Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Fork in the Road

People often remark that cancer changes their lives. Some more profoundly than others.

I didn't feel that I learned any explicit life lessons, but I realize now that there were more subtle effects. One of them resulted in my decision to change jobs after eight years at my former company. I started my new job last week.

I had been increasingly unhappy in my old job through 2011 and 2012. In my business and in Boston/Cambridge, I have the luxury that jobs continuously come looking for me by way of technical recruiters (aka "headhunters"). In the spring of 2013 I started responding to them and entertaining other opportunities. I was well along in the process of scheduling a final interview at an attractive company on the day I was diagnosed with cancer.

So that was a bit of a time out.

If you've been reading along you know how slow was the return to work and then to normal intellectual and physical energy levels.

Then, as I wrote in April, I became quite happy with all areas of my life including work. But I still had memories of that unhappiness, and concern that it could return. I also couldn't see a clear path to new opportunities that would help ensure long-term happiness in that organization.

When one builds software, one is building it to accomplish something. The problem area the software is supposed to address is called the domain. If you work at Amazon, you build code in the domain of e-commerce. If you work at Facebook, you build software in the domain of social media. I work in the domain of drug discovery.

Most software developers work to gain just enough domain knowledge to allow them to build the appropriate software. The software is their real focus. I'm a bit of a strange bird in that I have an insatiable scientific curiosity so I tend to go deeper into the domain than most colleagues I know.

Part of that is due to the fact that I'm old. I've been building software for a living for 31 years. I still love that part of my work but it is picking the brains of scientists on a daily basis that really excites me these days.

In my former job the company was organized in such a way that my contact with scientists was indirect and getting more so. In my new job, I work in a scientific group. That was the main factor that led me to change.

But back to cancer: it gave me the rather cliché realization that life is short and one shouldn't spend time being unhappy if one can do something about it. Chalk this up as one of those cancer-inspired new beginnings.