Tuesday, March 8, 2016

My Nonlinear Career Path

I've had a really nonlinear career path. One step forward, two step sideways, new goal, start it all again...

My interest in computers started at a young age. I was lucky that my dad, a government worker, was able to bring home the computers his office was done with. As a result, I have had access to computers, and even had a computer in my own room, from a young age.

I've always loved to create with computers. From writing stories to designing newsletters for my Guiding troupe, I was always making things. Even today, I make digital scrapbook pages!

In high school, I started becoming more and more curious about how things work "behind the screen," so to speak. How do you write code to make a word processor? What's the math behind vector graphics? How does computer hardware, at the lowest level, add two numbers?

I decided I wanted to take computer science in university so I could learn all this and more. I didn't learn how to program in high school; instead, I took drama and music while I still could. But I was pretty sure I'd love the world of code whenever I eventually entered it.

Turns out I was right. I also loved working in the industry during my co-op terms. One of my jobs was at Ross Video, working on software for a video production switcher. The other was at Corel, where I worked on the text engine for Corel DRAW, software I had used for many years in my personal projects.

Nearing the end of my undergrad, the most difficult decision I faced was which of these two companies I would try to work at full-time. I never thought I'd do anything other than go to industry.

I was going to be a software developer.

Until, that is, a professor approached me and convinced me to consider graduate school. The catch? The application for the big scholarship was due in a week. Well then.

Image adapted from Ivory Tower by OfTheDunes

I applied, and I got the scholarship. So I went to grad school for my Masters. I had a great time, and even got my start in outreach, but learned something very important: I didn't care for the low-level, experimental nature of my thesis topic, and wished I did something more applied.

I decided to continue on to my PhD, choosing storytelling in videogames as my thesis topic. I engaged in educational games and computer science education research on the side. I also took the opportunity to gain more teaching experience. I eventually realized that education was my passion and I wanted to teach.

I was going to be a university instructor.

After some contract work, I got a two-year term position as a full time faculty instructor. I made an impact with some innovative course designs and a lot of hard work in outreach and diversity. But when I tried to get a permanent instructor job, I missed it by a hair. Although I was not yet finished my PhD, I didn't really fancy going back to being a full-time student. Instead, I figured: why not go back to industry and be a software developer again?

So off to Shopify I went. I joined the Home team, working on the first page merchants on the Shopify platform see when they log into their admin. I learned both Ruby and Rails, and finally had a chance to try real-world web development.

I quite enjoyed working as a developer, but it was a step sideways from my goal of teaching. However, in the fall, an opportunity arose.

I was going to jump back into education once again!

Starting this past January, I became Manager of External Education Programs. I'm working on some really exciting education projects, including a sponsorship of the Ottawa Network for Education's AppJam. I get to create curriculum, teach, and even create a team of similarly passionate folks here at Shopify.

So while I have taken some steps back in my career, and some other steps sideways, I find myself feeling very fortunate to end up where I am now. So if you ever find yourself on a really windy career path, don't fret: go with the flow, and see where it takes you. You might find yourself ahead of where you expect, even if it you hit your goal at a bit of a strange angle.


Unknown said...

Inspiring story

Unknown said...

I seem to be on a very wind-y career path too, hoping to end up at the front of a CS classroom someday soon though. Glad to see I'm not the only one taking an indirect route!

Liz Kora said...

Great. Still winding but we will get there. Thanks for sharing

brunallkate said...

I am actually browsing through searching for inspiration specially when it comes to women in technology. This blog is amazing ! Thank you for sharing your journey.

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