I’ve been thinking about my career path. Although I have recently changed courses (from a system/network administration/engineering track to the software engineering track), I’m still on the same path. I still solve unique problems using a varied set of skills. Despite that it’s a stable and visible path, sometimes I feel like I’m missing out.
Reading up on former classmates and acquaintances who have made millions on web-based ad-driven businesses while seemingly having the times of their lives, it’s easy to see green. Not just money, but that it’s somehow better over in that world. The view of New York City or San Francisco out the window. The low-key workplace. Not a single cubicle in sight. The ability to use whatever tools you want to use to get the job done. Less corporate bullshit. The informal collegiate atmosphere. Though never mentioned in articles, the pressure of a start-up. The bonding that only occurs after the whole team has been working through the night. The outings. The happy hours at work and on the company dime. Short of long nights, the bonding, and different sorts of pressure, all things that I’m not likely to experience on my path. It isn’t all depressing. I’m pragmatic about it. I work with a stellar team and we end up having a good time in the process. I know that no matter what I read about others, how good it looks elsewhere, I know that they’ve got problems too, just like the rest of us.
I could have been there. There have always been plenty of openings at Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, and others, loosely chronologically speaking. The work/life balance was appealing, with perks galore. But there was something missing. I need to feel like my work accomplishes something and is important. As cool as getting an idea up off the floor and into the hands of the masses (as is the case in the social media products) it doesn’t measure up in the importance column. Sure, millions of people live and breathe by them every day (and I won’t get into whether or not they should)… but those sort of statistics and metrics aren’t enough.
There’s also the financial aspect. Not in how much money I’m making, but where it’s coming from. I’d make a horrible entrepreneur. I’m risk averse. Not many of those companies stand on their own. For most, advertising is an add-on that covers costs but doesn’t generate sufficient revenue to keep things in the black. Some have a viable business model that includes a forecast of profits, even if it’s a long way off. Most don’t, having a neat product and no way to monetize it. Whether started with angel or VC money, I wouldn’t be comfortable knowing that my salary was bleeding an investor’s funding with a definitive end in sight.
I like knowing that lives lie in the balance. I could never manage a hedge fund; I’d be so far removed from the people whose money it was that I’d only be worrying about profits. Whether you’re a police officer or an ER doctor or a commercial pilot or a soldier standing post, your efforts can directly track to someone’s well being. While I’m not directly involved or standing on the front line, I currently feel like I’m only a half-step back. I can see where what I do has a serious impact on people’s lives. Yes, the perks and social atmosphere look greener on the other side. But on the other hand, I sleep soundly knowing that I make a difference.