The other day I was catching up with one of my former mentors from the University of Pittsburgh, discussing my decision to leave science and pursue software engineering. And it hit me: I’m six years old. But not in human-years. In human-years, I’m 25. But in programmer-years? I’m six. Maybe younger. I’m a child. It’s a little scary actually; I invested a shit ton of time in the classroom and laboratory cultivating my skills as a scientist, but I’m a complete noob when it comes to recursive descent parsing or implementing test-driven development into my coding.
But then, after that realization hit me, I had another realization that hit me even harder. Finally, after wondering why I kept getting hit so hard by all these realizations, I felt relieved. I’m happy to be a six year old. You always hear people talk about the joy of being a kid again. Well, in case you’re wondering, learning how to program can definitely make you feel like one.
During my time as a scientist, I worked with a lot of good people. Really good people. They were my mentors, coworkers, classmates, and most important of all, my friends. I would never say I was happy to leave science. In fact, leaving science sucked. Big time. But I’m happier now that I have. In grad school, I started noticing this invading unhappiness in my work. It was an unhappiness inside myself, but it was intimately connected to a much larger unhappiness that was invading students, post docs, techs, everyone. Even the successful post docs (you know, 37 year-old PhDs making $45,000 per year with a successful project) chatted daily about the drag of doing science. At times it was masochistic; mostly it was genuine.
But it was impossible to avoid, the unhappiness. So I left. Handed in my lab coat and got the hell outta Dodge.
I’ve had many conversations with many of scientists regarding the current state of academic research, trying to figure out what specifically is making it all such a miserable endeavor. I have a lot of opinions on the matter. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think. If you want to read about the lack of science funding, under-paid post-docs, seventh-year grad students, scientific job openings (wait, there are job openings?) or academic dishonesty, a simple Google search will land you more than enough news articles and emotion-laden blog posts.
So, there’s no need for me to add to the corpora documenting all that’s wrong with science. It just wasn’t working out. It wasn’t putting me in a good place, physically or emotionally. So I’m moving on. And it’s been great.
In another blog post, I plan to write about Novel Sense Reader, the app I built during and after my transition out of science. It turned out to be… not terrible. But at times I felt like an undergraduate researcher trying to complete a post-doc’s project. I was learning very quickly how to do things, but not full knowing why I was doing any of it.
Once I realized Novel-Sense-Reader-as-a-start-up was not practical (and it took a while), I turned my sights to landing a job. But, remember, I’m only 6 in programmer years. So back then I was only 5! I needed to learn (a lot of) the basics to even get an interview at a tech company.
And so my sights turned once again, this time to Hack Reactor. Besides sounding slightly dangerous, Hack Reactor is a world-renowned programming “bootcamp,” designed to take engineers from some skills to all of the skills. Emphasis on world-renowned: I have classmates hailing from Canada, Italy and Australia. We are going to be Hack Reactor’s 34th cohort, and from what I can tell the course has been continually improving with each iteration (as should any good piece of software).
I’m sure I’ll write more about the program once I actually start (in October). Over the past six weeks I’ve been working on the pre-course assignments, designed to get us up to speed so we can hit the ground running on Day 1. Most of the time I feel in over my head and it continually reinforces my feeling of being 6 years old. But I’ve embraced it. Two weeks ago, I decided I should learn how to use all 10 fingers and zero eyes when typing (as opposed to my previous habit of six and two, respectively). I think I’m up to about 30 words per minute with minimal mistakes (u and i are little tricksters up there!). I’m killing it; if I can type with all 10 fingers, I just might be able to accomplish anything.
I miss science. But I’m having a blast learning how to use computers to build really cool shit. It’s possible science and I will rekindle a relationship down the road at a biotech or start up. For now though, I’m happy with starting from scratch. When I begin my job search after Hack Reactor I’ll be about 6 and a half programmer-years old. It sure as hell beats looking for your first professorship at 37 human-years old.