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Life Skills Blog
Econometrics to Tax Accounting to Guiding
By Ned Drinker '76
April 30, 2021
Tags Life Skills
As you enter the world of work, prepare for what you see as your direction, but be ready to adapt and pivot. The ability to do this is the hallmark of your excellent Hamilton liberal arts education.
When I graduated from Hamilton in 1976 with a major in economics, I was pretty sure that I wanted to pursue a career in econometrics. Econometrics applies statistical methods to economic data to give empirical content to economic relationships. Econometric models are essential to valid forecasting. A basic tool of econometrics is multiple linear regression analysis, which is fascinating to me. Econometrics is both theoretical and practical, a combination that I find very appealing. At Hamilton, I enjoyed and did well in, economics and statistics courses and was eager to pursue econometrics full time.
Graduating from Hamilton, I applied for jobs in econometrics everywhere, with no success, because of a lack of experience, a Ph.D., or both. In survival mode, I worked at a variety of jobs: from delivering circulars door-to-door, to tax preparation, to coaching high school rowing. You name it, I did it. To increase my marketability to the business world I got an M.B.A. at Temple and applied everywhere, again.
Finally, I received a good job offer from the New Jersey Department of Health as an econometrician. Eureka! With a professional career starting soon, my girlfriend and I started thinking about getting married. Everything was working out. Then, boom! The day I was to start my “real” job, I received a call from my new boss that the governor had just eliminated my job! “I’m really sorry, but don’t bother coming in.” Back to survival mode.
Of the many jobs for which I had interviewed, I was always able to find work in tax, and I liked it, so I decided to go with it. If there was no future for me in econometrics, I would make one in tax accounting, even though this was not my original plan. I started with an entry-level job at the IRS and prepared tax returns on the side. Soon, after promotions at the IRS, I was offered a job in the tax department of a large chemical specialty company headquartered in suburban Philadelphia. Now, I had good benefits and a promising career path! I married, started a family and completed a master of taxation degree at Villanova for which my employer paid.
The work of a tax accountant is a daily slog of deadlines, research, writing, dealing with your own company management and subordinates, and communicating respectfully, and effectively, with governmental tax authorities. Organization is essential. Tax is an occupation that requires technical knowledge, but, most of all, finesse. Tax knowledge cannot be faked; you either know what you are talking about or you are toast, and you learn the hard way.
Tax accounting is an excellent career. There is always work, if you are diligent and conscientious. However, if you are interested in a career in tax, get into it early. The best path to follow is: accounting major, public accounting firm, C.P.A., managerial tax employment. The path I took: non-accounting major, staff tax employment, aster of taxation (no C.P.A.), managerial tax employment, is the wrong way to go. It is very difficult to get the C.P.A. credential if you don’t start with a public accounting firm right out of college, because you need to work for a public accounting firm just to obtain the requisite experience to even sit for the C.P.A. exam. Public accounting firms want young strivers to do the grunt work for them; preferably single, 20-somethings of whom they can demand 80 hours a week at the least possible cost. Public accounting firms do not want young marrieds with babies who cannot commit 110 percent to the firm. They won’t even consider hiring you. Trust me, I tried. So, you end up swimming upstream the rest of your career, trying to make up for the one credential that you need most, but cannot obtain later in life.
In 2018, I retired as the U.S. corporate tax manager of a private secure printing company after a tax career spanning 40 years. Successfully managing the tax function, including dozens of high-value audits, I was also a leading member of the local Tax Executives Institute chapter and served on a national IRS committee fostering the national transition to e-filing.
Retired from traditional employment and recovering from long-delayed knee replacement surgery from a soccer injury I sustained playing soccer at Hamilton, I was ready for a new chapter. I started reading family diaries from the 18th and 19th centuries and curating a 5,000-piece postcard collection that my grandmother had amassed in 1905, when she was nine, while housebound with pneumonia. As I worked with those original sources, I immediately realized that I had to get a handle on my family tree, so I populated a genealogy program to keep the names, dates, and relationships straight. At the same time, I took courses in paleography, so I could decipher the handwriting in the diaries and the postcards. By this time, I was hooked on history which had become my true north.
With this new direction, I started working for a walking tour operator in the historic section of Philadelphia, “America’s most historic square mile.” That interest has morphed into representation on the tour web-platform, ToursByLocals.com and the formation of my own business, FirstPersonTours.com. With the semiquincentennial (250th) anniversary of the country and soccer's World Cup happening in 2026, the future of tourism in the Philadelphia area is looking very bright!