I just read Sacha Chua's "On programming as a career" post and had to stop what I was doing and write about it.
I understand the feelings that went into her post. I've been trying to strike a new career path for myself -- something with more of a human element. The thing that thrills me is computer automation, especially applied to design processes, data processing and administration. The thrill has two sources. The first is from overcoming the challenge of making the automation succeed. The second is from seeing smiles when my coworkers experience the relief that comes from knowing they don't have to repetitively point and click through several silly menus to accomplish something.
My ideal Masters Degree would be in "The Automation of Computers to Make Life Easier For the Poor People Who are Stuck Using Them."
It doesn't have to involve computers, actually. I plan to involve them in my career path only because I believe I can make more money in a field that incorporates them. I could be nearly as happy serving as an efficiency expert, helping people to live better.
Suppose someone is intent on making a fried egg for breakfast before going to work. I might suggest that she take the eggs and butter out of the refrigerator first thing in the morning. Then after she has showered and is ready to cook, the eggs aren't as cold and will cook more quickly and will be less inclined to stick. And the butter will be soft enough to spread easily.
But I've learned that not everyone likes being told how to do something. If my wife has any say in the matter, I would be better off staying out of her kitchen and woking on a computer.
How would this play out on a computer? Well, if I knew someone who enjoyed instant messaging with friends on different servers and who liked to keep up with a few RSS feeds, I might suggest they use Miranda IM, the Swiss Army Knife of IM clients. It can work with ICQ, AIM, MSN, YIM, IRC, Jabber and GoogleTalk. Plus there are numerous add-ons, one of which can make it report feed updates. And it's Open Source. The only reasons it's not today's killler app are that it lacks marketing push and it doesn't require a hardware upgrade to run it.
Anyway, good luck to Sacha, and to myself. If you have any advice for either of us, let me know!