Changes in Career Aspirations

Changes in Career Aspirations

3 Feb 2023

It's interesting for me to reflect on how my aspirations have changed as I've grown up. When I was a little kid I wanted to be a computer programmer like my daddy. I wanted to have my own cubicle and a work station and write Perl programs all day long in Emacs.

There was a phase where I had to shake my head at that—a cubicle-dweller? Seriously? After experiencing some open-office work spaces, the shoulder-high walls afforded a privacy and sound muffling that any hipster coder would be envious of.

When I turned 16 I got my first job as an intern at my dad's company. My dad was an architect at this point I think, and writing web apps with APIs and clean separation of concerns was the gold standard. My efforts were focused on web development and learning the tech stacks one normally learns with the web.1

By the time I got to college I wanted to be an architect. I knew I would have to rise through the ranks though, so I put a lot of effort into learning how to program web applications. I studied my data structures and algorithms so I could hit that sweet \(O(\log(n))\) bracket of the Programmer Competency Matrix.

That started to change as I worked in industry. I landed some really nice jobs with TazWorks and Spiff. Spiff was basically the perfect job for me—or so I thought.

Half way through college I started leaning harder into my love of programming languages and mathematics. I didn't know programming languages was a field in its own right until a professor asked me if I would be interested in doing PL research. That opened a door to me to paths that I didn't know existed, but always wanted. I admired the likes of Larry Wall and José Valim who built languages rather than just used them. I could see a path towards working on languages now.

Now I'm in the middle of a PhD at the University of Utah. The life of an academic is really appealing: I'd get to do research, maybe some consulting on the side, and I would be able to teach others about the beauty I find in computer science. The plan right now is to one day teach, but I'm glad there are other options available to me

I'm incredibly grateful for the time I was able to spend in industry honing my craft. It's nice to have a fallback if academia doesn't work out. I sampled the good and bad of industry jobs, so that way, should I choose to remain in academia, it will be an informed decision. I'm glad I was able to sample so much and choose; I'm also grateful I was able to undo some of the self-inflicted pigeonholing of my younger years—instead of chasing what I thought was the end-goal of my interests, I followed my real interests and they led me to something different entirely.



For sufficiently niche values of "normal"—I didn't get too deep into JavaScript, hated PHP, and never touched any of the big enterprisey languages like Java or the shudder .NET framework.