Blog: Career in Review

Career in Review
Career in Review
Date: 2018-Nov-03 07:55:26 EST

At the age of fourty, I've had a fairly long career, dating back in some sense to the age of 15, where I assisted the technology manager in my school system as well as having some summer jobs, one at a risk management company called American Risk, another at a small telephone company called Independence Telephone Company. It's been a fairly random mix of systems administration, systems-oriented programming, scientific programming, and teaching/mentoring/light management. I've worked significantly in both the tech industry and academia, and have not yet ever worked in government sector or healthcare. I think I've come to have views on what good and bad management looks like at low and high levels, although I tend to be happiest in roles where I'm highly independent and can choose/manage my own tasks without needing to negotiate with others. Earlier in my career I had some problematic ideas about job security (where I actually sought a low bus factor); I've shed those views both because I think they're bad practice for my industry and because I've learned they limit my career mobility within a company and that can mean being trapped in a role when I want a change. I've learned a few things about my other flaws - if I start to feel that I'm being ignored on topics important to me, I can become very bitter fairly quickly, and when I'm frustrated I tend to be very open about it and not let it go. I also tend not to accept management decisions that go sufficiently against what I want to do. I also bring a lot of complications from my broader personality into my work self, at least in part.

There are things I'm pretty happy about with my career - I think I've learned a lot and I've been able to do a large variety of things. While the diversity in activites has meant some places I've interviewed at were not willing to let me into roles very different than the one immediately prior, with some patience and frustration, things generally worked out okay in the end. I have over the last several years been worried about politicisation of workplaces, in particular of diversity-and-inclusion efforts, in that even though in theory I could benefit materially from those things (in that I'm not straight), I'm philosophically opposed to a lot of the practices, I'm not often willing to keep my mouth shut, and I have a few red lines that mean I am incompatible with some workplaces (for example, I will never take a implicit bias test for the same reason I will not take a drug test). Still, so far things seem navigable, and with any luck I can steer through the rest of my career until retirement without hitting the shore.

There have been a few points in my career where I burned out. Part of defining my career goals, manager be damned, has always meant doing a lot of work beyond (and partly despite) what my manager asked of me, and dealing with tension and underappreciation that came from that. This "do the right thing" approach is something I can't imagine easily changing about myself, and when I felt there was something important that was neglected by the management structure, I've sometimes poured a ridiculous amount of hours beyond the usual 40 into it. On occasion I've had company of other engineers doing the same (at Dropbox and MongoDB in particular) who were also holding down the fort despite their managers. I'm hoping to avoid that ; it's easier for me to avoid these tendencies if I avoid SRE-type duties.

With every job I wonder if my current role is something I might keep for a long time. At least so far, in my current employment I have no significant dissatisfaction as it's academic in nature, has a traditional no-official-political-views stance like the rest of academia, I have a very loose leash and a variety of things I can spend time on, my primary foci are things I'm very interested in, and I'm surrounded by a lot of people who might be smarter than I am and who definitely have a lot of expertise I partly or entirely lack, while I also have my own corners of expertise. That's great for personal growth. I also have a 10 minute walk to work, and my hours are quite flexible. I think the only things that might get me to leave would be either a desire to leave NYC (sometimes I think it'd be nice to buy a house somewhere), a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (e.g. some company needs a CTO and I think what they're doing is awesome), or a personal relationship that otherwise pulls me out of the city.

Teaching has been a great sidecar to the bulk of my career; I enjoy helping people learn, whether it be informal stuff at work or actual classes (either at work or outside). I've always regretted not putting more time into it - doing classes more often. But arranging space and getting students and dealing with the other hassles has always been a burden. I still treasure the thank-yous I've gotten, several of which I've saved.

Are these the only things I could have done? Probably not. I sometimes wonder what it would've been like to go after one of my other passions. I still feel the draw of studying human domain learning, or studying cell specialisation. Either of those could have led me into a very different career.