CFCs: So do I miss being a chemist?


Posted on behalf of Mushy:

The answer to this question is entirely dependent on the day you ask me, and the mood I’m in at the time. It’s probably best to break the question down into what I liked about chemistry, and what I like about my current job.

As a chemist, I loved the act of finding out new stuff; of holding a vial full of some nondescript green powder, and knowing that nobody had ever had a vial of it in their hand in the whole of human existence. Even now, I find that thought exciting, and lament that it will never happen to me again. The problems thrown up by the subject needed so many different skills to solve that it was impossible to get bored. There were issues that needed to be addressed computationally, graphically, quantitatively, creatively, and methodically. I still don’t know of any other pursuit so varied. The academic freedom was splendid, too. Sometimes, the joy of carrying out a task — not to carry out a specific function, but just because you’re curious to see what happens — is something not experienced too often when there are shareholders to keep happy.

Working in software development, there’s still plenty to enjoy. I work in a small, close-knit team with constant deadlines looming over us. All the time, we have to come up with cunning new plans in order to make our application work the way our users need it, making the most efficient use of man-hours and processor cycles. The pressure of constant, rolling deadlines is more than compensated by the pride in meeting them with the release of a lean, new version of the application. Whenever new specs arrive, we have to be creative yet analytical in order to plan how to deliver them. Being part of a development team, we have to constantly keep in mind new technologies to see if there’s a cool new way of solving a previously insoluble problem.

You don’t need to be too perceptive to notice that the reasons I like each occupation are pretty much the same in both cases. I suppose that’s why the answer to my initial question — for today at least — is no, I don’t miss being a chemist. That’s because in many ways, I still am one.

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