Monday, October 19, 2015

Transitioning From Academia to Industry

It seems that 2015 has been a year of change for our family.  My husband got a new job in February, we somewhat suddenly decided to buy a new house down the road over the summer, and I was unsuccessful at getting a permanent teaching position at Carleton.  Rather than becoming a full time student to wrap up my PhD, however, I decided to jump ship to industry.  And so I am currently a developer at Shopify here in Ottawa.

change / Andrea NIgels

When I decided to go to industry, I had my sights on Shopify and only Shopify.  Many of my friends worked there, and I felt like it was the kind of place I could make an impact.  But I was really nervous about interviewing – would they want someone who had been locked away in the ivory tower since her co-op days in undergrad?

Mind you, I have always tried hard to remain 'useful' in the industry sense.  I figured it would keep my teaching relevant if I got the permanent position, and it would help me break back into industry if not.  While I didn't work on any large-scale team projects during my grad school years, I did choose an application-heavy research area and was mindful to maintain good development practices where I could.

Clearly, it worked.  I had interesting projects to talk about during my interviews, code to show on my GitHub, and despite my nerves, I did just fine for the pair programming part.  I showed I had a strong technical base and a boatload of passion.

Once I managed to get hired, I wasn't so nervous about actually starting a few months later.  Which is interesting, since I didn't really know Ruby or Rails, the language and framework I'd be working in.  I suppose I felt confident in my ability to learn new things quickly, and I can't say I was wrong.  I still don't know Rails deeply, but I have been able to learn what I need as I go.  My aforementioned conceptual base along with my enjoyment of the design aspect of programming have made it easier.

And so my transition from academia into industry has been a good one.  It's been nice to keep more regular working hours, and it's been fun learning new technologies.  If I hadn't had 20 months of co-op experience in undergrad, or continued to practice throughout grad school, the switch would have been a lot rougher.  If you're a grad student, strongly consider industry-based internships and make sure to learn the tools of the trade (starting with version control!).  With a strong base and a little confidence, you can make the switch, too!

And as for my PhD, worry not: I am on leave this semester, but I do hope to (slowly) get through it eventually.  You'll have to wait for the "how to work full time while working on your PhD part time" posts a while longer. ;)


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