May 30, 2008
How about retirement benefits?  I know of a lot of Govt jobs that pay for your health insurance for life after you have completed 10 years of service.  That may not be so important to you now but eventually it will be.  Govt jobs may not pay into social security but have a separate retirement plan and a very good pension after 20 years.  If you are 25 now, you could quit when you are 45 and take another job to build up a second pension so when you hit 67 you have 2 full pensions paying out.
Me2 the Sql Send private email
Friday, May 30, 2008
I concur with the comments above.  In general, with a government job you will be trading a higher salary and lots of advancement opportunities for a 40 hour work week, a relaxed pace of work, and excellent retirement benefits.

It just depends on what you need in your situation.  I personally prefer government work.  It means more time with family, more security, great benefits, and a fairly stress free environment.  That's fine with me in exchange for a (sometimes significantly) lower salary.  (Although, in my experience, federal jobs pay better than state, so the salary might then not be quite the issue.)
Friday, May 30, 2008
Benefits are a big thing here.  The benefits at many government jobs far exceed private companies.  Sometimes this can mean thousands of dollars each year of hidden salary, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars each year of potential retirement funds.

I worked in government and personally loved it.  But really, only you can answer whether that extra 20-40k salary hit is worth it.

Good luck in whatever you choose
Erich Weiss
Friday, May 30, 2008
I'd never work for the government, merely because of all the reasons.  Not to mention I have an axe to grind with any shop that doesn't pay according to skill & performance.  And you are correct, you have to be convicted of a criminal act before you can get fired, and the idea of downsizing is non-existent.  Heck even if a program gets closed, they just move everybody to another position.

If you want to be fat and lazy, take the government job.  If you want to work on things you can be proud of, with people whom you (might be able to) call your equals and you are rewarded for your hard work, stay in the business sector.

I just can't stand working for/with idiots, the private sector is bad enough but the government?  No thanks!
TravisO Send private email
Friday, May 30, 2008
>> Govt jobs may not pay into social security but have a separate retirement plan and a very good pension after 20 years.

At least in New York, government jobs have a very generous pension plan.  Of course the only catch with pensions is that it's not your money, so they can change the rules at their whim.
TravisO Send private email
Friday, May 30, 2008
Ambiguity -- State vs. Federal Government Job.

From your posting, it sounds like Federal, not State.

Were I you, I'd go for the Government job.  Once the Democrats get in, and get out of Iraq, and start downsizing the military again, the demand for over-the-top ($150K?  Seriously?) Defense Contractors will drop like it did in the 1990's.  You want to be on the Government side when that happens.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Oh, and if you're working for a "large defense contractor", you ARE working for the Federal Government, if at one or more steps removed.  Taxpayers pay your salary, is what I'm saying.
Friday, May 30, 2008
I've started working in govt about three years ago after about 8 years in the private sector, always doing dev work. Govt has lots of perks and lots of downfalls, most of which have already been discussed.

Couple things I wanted to point out:

1) The pension you will likely get will be great, IF you stay  until you retire. If you only stay 5-10 years, then you better have been saving into a 401k or something because the pension will not be that valuable. The reason for this is that lets say you quit the govt after 10 years, say making 150k and let's say you're 40 at the time. After 10 years depends on your plan but you might be eligible for 25% of your pay, which would be 25% of your CURRENT pay 150k and you can't collect any of that until say 60-65. So you'll be eligible for 150k*25% = 37.5k when you're 60-65, which by that time will be worth alot less since it's not indexed for inflation. Most pensions are indexed for inflation, but usually not until after you actually retire.

The other thing is that due to the govt pension windfall act, you will reduce any social security benefits you receive by 50% of any govt pension you're receiving. So if you do collect 37.5k then your social security will be reduced by 18.75k per year, which means you'll probably get no social security.

So basically, pensions are great if you stay until you retire. If you don't then you better have another plan to fall back onto.

2) The other thing that you already know, but really understand this... you will likely be working with a bunch of morons... since nobody ever gets fired, the worst of the bunch, which would never be able to get a job anywhere else, ALWAYS STAY! The smart people who get hired either stay and put up with the BS because they like the benefits or because they CAN get a job elsewhere, they eventually leave. It's like a self cleansing system, but instead of constantly getting better, it's constantly getting worse.

Those morons will likely be making at least if not more $$ than you, they will get better benefits and have more pull with supervisors. It is extremely frustrating.

