Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Multi-Classed or Dual-Classed?

scholar There are days where the hub-bub and the fun of working in software is the greatest thing in the world. I’ve been on the net since my late teens in the late 1980s and I have always felt especially blessed in the sense that I managed to talk, finangle, and possibly bullshit my way into an engineering career working on software on the Internet. I never would have expected it to work out this way. While my grandfather is an old Boeing electrical engineer (he designed electrical systems for missiles and military craft), my bachelor’s degree is in Cultural Anthropology (originally it was going to be Political Science!).

Things just sort of worked out that way ad I rolled with it. I mean, the Internet was fun, it was cool, and it was the coming thing. I managed to get in on the ground floor of the mainstreaming of the net by virtue of already being online, being a geek, and enjoying screwing around with it. The advantage of my work on Internet Explorer and now Firefox is that I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects that affect the lives of millions (tens or hundreds of millions, without exaggeration). That is pretty satisfying within the world of software and few jobs can match that for impact within that domain.

On the other hand, things outside of software continue to call to me. Part of this has resulted in my academic work. It is why I spent my evenings and weekends for more than two years working on a Master’s degree that would not matter in my work in a meaningful way and which did not make me particularly more employable. I could just as easily gotten a Computer Science degree (finally) if I wanted to be potentially more employable. The motivation is that I wanted to continue to study things, as I had been on my own for years, and it was the areas outside of software that appealed to those instincts and to me, in general. People at work occasionally ask me about my Master’s. “What’s it in?”, they ask, and I have to tell them that it is a general Humanities degree with a concentration in Philosophy. At this point, most eyes kind of glaze over and conversation moves on quickly. Occasionally, someone asks me about my actual thesis and I briefly mention the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Victorian Occultism, and the fact that my belief is to do with concepts around the soul in this milieu. I think I’ve had one person not glaze over at work when I’ve reached this point conversationally. :-)

At this point, I know that, sooner or later, I am going to leave software. It is satisfying work on many levels and the pay is excellent but I don’t want to do it until I die. My grandfather worked for Boeing as his second job out of college (the first was for the precursor to the FAA during the Korean War) and he stayed there, got the watch, and eventually retired with his pension. I need to do something else with my life before I reach the same point. I don’t say this from a point of dissatisfaction per se but merely one of realism.

This has led to my firming up on my desire to apply to the Graduate Theological Union for their PhD program. I’ve been scared in the past of squandering what monetary resources that I have in order to spend it all on six or more years of school with the end result being a chance, not a certainty, of a job when I’m done. It is unfortunate, in many ways, that the only career path for most people with non-science doctorates is within academia. People that I know who have received a PhD in Physics or some aspect of Engineering find private work in their field as often as not. The private work in my field is that of a priest or monk, not in a lab or a corporate empire. In this day and age, unless you are a Roman Catholic, those two roles don’t really pay, provide food and shelter, or otherwise allow one to survive in the West. This is even more true if you have a family.

I may very well try to bridge the worlds for a while, continuing to work part-time in software while I work on my doctorate. The only difficulty there is finding a place that lets you work part-time in software. Most doctoral students that I know, at least after the first couple of years, work half-time to pay for living while they write their dissertation. After going through the work of a doctorate, I think I’d like to actually work in my field when I am done, eventually.

As I’ve mentioned on this topic before, this is not a near term decision. If I apply for school, the deadline is this December. GTU seems to only accept students for Fall admission so it would be 18 months until school started, if I got in. I need to find academic recommendations and prepare that process (so far, I have two) and then figure out a financial plan. The current economic downturn adds some special uncertainty to the mix as well. In this, as in all things, one should be flexible and roll with changes. I’ll have to revisit where things are this Fall. If I could apply and not have the process take a year and a half, I would, but I made this decision too late to put things together for the coming year and, realistically, I don’t want to start school this Fall. I need to plan and figure out the path of my work, both academic and engineering.