Academia->Industry. How should I prepare myself?
September 6, 2016 6:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a temporary faculty position in computer science. I'm finally resigned to the reality that I'm not going to get a good tenure-track academic job short of a miracle, so I'm actively looking to jump ship. Having never worked outside academia, I'm excited but *extremely* nervous about the change, especially since it's a one-way street. What should I know in advance?

I have interviews lined up for positions that are heavy on research (with titles like "Research Scientist" and such, fingers crossed) more or less in my area of specialization. So I wouldn't have to completely revamp my skill set, and most of my immediate co-workers/bosses would be researchers as well. Obviously, things will change as far as the motivations of my work, research freedom, performance evaluation, collaboration, office culture, daily routine, etc.

If you've shifted from academia to industry within the same field, what were the parts that were hardest to adjust to? And what were the best aspects of the shift?
posted by redlines to Work & Money (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Hardest thing to adjust to was not being able to enjoy the automatic "reset button" of starting fresh every fall or every term.

Everything else, pretty damn great. Way more money, better benefits, far more respect for time off and vacation time, much greater impact on real world problems, teamwork and coordination on a scale academia can't even begin to dream about. Wish I'd made the jump years before. Toiling in adjunct nation was so not worth it.
posted by Sublimity at 6:49 PM on September 6, 2016

Matt Welsh is a former CS professor who left academia to join Google - his blog touches on some of this stuff. Maybe start here.
posted by GuyZero at 6:49 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to be a senior software engineer and did a lot of interviewing of candidates, and I can only tell you what I looked for:

I'm not interested in what you've studied, or what you've published. I want to know what you know and what you've done.

Membership in organizations is completely uninteresting. So is academic awards. I'm not hiring you to get published or join groups, I'm hiring you to help create products that my company can sell, and make money.

It's harsh and it's completely utilitarian. I'm sure you're a very nice person, but I don't hire people solely because they're nice. If you want me to hire you, show me how you'll help my company succeed in its business. That's what really matters.

On your resume I want to see at least one significant project that you've begun and finished.

I'm making a decision as to whether to invest a lot of money in you, and you want me to think that it's a good investment. That's how you sell yourself to me.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:21 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Clarification, only because I think this may come up in other well-meaning replies: I'm not looking advice on interviewing as such, though that may be helpful. I'm interviewing for roles where publishing is somewhat expected, or at least, the research being done is similar to what is published in my field (almost everyone in these groups has a PhD or works on research-y questions and is active in the academic conference circuit). So it's not quite a researcher -> software engineering jump, unless I fail to get these jobs.

Side note: If academic jobs could be gotten merely by being nice and not doing anything and joining groups, how easy my life would be.
posted by redlines at 7:44 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Congratulations! You can look forward to vacations (for real!), weekends (for real!), benefits (for real!) and....labor laws that protect you as an employee!!!! Yay! You may even get (drum roll please...) paid parental leave, disability and retirement plan matching!!
posted by Toddles at 7:48 PM on September 6, 2016

The biggest shock to me in academia was how horrible the behavior could be. Coming from business, I never saw anyone treated as horribly as I saw some faculty treat students, lab workers, etc.

The power disparity between tenured professors and their students can lead to some egregious behavior. It's not that the workforce is some halcyon land of equality - it can suck there too -but academia, wow.
posted by 26.2 at 7:53 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think the biggest adjustment is the lack of flexibility. Your butt needs to be in your chair at 8am. Maybe you're just a littlr sick, or you really want a run, or your mom is having surgery. You only have so many vacation and sick days to burn, and you end up in that chair at 8am when you may have worked from hole or come in late or left early.

Also the pointless meetings and paperwork are often huge time holes in industry. Between that and lack of flexibility, it can really feel like work. Consistently work. The way acadamia shouldn't (or I have no idea why you'd stay in acedemia).
posted by Kalmya at 8:31 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I find it hard to believe there are many software shops that require your butt in the seat at 8 am. They'd not retain a soul, as there are too many other companies that don't require that.

The trend I hear of is being pressured, in some companies / teams, to productionize your research and having to hustle common developers / project managers into consuming your research. Not all, of course.

Sorry I'm not from the same track; I am an ordinary developer, and this is hearsay from Research Scientists I know socially.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:56 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also the pointless meetings and paperwork are often huge time holes in industry.

Yeah, I don't know what your experience has been like in academia, but even when I have a lot of academic meetings, they get to the point, they're useful, they demonstrate how things can sometimes go much faster when people get together in a room to talk.

In the workplace (web development, though), I've had so very many meetings for absolutely no reason. Sometimes three or four meetings in one day, and they were usually completely avoidable, and just served to fuck my concentration and lead to one person promising to email something to someone else, and whatever.

Obviously some workplaces have good meeting policies, and some parts of academia have pointless meetings, but that's my mileage so far.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:57 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do a fair amount of publishing, and the biggest adjustment for me has been the lack of flexibility in choosing projects. I've been given alot of latitude but there are some projects that I know wouldn't be approved because it would be hard to make the case that they are product tied.

In some cases, it can also make it more difficult to co-author, particularly with academics. My organization has a pretty lengthy (and sometimes byzantine) review process. If I wanted to co-author with someone looking for tenure they would likely be frustrated with the delays so most of my colleagues avoid co-authoring outside of our organization.
posted by statsgirl at 5:32 AM on September 7, 2016

One difference I've seen is that academics are sometimes surprised or offended by the fact that choices of solutions are not always dictated by asking "what is best to do?" but more by "how does this fit with what we already have?" and by how much influence the business side has over technological decisions.
posted by OurOwnMrK at 6:48 AM on September 7, 2016

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