That said, you have to decide if it is right for you. I was and am still very frustrated with most of the people I have to work with, but I love the relaxed no pressure environment. The money is good and benefits are amazing.
Friday, May 30, 2008
When I was a young newb right out of college I used to say "I'd never work for the government".  Now that I have gotten older I can see definite benefits to it.

If you are geek-fashion conscious you won't want to go government be cause all of the other geeks say you shouldn't.  But if you are a free thinker and don't answer to the fashion whims of the automaton geek army, AND you really want a more comfortable life with less risks then go for it.

Do what YOU want to do.
Friday, May 30, 2008
One thing to consider, if Obama is elected taxes are going sky high so the difference between 95k and 150k isn't going to be all that much especially if 100k+ is considered wealthy.

 I'd worry about government pensions being cut sometime in the future though, considering the government currently spends 770 billion on pensions a year.  If Obama embarks on a  "New Deal" 2.0 I would expect some serious cuts to pensions 20 years down the road.
Good Luck
Friday, May 30, 2008
I am currently at a government contract as a contractor.  When you get on-site it is impossible to believe anything can be as bad as people say - but it is worse in many cases.  Here is what I have observed and speaking with other people more familiar with government contracts this is the norm.  Imagine the worst of Dilbert and you are just touching the surface.

- The head of IT has been in government for 27+ years.  She is the one making purchasing decisions and setting strategic direction.  She does not own a computer or have an external email address.  She does not buy on-line, and she has the web monitor set so tight you can forget about using the Internet. No IM. No webmail.  Then to ensure you cannot possibly reach the outside, no non-government equipment permitted in the building without a specific exception.  This will be your organizational leader as the rule - not the exception.
- Change is glacial.  Two weeks I did nothing because they could not allocate a machine for me to access the network, until I had a badge.  To get the machine, a form needed to be signed by my boss, his boss, her boss, and his boss.  My boss walked it around, and was told that was inappropriate, and it still took 4 hours.  Then it went to the help desk who took 9 business days to process and deliver the equipment. Deliver in this case meant coming to my desk and providing a user id and password to  a machine sitting there.  To install software requires you to have an exception form filed.  Another round of 4 signatures in my department, one from security, one from the helpdesk and one from a person who no one can explain except they need to sign the exception form - six days.  Complain or bother anyone about a request and it will disappear. Petty is an understatement.
 - It is true that no one gets fired.  But worse,  making decisions is career limiting.  The solution is to ensure you never do anything of risk.  What you want is to be tied into a project you can claim some responsibility with, if it goes well, and disavow any relationship if it fails. 
- No _one_ makes any decisions because there is safety in numbers - very large numbers.  All decisions are by committee and expect it to take weeks.  They spent 12 weeks, with a minimum of six people in nearly 20 meetings discussing a database key.  One key.  It is an extreme example but that it can happen says it all.
 - If you take any type of leadership position and do anything that employees do not like - they submit a grievance.  Why?  Because while one is pending, they cannot do anything to you, include request work, or deny automatic or scheduled promotions in grade.  A 25 year developer? here has had a grievance on her various leaders, continuously for over 12 years.  She is proud of it. "They don't tell me what to do!"
 - Write off leaving government.  You can always leave right?  Wrong.  Would you hire someone from an environment that fosters the behavior above?  With very few exceptions, spend more than a year or two as a "gov-e" and you can kiss the private sector good bye. Who would want this behavior and if it took you more than a year to figure out you should quit, that says volumes.

Unless you want to do what you are being hired to do for the next 20 years, with 2.5% annual increases in pay, bosses who make no decisions and run the same technology for decades - run away.
Friday, May 30, 2008
A prime example of the type of person you will be working with. Again, I work for the govt and recently got promoted. There is one other person at my agency with my new title. As part of promotion, they are requiring that I get a certain Microsoft certification. I talked to the other person with my same title if he was planning on getting the same certification, since he didn't have it and they had just amended the job description to require the MS cert.

I asked him just so I could see if we could possibly share study materials and whatnot.

He responded that he wasn't planning on getting the certification because they couldn't force him to get it since it wasn't in the job description when he got hired AND he explained that I am young and he since is older he is planning on just "coasting" till retirement.

The thing is, he doesn't look that old. I asked him how long until he could retire? He said 18 YEARS!

He plans on coasting for the next 18 years!

And yes, plan on every single decision to be made by committees and groups. They will often be filled with people who have no idea what you're talking about. At my agency when we need to fill a committee for anything, it's pretty much just putting warm bodies in a seat. They don't care if they are remotely qualified to help decide whatever we're trying to decide.
Friday, May 30, 2008
"The thing is, he doesn't look that old. I asked him how long until he could retire? He said 18 YEARS!"


