Data Science #2.5: Making the Choice

I mean, it seemed like a good idea to me!
So usually when I write the Data Science blog posts, I'm trying to explain what worked for me, which ranges from how I approached interviews to how I negotiated offers. For these posts, I feel mostly confident in the advice I'm giving because, well, it worked for me. However, this post on making the choice... This is up to you. I don't know if I made the right choice - there are might have beens. So unlike the other posts, this one is more personal and less "here are some examples".

My decision was nothing short of a terrifying and extremely stressful process. For those of you going to the job hunting process, the 'making the decision' part isn't a happy time... in fact, even after making my decision I still was unsure if it was the right one. It wasn't until I moved to Seattle, sat in my desk and actually started working with my co-workers that I breathed a sigh of relief and thought "I am so glad this worked out".

Wait, I have to make a decision now?
My first offer came while I still was trying to get interviews with other companies I thought had better fit potential. I won't name the companies, but we'll call this one Company A. Harvey and I were headed up North when the phone call came with the recruiter, and, I confess, the pure euphoria of "I got a job" followed. However, this quickly evaporated when Company A demanded that I almost immediately (re: 2 days) make a decision on whether I wanted the offer or not. I didn't have other offers, but I had 2 other interviews scheduled... and an on site interview does not mean you got the job, so there was some hefty risk here.

At this point, I immediately brought in Harvey into my decision making process and this became a 'we'. So that's your first hurdle - if you're in a relationship or have close friend/family ties to an area, you need to account for the 'we'. You can find a perfect job in a perfect place with a perfect salary, but if the 'we' is unhappy, then is it really perfect? Harvey (as many of your family/friends/significant others might be) was uncomfortable with this weight, not so much in a "Ah! our relationship is going too fast" but instead in a "I don't want to tell you what to do" way.

I like you and you and you and ... crap, that's too many
likeable people!
'We' talked about it and decided Company A was not the choice for us. It was an amazing offer, but it wasn't what we wanted. In some ways, it was more of a cop out that we weren't ready to make that decision and there were too many other 'potentials' on the horizon. The advice "Don't apply for jobs that you don't want" echoes here, but when I applied, I did want the job. However, when the offer comes through and you suddenly start looking at apartments/the commute for this future job, it becomes more real and harder to say yes.

Several interviews followed with several subsequent offers in different cities and locations. At first I employed the obvious "how to make a decision" selection mechanism: How much did I like the job or my future co-workers? This allowed me to eliminate one or two jobs but backfired quickly because (1) it wasn't clear what the distinguishing features of the job would be like until I was actually doing the job (2) I legitimately liked all the people I was interviewing with. I didn't make it past phone screens or on sites without a mutual connection with the people I was speaking with. I enjoyed a lot of the data scientists and software engineers I spoke with, finding myself laughing or talking about how much I liked coding in Python with them regardless of age, gender, or background. So, 'who were the best people' wasn't actually a helpful deciding mechanism for me.

OK now that the dollar bills have been counted
The next obvious one was "well, how much are they paying you?" Sure, this is how you negotiate between companies, but for me, basing a job choice entirely on salary/cost of living seemed really naive. After a certain base level (self-defined!), the benefits of Company C wants to pay me $2000 than Company D don't match well against Company D is offering flexible time off, etc. If money is all that matters, then your decision will be easy. However, in my case, it was a factor (30% less was not going to fly) but not the deciding factor.

Now we're left with a myriad of more fuzzy questions to decide on - Which location is better? Which location is closer to home? What is the vacation policy? How many hours a week will I be expected to work? Is there room for professional growth? Since this is my first job, will there be adequate mentoring? How much of my job will be writing python code? How many meetings expected per week?

Morning surf's up sounds nice ! 
Ad infinitum... basically Harvey and I hit an infinite loop on these questions which led to multiple mini fights and constant indecision. I narrowed it down to three companies and circled the wagons to a point where I changed which one I wanted to work for every hour (or, as Harvey noted, whichever one I talked to last). At one point, I said yes to a company and no to the others (as per Insight advice - always say NO first before yes so you don't end up saying YES and change your mind). I can't say I felt relieved, and within 24 hours of my decision, I was given more information about family that changed my situation (the 'we'). I called who would have been my future boss the next business day and told him that I had made a colossal mistake and had to retract my yes. He was incredibly understanding and sympathetic when I explained the reasons, but I do not recommend going down this path.

That narrowed it down to two companies that I had said no to... but wouldn't take no for an answer. I liked a lot of things about both jobs, and the infinite circle continued. Both jobs were working with me to accommodate the 'we', to a degree, quite frankly, that was completely foreign to me coming from academia. Finally, I cornered Harvey and said we needed to make a decision and we talked it out. Although it seems obvious now, the deal breaker for us was that (ready?) if we were both single and facing this job choice, we'd each choose Seattle because we would want to spend our mid twenties mountain biking, hiking, etc. - Seattle was the best choice for our outside work interests.

Overall 'we' happiness was the most important for me
So as crazy as it was, this was a decision that came down to what we wanted our weekends to look like. Is it the right way to make a choice? I have no clue. I can tell you this - I do have great weekends in Seattle and I love my job and co-workers. However, it is a long flight from Michigan (4.5 hours), it makes it really hard to talk to family and friends who are 3 hours ahead, and it's a very foreign place for me - I'm not used to rain every day, I know only a few people out in Seattle, and being frank, I feel really lonely out there sometimes. It's hard to account and assign weights for these things when you're ultimately trying to make an emotional decision rather than a logical one. I genuinely believe I made the right choice based on the hand of cards I was looking at, but it doesn't mean some of the fears ( -> this is going to be tough on my relationship -> I'm going to have to get used to the rain -> traffic sucks! ) haven't become a reality.

My advice: make the decision for the 'we' from the outset and keep open avenues of communication. It helps to write things down, but only to a certain extent. Ultimately, go with your gut. There isn't really a wrong choice... you can always move somewhere else in 6 months or change jobs in that location, but there is a right choice for you at this time in your life.

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