Experiment #8: It's a Whole New World

So long ago, I published a post about all of my fears in leaving academia and followed it with many posts about the interview process, finding a job, (sometime in the future about choosing the job), defending my thesis, and moving to Seattle. Finally, after months of starting this process long ago, I'm publishing the post I was dying to find when I trying to decide to stay or go: what's it like on the other side after the first week.

Short Answer: it's GREAT :) 
Answer: I mean, it's different for everyone and your fate is what you make it, but working at iSpot.tv is such a surreal experience that sometimes I actually just pause and absorb this new life I'm in. Not shaving my legs has nothing on the kind of liberation I feel at being out of graduate school (mostly) and at being respected as an intelligent, competent person.

Come along with me on a quick walkthrough of my week; I showed up last Thursday to a new laptop with everything I needed to immediately start working installed and ready to go (first WTF moment), new (really excellent) sound proof headphones, a desk in a pod of 6, and 5 other people around me who were (A) excited to have me there and (B) all levels of experience to help me get going. I had no onboarding, no training... as Employee #99 and Data Scientist #2, my 'onboarding' was to immediately dive into the data and start finding useful things with heavy guidance and assistance from Data Scientist #1. This meant within an hour of my first day of work, I was already generating ideas and delving into the (amazing) iSpot.tv data trove. By the end of the next day, I had a plan for the next week of things to explore, some of which may eventually end up in production. This was part of the reason I chose a large start up/small company: they need me to be excited about their data as much as I need to be excited about the work I'm doing. Excellent match :)

Now, for the more important part - what is different? I'm going to order starting with what I've found most important.

It actually is like this a lot of the time... 
(1) Everyone is happy 
I don't mean blissfully happy like Stepford Wives or anything, but I mean happy in a sense that my co-workers' happiness runs deep. Whether they are an administrative assistant or Developer #2,  my co-workers are driven and excited about the work they are doing. The projects move quickly, the pace is aggressive, the pressure is there... but WTF Moment #2 - no one is going to begrudge you making jokes with your co-workers about face care commercials. I honestly think I have laughed more at work in the past week than I collectively across a year at work in graduate school.
Don't even try to tell me everyone is happy in graduate school. Professors run around stressed about grants, students are depressed about classes/grades/research/jobs/never seeing their family, and the atmosphere is cruelly insular... you feel like no one quite understands what you have to go through. This is not even remotely present at my new job - we have to work as teams and we have to lean on each other constantly... in some ways camaraderie is more important than skill when you need to get a job done on a massive and rapid time scale.

(2) I spend most of my day coding and problem solving
By most, I mean 98% right now. Sometimes I have to do some documentation and I've had to go to one meeting, but my work life is about just getting jobs done and done well, fast. It's like what I enjoyed best about graduate school without the pesky paper writing and meetings. When I was trying to choose between industry and academia, a blog post that stood out to me said that an industry perk was that you'd spend more time problem solving and coding, and so far, I have certainly found this to be true.

(3) There's something called 'company morale'
This was WTF moment #3 for me... this is a line item in a small company budget. What does this mean? It means that we have a kitchen stocked with food (granola bars, gummy bears, pretzels, etc.), there is always coffee, there are drinks, they have beer on tap at work 24/7, there is someone hired to wash dishes, they watch football on M/Th/Su at work, they play Team Fortress 2 on Thursdays and the company orders pizza... the list goes on. I think I've eaten/bought my own lunch once since I've started working at iSpot.tv. You show me a University that actually has a line item with a budget of more than ~$100 towards 'morale' and I'll show you a place where people are tripping over themselves to work at. None of these are essential things, and yeah, I could bring my own granola bars and wine for ~$15 a week... but it is really really really nice not to have to think about these things and get to focus on developing relationships with my co-workers.

(4) I've been called a genius 3 times since I've started working there. 
What?! No... 
I never heard that till my last few months of graduate school. Certainly not the first year. Even for faculty... how often are faculty genuinely honored or acknowledged for their accomplishments without it being a political ploy? When my boss or co-workers said "Ah! You're a genius, glad hiring a rocket scientist is paying off" they meant it... I'm still stunned over this one.

(5) I only work 8 hours a day.
I'm actually going a little crazy (which is why you get 2, possibly 3 blog posts this week) about how much time I have. I go for 2 hour bike rides after work, clean the house, cook breakfast and dinner, spend time with my room mates and their adorable rabbit, talk to Harvey on FaceTime (reveal: iPhone users!)... I wake up at 6, go to work around 8:30-9 and come home around 5:15. I've never had this much free time since Middle School. Work is no longer my personality... it's definitely still a part of my life but it's certainly not all-encompassing anymore (well, I still think about problems in the shower, but that's my own time).

Those are the major changes I've noticed in week 1. I guess I'm still a little frustrated because so many people told me industry was going to be boring, I was going to do repetitious work, I was going to be underappreciated for my contributions, and I would have no freedom. For me, that's been so far from the truth it's almost funny. However, it's mostly just tragic because I know they are still saying these things to other students and what I went through continues to happen.

While trying to process this juxtaposition in my mind, a memory popped into my head of a conversation I had with a friend who was getting a PhD in computer engineering when I started graduate school. I asked him if he was going to be a Professor because he was successful and brilliant, and he laughed and said after working internships, it was never something he considered. The potential for impact was greater in industry and that's where the excitement was. In fact, he was considering dropping out of the PhD program because it was slowing him down. At the time, I thought he was silly and money-focused and ignored this piece of information. Now ... now I get it completely.

Lo

2 comments:

Eidilia Thomas said...

I can't tell you how happy I am that things are working out so well for you. I could not be more proud if you were one my own kids. You keep kicking ass!

Lois Keller said...

Thanks Eidilia!! You'll have to come visit me out here in Seattle! There's lot of coffee here :)

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