I hope he was pulling your leg.

The sad part is, he probably wasn't.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Don't take a government job unless you like taking personal initiative, or no initiative ever.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Don't count on the job security so much.  The government reorganizes just like any other company.  You can be "rif'd" (reduction in force).  Most likely you'll have to serve a probationary period when you're hired as well.  You can be terminated fairly easily during this period and won't have much recourse unless they violated EEO law or did some prohibited personnel practices (age discrimination, etc.)

Imagine a job where your boss and peers are complete idiots.  If you don't have the attitude to shrug it off and join the crowd you might get ostracized for being one of those guys that like to work (Freak!).  Bye-bye federal employment, for fscking up the curve and making everyone else look bad.

This article provides some really good insight into how people in the government are, I believe (  You get the cream of the crop that think they made a great choice being with the government.  Then you get the other 95% that just want to coast until retirement (as another poster mentioned).  Eventually, that "cream" either sours, or moves out.

This may sound cynical, but its reality.  You can get this type of environment with *any* company.  With a private sector company its usually restricted to management though, and if it gets really bad they fire people.  In the government it’s a way of life with some organizations.

If you stay in the private sector you'll have more flexibility to move around between jobs and move up the ladder.  Hiring can take forever in government jobs, and regardless of anything you read, in *some* cases its based on the good old boys club, just like private sector jobs can be.  If you want to make those upper management and decision making levels you literally will have to wait until someone dies or retires (and will find yourself wishing the former upon them).

You mention cutting edge.  Certainly not a word I'd use to describe the federal government.  If you're comfortable working with tools and saying "Oooh, I read about that....5 years ago", go ahead with the federal job.

Regarding performance based pay--the government has it.  You show up, you get paid.

And the idiots convicted of criminal offenses?  If the offense doesn't have an impact on their job it almost doesn't matter (exception would be if the position required a clearance that they lost).  Got a DUI last weekend? No problem.  Like to smack the wife around every couple of months? Take some annual leave until she bails you out.

Screw a government job.  I vote for staying where you're at.  And if you've got any spots open, please let me know.
Jay Send private email
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Maybe we need a "true stories of government IT" topic.

I worked as a consultant to a government agency on a project that involved building an interface between two systems:  the legacy system, a DOS app written in COBOL that had been in use for 18 years, and the new system, a Windows app written in VB3.  Yes, 3.

Why not rewrite the COBOL app, instead of working around its limitations?  I asked that, back when the project budget was $300,000, and was told that would be far too expensive, and take far too long.

The planning phase of this project started in 2003.  I worked on it for about a year.  The methodology was to get everyone on the project - the government agency reps, the user community reps, the contractors, and the software vendors - on a two-hour conference call and walk through the functionality of the system in mind-numbing detail.

After a year of getting paid $150/hour to play FreeCell, I decided that anything was better.  I quit.  I moved to another city.  I didn't hurry to find a job; I wasn't particularly interested in anything.  I relearned C++ and learned enough ASP.NET to not embarrass myself. I spent a few months seeing if I'd be a good fit at my friends' game-software company before deciding not.  When my savings started to run out I took a consulting job in a non-government industry I'd never worked on before.

In 2007, I was contacted by a government-systems VAR who'd been working with another agency.  This agency wanted a system like the DOS COBOL app, only they wanted it soon, and they wanted it presented to them as a product they could buy rather than an in-house application developed by consultants.  Oh, and they use the VB3 app too, and we had to interface with it.

So, we formed a company, did a formal requirements-gathering process, and I built an application platform that could implement all of those requirements.  I got the interface working just fine.  The system's going into parallel testing at the agency, hm, looks like sometime after next Monday.  Another agency has already contracted with us.  A third has asked us for a meeting.  We don't even have a web site yet.  So I'm cautiously optimistic.

The original project?  Well, they've spent $4,000,000 to date, we've been told.  The software they've got is laden with defects, not least of which is because they weren't able to change the technical architecture, an essential process that takes my software 4-10 seconds takes theirs 20-30 minutes.  They're still having their two-hour, 20-person meethings, though.  Because why tamper with success?
Robert Rossney Send private email
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Well, you're working for a large defense contractor, so you're working for criminals already.  I'd stick with the criminals you're with, you can steal *much* more from the Treasury that way.
Tom Ritchford Send private email
Saturday, May 31, 2008
I've avoided government jobs because of stories like those above and I prefer to be compensated on my merits rather than some generalized scale. I avoid unions for the same reason.

