Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I Was a Science Bigot!


My first job out of college was with a small defense contractor that specialized in designing radar systems. The job involved using the science of signal processing, mathematics, and computer science. By all indications, I should have been quite happy due in part to the fact that several college friends also worked at the company. We young people did have fun time during that time, with an office overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but I only lasted nine months. It was during a time of the microcomputer revolution (circa 1979) and I felt I was missing something by working on stodgy old radar systems.

I recall the time I resigned my position as software engineer and the vice president of the division summoned me to his office. The big cheese made me feel quite small because he was of the opinion that I was selling out to go work on business software instead of scientific software. He was confident I was making the wrong choice and told me I’d be sorry. Being young and headstrong, I went ahead and quit, and spent many years involved with the business side of computers. Any interest in science at that time was completely submerged. I didn’t even subscribe to Scientific American, yikes!

All along, however, I knew what my contemporaries felt about business, and distinctly recalled my initial disdain for business while in college. I remember seeing some particular words of wisdom (aka graffiti) on a bathroom wall around the corner from the Computer Club in the engineering building on campus. It was actually a formula that I clearly remember to this day (see graphic attached to this post). Roughly translated – as the limit of the GPA tends to zero, you give up with science and math and go get an MBA. Imagine that, talk’in trash with math!

The bathroom scrawl was a mathematical representation for being a sell-out, and I actually agreed with the somewhat bigoted tone at the time, but here I was selling out myself. To be fair to myself however, most of my hardcore science friends from college went over to the dark side as well over time. In the years that followed, I succeeded in the computer business, taking advantage of two revolutions, the microcomputer revolution and the Internet revolution. I’ve often grappled with my abandonment of academia in my early years, but hey, I’m not dead yet and my scientific metamorphosis has shown me a new and more tempered path.

3 comments:

  1. wow, I'm going to pay more attention in the bathroom ;-)

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  2. So what would you distill from your experience in business, and how would you compare it with your prior beliefs? I'd like to hear about it!

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  3. To "Numbertheory",

    Thanks for your comment ... answering your question is difficult. I experience wonderful success in the business side of life, but the fact I didn't pursue science in my early years meant that I couldn't really be a professional scientist. To do that, I would have had to get a Ph.D. in a science related field, become an academic, researcher, etc. I think it was naive to believe, at the time, that only sell-outs went into business school. I completely respect MBAs now. Getting an MBA is no cake-walk, especially from a top school (although I have no idea how George W. Bush completed a Harvard MBA). As advice to others who are faced with this decision, I'd say give science a fair chance.

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