How does a person go about finding their place in the world, and is a person's place geographic or cognitive in nature? Does it have to be one or the other? Given that people do evolve over time, does this mean that a person's place must also change or can it act as a constant that offsets the chaos that is modern living? Can excessive introspection erode a person's sense of place, resulting in an unnecessary abandonment of good fortune?
Years of work at the day job have culminated in what I have today, which is actually pretty darn good when examined objectively. Analytical and problem-solving skills that atrophied while working in the classroom are now in use for the vast majority of each workday. I've been given an incredible amount of space in which to work, with the luxury of being able to make key decisions without first acquiring buy-in from others1. And the pay is better than I've ever received at any point in my life. All of this adds up to a situation that a million people around the world would give their left foot for without a second thought.
And yet … I'm bored.
Working in a corporate environment — remotely or on premises — requires a certain set of skills that I neither have nor desire. A person needs to be comfortable with the politicking, the aimless meetings, the hidden agendas, the pockets of resistance, the wasteful spending and a whole lot more. Navigating through these road bumps and minefields takes away from the one thing that actually matters to me, which is best summed up as getting things done. This isn't to say that people inside corporations don't accomplish anything, as this is demonstrably false on so many levels. What frustrates me about working inside a corporation are the mismatched resources. Activities that require specialised resources often do not get them, while frivolous items seem to receive the most attention. Looking back at the companies where I was happiest, either as an employee or a contractor, the places where I felt the most comfortable employed fewer than 20 people. My employer, being a global organisation, has thousands on staff across four continents.
One of the many benefits of working in a smaller company is that every person plays an important role. Colleagues learn what each person is capable of and generally works towards making the most of those abilities. There are still the silly politicking, meetings, fiefdoms, and other energy traps inside a small business, but these generally seem much more manageable. At the end of the day, people understand that a small business heavily relies on each and every person.
Large organisations are better insulated against loss should one or more people decide to leave. This is generally why people feel safer when working at a big company, particularly in Japan. Companies such as Toyota, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, and others will absorb mind-numbing losses for years before laying off full-time employees. This "safety" is attractive to a lot of people, particularly those with a mortgage and kids. My employer is nowhere near as large as big Japanese multi-nationals, though it tries to act like one.
Ultimately, my feeling of boredom does not come down to not having enough work, as there's plenty to go around and more that can be taken on just by raising a hand or sending an email. My restlessness comes from being unnecessary. There is nothing I do at the day job that cannot be done by another person. One of the few attributes that make me stand out from colleagues is my insistence that we not spend money and instead make better use of internal resources, such as people and existing hardware, but my opinions have long been unpopular among middle managers who don't care about budgets and just want accolades from above.
In the last two weeks I've had interviews with two potential employers to see whether there's a local company where I can actually feel useful. The first place would ask me to be a "sales engineer", and the second needs a generalist who can manage servers, databases, and a team of three. Neither pays as well as my current employer, and both would require me to make a 1 hour commute to and from the office five days a week, six during "peak time". This isn't appealing in the least.
A question that's been floating around my head for quite some time is whether I even want to work with computers anymore. While it's something I enjoy a great deal, there is nothing preventing me from writing code or working with databases as a hobby or occasionally as a freelancer. Working in a completely different field could be quite liberating, as it would require a new set of skills to be acquired and refined. A career walking dogs would likely fall short of paying the bills, but there are other options out there including …
Going Back to School?
Not a month goes by where I'm not told I should work at a university in some capacity. The idea does have its appeal, though it would require a great deal of work up front. A doctorate degree takes a long time to earn, and the competition for professor positions is quite fierce. The challenge is not an impossible one, though. Given the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to study astrophysics and astronomy in great detail, then share my enjoyment of the subject with the next generation of people who want to learn about this vast universe we live in.
Is this realistic, though? I'll be 40 years of age next spring, which means a Ph. D wouldn't happen until 46 at the earliest. In that time bills will still need to be paid, food put on the table, and time spent with the family. These career-changing considerations can come across as incredibly selfish and terribly risky given the challenges in being hired afterwards. Is this something I should just set aside?
Nobody has ever said that being a responsible adult is easy. We need to have perspective and make decisions that benefit the many rather than the one. Yet when I think about where I'll be career-wise in five years, I can't imagine being patient enough to continue working as I am now. For all the good that has come as a result of writing software for the day job, I really wonder if my time there has run its course.
For the most part. There are always exceptions.