However, I've recognized that government jobs do offer security and pensions... something you cannot get anymore in the private sector.

Lately though, since 2005's popping of the housing bubble, and the economic indicators shaking out of that, I've changed my view point. It is becoming obvious that the deficit spending gluttony has gone on too long. The dollar is collapsing. Our government and nation have big changes ahead. We're either going to see oppressive tax hikes, massive cuts in spending (involuntary, not selected by politicians) or both.

Look into what's happening with the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation. Look at the Fed's capital reserves. Look at the USA's account balance. Look at the price of oil.

Recessions are not fun. When unemployment rises, it can be tough on anyone. But I think this one is going to be a bit different than what we've seen in our lifetimes and I think government jobs are no longer going to be safe places to hide.
Scott Sullivan Send private email
Saturday, May 31, 2008
If you have no pride or sense of self worth, by all means go work for the government.

Craig Welch Send private email
Sunday, June 01, 2008
One of my job offers was with the government. Something didn't sit right with me knowing that my salary partially depended on the idiots in Congress.
MoffDub Send private email
Sunday, June 01, 2008
There's really no way to decide which job to take. You might like it, you might hate it. And that depends more on who your immediate supervisor is and the kind of work you're able to do. I wouldn't expect that you'll be able to focus on your primary interests or work -- much of your time will be hijacked by meetings of no consequence, by sensitivity and security training (over and over again, and again, and again), none of which will really make a difference to anything you do. Government is becoming more and more "regimented", meaning that there are more procedures to follow than ever. But not to worry, most of these aren't really followed anyway because it simply wouldn't be possible to do so. You'll find the same inanities in large private or public companies for the most part, at least that's what I've been told by friends who have worked at major corporations. If you're passionate about a specific area of work, like say you were a virus researcher, unless you get into a very specific research position at NIH for example, you will soon be doing things that have nothing to do with your specialty. I'm a computer engineer by education, software developer by choice, and that is what I was hired for -- web development. What I'm actually doing now is workforce analysis and other odd stuff that has nothing to do with software development. After 20 years in government, most computer type stuff is outsourced / contracted out, and it is highly frowned upon for a civil servant to be writing code for the most part. (How we're supposed to have people who have the skills to oversee the contractors if we ourselves are not doing at least some of that work, well, that's anyone's guess). The benefits are good, I think, even if you don't stay in. As long as you're in for 3 years and you max out your 401k contributions, you should be fine. The retirement pension is not at all significant -- we moved to a 401k-based retirement system back in 1986, so you will be paying into social security etc. But you can take your 401k with you when you leave, and since that's the bulk of your retirement, leaving is not difficult. There is plenty of time off, and the pay is OK. But at some point, if you drift too far away from your specialty, you will have a hard time leaving government to do that specialty, most likely.

Best of luck to you.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Hard Donkey, any chance you live in NJ?
Monday, June 02, 2008
100K is 4 times what I'm making. How can I get one of these sweet government jobs? Being an adequate developer, it also sounds like the kind of work environment I'm looking for. I prefer clients that are Amish.
Robert S. Robbins Send private email
Monday, June 02, 2008
I'm a software developer working for a state agency. The above is all true. I stay sane by doing outside contract work. I keep my skill set up that way. But I've only been in the gov a few years. I still have a private sector mentality. Of course I'm sure to lose that over time and then forget things like where I live.
Fer  Ilcat Send private email
Monday, June 02, 2008
I work for the government (5yrs) in my state in IT.  I am a very talented and skilled person but I don't have a degree so I guess they feel OK about paying me the absolute bottom of my grade.  They pay me less than half of what was mentioned on here.  I do A LOT of unchallenging work but they like the fact that they can get me to "whip up" an application if they need one.  The big wigs bring people around to ooo and ahh over some of my stuff.  It is as though it was the first time they saw somebody that actually had the skills they claimed on their resume.

I would say, be careful when interviewing for a government job.  The lower pay makes it tough to find people.  They may stretch the truth about what you will be doing, or give the job a higher grade than it deserves because they are desperate.

Am I worried about being "stuck" or having this affect my career?  You bet I am.  Especially because of the bad rap government employees have.  Not all government employees are lazy.  There are many exemplary people, especially in IT at my agency.  I am super-productive and have the portfolio to prove it.  Government or private sector, good job or bad, I work damn hard at every job, on every project.
Friday, June 06, 2008

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