4. Defense and high-tech

There's nothing more dangerous than someone who wants to make the world a better place.


Let’s take an artist’s field trip to the heart of the richest empire on earth, the US Department of Defense. With more than 2,000,000 soldiers at 900 bases worldwide – and a $721 billion annual budget – you can count on a prosperous future as a supplier to the DOD. They have money, and they need art.

Follow this – that $721 billion is the same as $721,000,000,000, ooohh. And if you make $100,000 off a DOD contract, your slice of the pie is 1/seven-millionth of the total. In other words, they could hire 7,000,000 starving artists like you at $100,000 per year – if they wanted to spend all of that $721 billion annual budget on art. Which they don’t.

Most of the money goes for large-scale weapons systems. An earlier chapter mentioned the F-35 jet fighter. Cost estimates have risen to $382 billion for 2,443 aircraft, at an average of $156 million each, over the life of the program. And you’ll notice, if you follow the news, that for all the talk about cutting the defense budget, it never happens. No layoffs, no program cancellations. At worst, workplace reduction by attrition, and maybe extending the total delivery time by a year or two.

Think about it. Even if Congress cuts the DOD budget in half (never happen, guess who the major contributers to our politicians are), that’s still $350 billion a year! Defense contracts are the gift that keeps on giving. You can spend a whole career working on only one or two big programs.

I’m not an expert on DOD employment. Had only one defense-related graphics job, many years ago, making jet fighter performance charts

when I worked for a graphics sub-contractor in New York. Had to get a Secret clearance, even for my lowly job. Nice people, boring artwork, good pay. After a few months, quit to go to work for the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency. So I can’t claim to be knowledgeable about defense contracting, and, like you, turn to the internet for my information. Here’s what I’ve found.

Military-industrial complex

The DOD is at the center of what President Eisenhower called the ‘military-industrial complex’ – an amazingly immense network of war-related corporations. Here are the top 15. Each has its own jobs website, where you can search for art-related positions:

1. Lockheed Martin Corporation – $137,967,312,775
2. Boeing Company – $90,667,864,328
3.Northrop Grumman Corporation – $63,655,238,202
4. Raytheon Company – $47,997,800,860
5. General Dynamics – $44,466,104,171
6. BAE Systems – $31,155,691,559
7. McDonnell Douglas (a subsidiary of Boeing, see above) – $24,716,669,176
8. Oshkosh Corporation – $17,252,596,993
9. Science Applications Int’l Corporation – $17,068,350,344
10. General Electric Corporation -- $11,136,982,048
11. AM General LLC $10,869,931,114
12. L-3 Communications $10,841,576,765
13. Booz Allen Hamilton, Incorporated $7,136,280,876
14. Harris Corporation $5,646,671,032
15. Navistar $4,504,607,503

Wikipedia has a list of the top 100 DOD contractors – how much they get, and for what. Great reading. And, here’s a link to a PDF of ALL those DOD contractors. So many companies!

And these are just the companies with defense contracts. The lists do not include the thousands of sub-contractors that they hire. Sub-contractors to make user manuals, to make presentations, to make training animations.

Where’s the money? Use Search > Contracts DB ...and enter ‘simulation’. Bingo! Or, ‘art’. ‘Presentation’. ‘Graphics’. But, believe me, this is only the visible tip of the iceberg. Every high-tech weapons system needs training, elearning modules, user manuals, management reports – a never-ending stream of words and images.

Artist alert! They ALL use PowerPoint presentations. Learning PowerPoint is incredibly important, though as an artist you may only be tasked to make illutrations, charts, or graphs for the presenter. Google ‘DOD presentations’ ... you’ll get 3,430,000 results. ‘DOD presentations artwork’ – 5,830,000 results. Too many! Try ‘DOD presentation graphics contracts’ and you’re down to 1,920,000 results. Again, what I want you to understand is the sheer scope, the size, of the DOD universe. And never forget that people like you are being paid to cook up all this stuff. So much work!

and another –

You can find zillions of images like this by going to Google Advanced Search, enter the name of a weapons system (like VF-22 Osprey) and, where it says ‘Search within a site or domain:’, enter ‘.mil’ to limit your search to DOD websites. Google ‘most expensive weapons systems’ or ‘large weapons systems’ to find the project names.

