Thomas McDevitt

switching specialty: science to software

I was madly in love with science when I was younger. I did some basic amateur web design and programming but found myself more captivated by home experiments and knew I’d pursue something scientific in higher education. This had been the plan for most of my life but here’s the story of how things took an unexpected twist…

at university…

I enjoyed being a chemistry undergraduate but it wasn’t until I sat a course in agrochemistry that I discovered my passion in life sciences. I was sure of what I wanted to do but decided not to go straight into doing a PhD; instead, I opted for a postgraduate degree in Crop Protection and it’s fortunate that I did.

Long story short, after a research project involving simulation of biological systems, I realised that I found the underlying science had much less appeal than handling a sophisticated piece of software running from an operating system I’d not used before. Partway through the course, I knew I’d stick it out but would turn away from science at the end. Sure enough, straight after finishing, I had hit the books and before long was gearing up for my first position in a new industry.

in retrospect?

Here’s a few of the questions I often get asked about my change of heart.

Will you ever return to science?
Not likely at this point. For me, science will forever be a hobby. 🙂

Do you wish it had turned out differently?
I’m not sure. I’m certainly not resentful about how things have turned out, but I don’t consider myself ‘over the catch-up hump’ for this industry yet. Until I am, it’s difficult to tell if I would have made a better hacker or research scientist.

What do you miss most about science?
Probably knowing that my work could one day have contributed to solving world crises such as the global food shortage.

Most importantly…

what can i suggest for people making a similar switch?

  • Learn learn learn. Books, podcasts, blogs and anywhere you can get your hands on reliable information.
  • Manage expectations. People new to the industry aren’t going to become skilled hackers overnight — it literally takes years to build up to the level of a senior software developer/tester/*insert position here*.
  • Write write write. Most programmers code personal projects in their spare time and those starting out should get into the same habit. Beginner projects may be a little less extravagant than those of someone more experienced but should still be fun and interesting enough to keep on with. Projects like these also serve as a useful proof of your ability when/if you decide to pursue a job in this industry.

all in all…

…it was ultimately a choice between what I had experience in versus what I enjoyed, which I imagine is often the case with most career changes. Faced with the same decision again, I’d repeat the choice I made the first time. I will, however, be forever doomed to wonder exactly how things would have happened if things had perhaps gone another way… 🙂

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