Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Cost for the Unemployed of Keeping Current

[In this post we discuss a strategy for someone who is unemployed in the field of computer animation who chooses to stay in the field by staying current, in other words, by waiting out whatever the current down in the industry and be available when it goes back up.  This may be a reasonable strategy for several reasons including the fact that both the entertainment industry and our economy in general is subject to vast variations in employment at various times.  Strategy 2, which is to exit the industry by retraining can be found here.]

draft / being rewritten 

Let us imagine that for one reason or another you end up taking an “unexpected career hiatus”. As many as 30 percent of the American adult population is taking such a hiatus right now. (1) Or suppose, you just get bored, or your old industry has gone away (say for example you were a photographer), and you are thinking of entering a new field. Or maybe you just want to take your existing skills and do something else with them, something worthwhile.

Even if you are not planning to do this, you might want to think about it anyway, because it might not be your choice. Someone might decide that you are no longer valuable and there are no positions for you in the field you formerly were in. Possibly even a field you helped invent. Don't think it could happen to you? Of course, you are exempt, I am quite sure.   Ahem.

Well of course a TED talk on the subject would advise you to “reinvent yourself” or perhaps that you must “think outside the box”. Whatever the fuck that means.  We will have some out of the box thinking later on this post, perhaps.

But back here in the real world, if you get whacked by the free market system and are left hanging without visible means of support, there are a variety of things I think that you will have to do to get back on board. The point of this and future posts is to indicate a few practical things that you can do to reenter a field, or enter a new field, and what such things will cost.

Of course we are not going to discuss the real costs of being forced to find a new career which would include the opportunity costs, the mistake of choosing one field over another, and so forth. Those costs are unknowable. No, I am just talking about the out-of-pocket costs of going forward. In the case of computer animation, this means such things as keeping up with current work, appearing at conferences, being an active member of professional societies, finding and maintaining an affiliation, constructing a marketing image, possibly learning current tools and demonstrating new work, whether production oriented (e.g. a film or real time animation) or research (e.g. research in the form of a publishable paper), or possibly a patent.

In this post we are just going to discuss the out-of-pocket costs of attending various conferences and professional meetings. All the other concerns will be for later posts.  This post  is just about attending specific events so that you can stay informed, be seen by and talk to other members of your field, and meet new members.

Furthermore, I am going to do something else that is all-too-rare on the internet, I am going to speak from personal experience. This is what certain things costs, because in my experience, this is what they cost. You may get a better deal, good for you. You may have friends who live in that part of the world who will put you up at their house and drive you around. Like I say, good for you. The rest of us will be living in cheap hotels and taking the bus and that costs money.

So now lets get down to details.  This is my list, your list will differ.  But I believe you must attend conferences of this type regularly, perhaps not every year, but often enough to be seen as a member of the community that each of these events represent.  But there are certainly other conferences, and there are other ways to achieve some of this without attending an expensive conference. Generally though these other options are ways to mitigate the effects of not attending these conferences.  In other words, if you had the money, and you certainly have the time, then you should just go to the conference.

If you are trying to be in this field of computer animation, then I would advise you to attend the following conferences: SIGGRAPH, NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), CIC/IS&T (color conference), HPA (Hollywood Post Alliance), Domefest and at least one or two other conferences, at least for a day. This might be the annual Game Development Conference or a conference on computational photography. These might be fields that you are thinking about participating in, but are not sure yet. You have to explore them in order to know. I would also include the currently trendy international computer animation conference, in this case FMX fits the bill.

The line items in our budget are travel, hotel, conference fees, food & incidentals, and general marketing. The former are all self-explanatory, the latter, general marketing, refers to such things as personal appearance, business cards and so forth.

Now keep in mind, that these may not be the conferences for you. But probably, if your field is anything like mine, there are other conferences that one should substitute. Thus your costs and the details will differ on a individual basis. Of course.

One year budget.

I realize that I have left off the NVIDIA GPU annual conference which is not cheap, either.  Also I have underestimated a few of the costs and I need to check them (mostly conference fees).  So the real number is closer to $12,000 than to $10,000.

You will need to be able to spend $12,000 per year to stay in a field and try to keep current. You can get this number down, of course.  You do not have to attend every year.  Maybe you attend one set of conferences one year, and the others the year after.   That might work, its non optimal, but it might work out.

If you are working, you still have to attend some of these conferences, whatever they are. But you may not have to attend all of them, and you may be paid to attend or be invited to attend. Because you are working you are already getting certain kinds of input about your field that the unemployed do not get. Access to tools, knowing what is currently going on, etc. It may be that you send yourself to one or two of these (or different) conferences anyway as insurance or as professional development.

My point is, although you may be unemployed and cash short, you still have out of pocket that you must spend every year if you hope to work in that field again. 

These costs are on top of all your other costs of course.  Such as rent, food, power and other minor things like that.  Your car payments and car insurance, for example.

And how many years should you plan to do this for?  Well, that is up to you and fate I suppose.  But realistically, one year is too optimistic.  I would plan on 3-5 and of course this could go on until you give up and go away.

If you are a consultant, whatever that means, then I would plan on spending this indefinitely.

The point is that, if you have no money, and you can not attend these conferences or do some of the other things we will discuss in later posts, then you are probably dead and can not be in these fields.

My recommendation under those circumstances is to do what the free market and our government says you should do: go fuck yourself and die.  Its the only option that society has for you.  Too bad, you lost, and no one cares.

For those of us concerned about policy decisions, we should not expect those who are unemployed and have no money to be able to get productively employed in the future. That would be unrealistic.  There are no programs to help such people, nor is unemployment insurance more than a joke.  Social Security disability might be on option, if you have a disability.

Unfortunately, being born poor is not seen as a disability by the Social Security Administration.


1. No one knows the real numbers.  The formal unemployment numbers do not include those who are unemployed longer than 18 months, nor does it include those who are working at the grocery store because they can not get employed in the field they are qualified for and which generally pays much more.  They are not included in the stated unemployment rate nor are they included in any other formal metric that I am aware of.

Opportunity Cost on Wikipedia

Color Imaging Conference / IS&T

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