Modern weapons are endlessly complex. As the years go by, upkeep and repairs demand even more user manuals, graphics, and presentations. DOD budgets consistently underestimate long-term maintenance costs, and the related costs of training whoever has to perform the very difficult tasks of keeping that 20-year old nuclear carrier at sea, or the 50-year-old B-52 in the air. And it only gets worse with computerized newer equipment. “Sergeant? How do we re-program the F-18 gunsight? Isn’t there an EPROM patch somewhere on Milnet? Who’s got the Assembly Guide?”

Best area to work? Washington DC. Thousands of primary-and-sub DOD contractors. But the work’s all across the country. Here in San Diego, General Atomics is going wild building Predator drones (more user manuals, presentations, elearning, training simulations, etc.). Out in the country? Here’s a USA Jobs listing for a position 35 miles from Susanville, in northern California –

Another great resource – a list of all the DOD websites ...

Besides usajobs.gov, you can go to Indeed.com and enter ‘Graphics consultant’ and ‘Washington, DC’. Or, enter ‘Presentation specialist’ and ‘Washington, DC.’

Want something a little different? DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – represents the outside-the-box, super-interesting side of defense work. VERY interesting. Explore their website – a great place to find exciting new startup companies that, as always, need your artwork for corporate and technical communications.

Anyway! At this point, you have more than enough information to go hunting a great DOD-related position. Directly with the Federal Government, or with one of the major contractors, or with a smaller sub-contractor, or with a sub-sub-contractor. Try to find a job with tight deadlines, where your company is selling as high up the food chain as possible, like making presentations for the Joint Chiefs.

Future prospects for defense work? Excellent. Because we are dealing with something a lot deeper than politics or budgets here. Men fight. Frequently. I was born in 1944, when we were in World War II. As I write this, we’re at war in Afghanistan. I don’t think that there has been a five-year period during my lifetime that we were not at war! Korea. Vietnam. No, we fight. And for the best of reasons, like oil. Pearl Harbor, where the Japanese knocked out our fleet so that we couldn’t stop them from taking the crude in Sumatra. Or Iraq, where, at a cost of 4,500 dead, we now control the oil from Basra and the giant Majnoon field. Tore up Saddam’s contracts with the French and the Russians, by the way. And, according to the London Times, new explorations show that Iraq has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, with more than 350 billion barrels.

The future? Count on more fighting, more wars, and more large military-industrial contracts with a lot of work for artists. Guaranteed.



Here are the top ten largest technology companies in the world, ordered by their cash reserves. Why rank by cash hoard? Well, that means job security for their employees. When you have billions of dollars in the bank, it takes a long, long time to fail in the marketplace. While these companies may have defense contracts, their main income comes from civilian products and services. Links below are to their jobsites:

1. Apple
Market Capitalization: $330 billion
Cash Hoard: $76.2 billion

2. Microsoft
Market Capitalization: $201 billion
Cash Hoard: $63.7 billion

3. Cisco
Market Capitalization: $83 billion
Cash Hoard: $38.92 billion

4. Google
Market Capitalization: $158 billion
Cash Hoard: $35 billion
(and, Google jobs on the moon)

5. Oracle
Market Capitalization: $125 billion
Cash Hoard: $28.82 billion

6. Siemens
Market Capitalization: $85 billion
Cash Hoard: $13.42 billion

7. IBM
Market Capitalization: $188 billion
Cash Hoard: $11.76 billion

8. Samsung
Market Capitalization: $92 billion
Cash Hoard: $9.04 billion

9. Intel
Market Capitalization: $102 billion
Cash Hoard: $7.73 billion

10. Amazon
Market Capitalization: $81 billion
Cash Hoard: $6.3 billion

Then there’s Qualcomm, where I worked for five years as a multimedia designer, retiring in 2010. A better-run company than most, with 1/3 of its income coming from patent royalties, and a billion dollars in the bank. My division designed cell phone chips, had them manufactured in Taiwan, and sold them to cell-phone makers like Samsung and Siemens.

What does an artist do in the high-tech world? Let’s see. At Qualcomm, job titles that involved artwork:

Technical Illustrator
Graphic Artist
Conceptual Illustrator
Multimedia Designer
Marketing Communications Specialist
Elearning Developer
Technical Training Specialist

...you get the idea. Each position had a series of promotion grades, like Senior, Staff, and Senior Staff. Unlike government work, raises, bonuses, and promotions were based both on time-in-grade AND on merit. And, if a particular job was done well, the employee was awarded a Qualstar, with a gift worth about $100.

