With nine days to go, I thought I’d make some comments on my career over the last five years and why I’m leaving it behind. To fully explore the subject, I need to back up to my freshman year of college.

While I’ve always been a technically oriented person, I entered college with the intention of not taking another computer science course. I had done plenty of work in that field in high school, I reasoned, and I wanted to try something else. Besides, I was pre-med, and life would be easier if I majored in something like biology or chemistry instead. I chose chemistry and promptly enrolled in the honors intro course. A lack of focus, motivation, and a strong dose of college student laziness set in pretty quickly, but I managed to do reasonably well in chemistry that first year. My physics grades, however, were far below my potential. Things only got worse during my sophomore year, when I was hard-headed enough to take honors organic chemistry despite my lack of familiarity with the subject. Predictably, I fell behind rather quickly; without the desire to spend a significant amount of time on the subject, I never was able to catch up and I finished the year with two horrible performances in orgo. I failed to complete the paperwork to apply for a major that semester, deciding instead to think about it over the summer.

Towards the end of my spring semester, I realized that something had to change drastically. My grades definitely weren’t going to get me into any sort of medical school, and my interest in chemistry was at an all-time low. I decided to attempt a transfer into the engineering school in order to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. The topic held some interest with me, naturally, and I figured that I could find good work in the field. I was thwarted when the department chair refused to let me in unless I had taken more prerequisite courses, which would then only give me provisional enrollment until I had taken a few courses in the major.

That summer, I took an advanced introductory-level computer science course and another introductory physics course. I got an A+ in the computer science course, and the idea of majoring in CS popped into my head. I knew the topic was interesting, I was certainly good at it…why not? It didn’t hurt that I could satisfy all of the degree requirements within two years. I filled out my major declaration at the beginning of the fall term. My grades did not noticeably improve, but I was doing well enough in the major to be semisure that I’d made the right choice. In fact, I had planned to stay another year to get a Master of Engineering degree, and went to my first career fair during the fall of my senior year to look into internship possibilities.

Recall the state of the nation’s economy in late 1998. The dot-com bubble was still expanding at a terrifying rate, and employers were absolutely desperate to hire people. When I walked into the large gym, I was greeted by rows upon rows of corporate reps, pushing random useless tchotchkes on me and asking for my resume at every table. When I mentioned that I was a computer science major, they seemed to be even more interested. I submitted a pile of resumes that day, then went home and edited my objective statement to seek permanent — not summer — employment. I wasn’t expecting much due to my academic performance, but I did get a phone call that evening from Andersen Consulting. The Andersen Consulting recruiting process involved three rounds of interviews, with each round being used to weed out the weaker candidates. I gave it my full attention and I made it past each round, after which I was invited to an office visit. The written offer came shortly thereafter, and in January of 1999, I had secured my future.

The first weeks of work were perfect. The training work itself was not difficult, the consultant lifestyle was glamorous and relatively opulent; it was a welcome break from lectures and problem sets. The first six weeks were spent on training, two of which were spent at the central training center in St. Charles. Nothing had really felt like work, but everything changed once I got to my first real project. After two weeks of doing what I thought was appropriate work for my background, I was switched over to a testing team.

Frustration set in quickly and never abated. I had graduated from college with a very strong knowledge of Java and software development techniques, and I had started to use some of that knowledge…but two weeks later, I found myself staring at a printed sheet of instructions on testing the functionality of a website. “Click on the ‘Continue’ link. Verify that the confirmation page is displayed properly in the window.” Cripes! Following that assignment, I was placed in a team that maintained a software architecture on a mainframe platform. From there, I went on to test a mainframe application, then another web application, and then another web application. I finally was placed on a team that took advantage of some of my skills, but it was too late by then to turn me around.

My career path is not terribly different from others’ in this line of work. The difference is that I was never truly motivated to excel, and my mounting anger towards my situation showed itself in some ugly ways. The second problem was that despite my persistence, I was never able to find a role that made me truly happy. I was surrounded both by bad luck and poor support (again, until recently). I saw my peers continue to rise in the ranks while I sat immobile, stymied by a number of things. Is it any wonder that my performance declined, and that I’ve made a number of half-hearted attempts to change careers?

In the end, though, I can’t place 100% of the blame on my employer. Among its competitors, Accenture is certainly one of the better places to work. The benefits are good, and despite several missteps, the leadership generally tries to take care of their employees. And while I’ve never particularly enjoyed any of my roles, I can’t say that anyone made a conscious effort to make them unpleasant. My issues stem from the actual nature of the work. I expected a very different sort of work, and when I learned what I would really be doing, I lost heart pretty quickly. I let it progress to the point where there was realistically no way to improve the situation; while this was certainly a slip on my part, I don’t think I would be ultimately happy here, no matter what I had done earlier in my career.

The assignments that most interested me this company required me to gain a full understanding of a system, then determine what was wrong with it, then determine a method to resolve the issue, then actually implement it and test the results. I enjoyed the hands-on nature of the work, and I liked having the responsibility on my shoulders. At the same time, I was frustrated by the lack of directness in my work. The extent of my involvement with the system was typing into a terminal window, which simply wasn’t very satisfying to me. One of the things I loved about rebuilding my M3’s engine was that my hands were actually doing physical work. The problem-solving process was not philosophically different from my IT work, but the implementation was directly in front of me. The results were incredibly gratifying. In contrast, I am unimpressed and annoyed by work that forces me only to test the viability of an existing system, or to make a miniscule change to existing functionality, or some other task that only takes place behind a computer screen and affects no one but the client’s budget and our bottom line.

(Some people might read all of this and wonder why I’m pursuing medical school rather than some sort of automotive certification. The thought did cross my mind, but I have my reasons for not following that path. I’ll get into that later.)

So it’s clear that the development of my career left me with an intense desire to do something else. Another factor that led to my decision was my potential future in this profession. The majority of my managers here have been competent, supportive people, and I wouldn’t have stuck around nearly as long as I have if it weren’t for the leadership in my most recent project. However, they all have something in common. As their careers here progress, it appears that their life-work balance shifts further towards work. While I respect their dedication, I just can’t see myself throwing as much of myself into my career here that my managers do. I have no illusions about the medical workload, but there’s a difference between spending time on something of interest and spending time on something purely for the money look at more info. The most important thing I’ve learned in these past five years is that chasing after a salary is not going to bring happiness in the long run.

On that last point, I can’t deny that physicians make a comfortable living, but there are many easier ways for me to make that kind of money. Simply staying where I am, I could earn enough for my family to live very well for the forseeable future. I could venture into a new business, or pursue business school, or any number of other things. The only sane reason for me to pursue medicine would be that I want to do it, and nothing else.

But that’s a topic for another day.

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