Often, Qualcomm brings new people in as temps, through an outside agency like Manpower. Or, you can come in as an independent contractor, where you are actually a sub-contractor to an approved vendor who supplies workers to the company. In any case, the game is to keep you a temp for as long as possible... no benefits. But, once hired full-time, you have a full set of health and 401K matching-fund plans. High-tech employees, like defense and pharmaceutical workers, do very well. Salaries at top-tier companies like Qualcomm are always higher than average, to attract and retain the most qualified people they can get.

I enjoyed working as a multimedia designer. Started out making intranet web pages, using HTML and Javascript... and programs like Photoshop and Illustrator to make pictures, for web pages, flyers, reports, and presentations. When a coworker became ill, I filled in as a technical writer for a few months, writing and ilustrating software documentation. Then, back to web work, as the company brought in a client-server program that let less-skilled people make canned-format websites without having to know HTML or CSS or Javascript.

Art jobs kept coming in. Presentations for scientific conferences, a cartoon animation for a vice-president with a sense of humor, breakroom posters, more animation for elearning modules, logos, artwork, flyers and posters for different engineering projects. Something different almost every week! Very enjoyable work. Had four excellent managers, who all did very well getting me the tools I needed, scheduling my work, and running interference whenever our internal ‘customers’ got too demanding. A dream job.

Is there a downside to high-tech work? Sure. The technology itself, which, by its very nature, has a rapid rate of change. The average high-tech corporation has a lifetime about the same as a housecat’s. In the start-up phase, everything’s great, the stock roars up, the money flows in. Very ambitious, entreprenurial, inventive people working really hard to bring a new product to market.

Then, after commercializing the bright idea that’s behind it all, a period of maturity. Rules and regulations, an HR department, as the company settles down. But waste creeps in; the abrasive types are weeded out and replaced by somewhat-less brilliant engineers and executives with more social skills. That’s the phase Qualcomm was in when I worked there. Really nice people, but the manic Steve Jobs-types had left years before.

At the end, the clock runs out when the management team fails to keep inventing new products – or when a new ‘submarine’ technology surfaces. Think flash drives – SanDisk – vs. the older magnetic disk drives.

100 years ago, if your product was, say, typewriters, this cycle could take 75 years to spin out (Underwood, 1874 - 1963, RIP). But not any more. In high-tech, you can get in at the start of the loop – before the IPO – gambling that you’ll make a lot of money from stock options if it all works out, risking a year or two of your career if it doesn’t. Or, you can get in after the IPO, but still near the start, when the company now has a bag of money and is growing like a weed and everybody gets promoted rapidly. Most comfortable (quieter, easier work), but more risky, is to join the firm near the end phase, where a collapse can occur without the company seeing it coming.

Some firms famously avoid the cat-lifetime cycle. IBM. General Electric. Apple. Why? Because, somehow, often in the nick of time, they re-invent themselves. New management, new energy, new products that take off and start the cycle all over again.

High-tech pay and benefits are much higher than average. These firms compete to hire the best and the brightest, and the competition filters down from executives and engineers to writers and artists. Pay scales are also regional – you’ll make a lot more in California’s Silicon Valley than in Austin, Texas. The higher pay reflects the battle to attract the best workers, but also the higher cost of living in the Bay Area.

What job to go after? Definitely Multimedia Designer (in-house company intranet work), or Elearning Developer (in-house computer-based training). Where your art skills are a secondary part of your work, very important, but not the main part. Sweet spot! These are new career paths that are rocketing upwards, with a bright future. Older standbys – marketing communications, technical writing, and technical illustration. Can’t miss here – not as exciting, but these jobs aren’t going anywhere either, except maybe to India, and you have to keep your eye on that and avoid a new employer who might ship your job to Hyderabad.

Prospects for the future – you may not have to look any further than Qualcomm Ventures portfolio list... present and past investments in smaller high-tech companies that are on the way up, and very much worth checking out for your next job. They are sorted by business sector and by region, with links to each company. Useful! The site is also a convenient look at the state of current high-tech logo design – with lots of examples to satsify your designer’s eye.

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