This morning I handed my boss my two weeks notice.
Let me back up a little. Back in 2002, I was two years into a bachelor's degree in biochemistry when I realized 1) my grades already disqualified my from admittance into any reputable medical school and 2) I really hated chemistry. Not wanting to throw away 2 years of hard science courses, I switched to bioengineering, and graduated in 2005 with an essentially worthless degree that covered a wide field of bioengineering topics, like biomedical engineering, bioprocess engineering, and biomechanics. Compounded with that was the fact that the Great Plains isn't the biomedicine hub of America, so I decided to go to grad school. This time, I went with mechanical engineering, though the majority of my electives were in biomedical engineering and biomechanics. 2 years, a 144-page thesis, and a lot of long days later, I had 2 engineering degrees. I then worked at an MEP engineering firm for 2 years, got laid off when the real estate collapse happened, got hired at my current company doing electromechanical engineering, and now 2 years later (present day) I am leaving my job finally qualified and capable of working at my "dream job," a medical device innovation start-up company as their first full-time engineer. The road has been nearly ten years long.
I think people quit their job for three reasons. I'm not talking about people who get laid off, or people who get fired, but people who, like me, hand their boss "notice" and move on. The first reason is that they've found something better or with better job security. The second reason is that their dislike of their current job reaches critical mass. The third reason is that extenuation circumstances predicate them making a geographical change. In my case, it's the first two, and the third is a byproduct of my move (my now-former job is 18 miles from my house by crowded highway, my new job is only 4 miles away - right along a well-maintained bike trail).
You see, for the last two years I have been a highly productive cog in machine that constitutes a small part of the military-industrial complex. My employer has, in the post-9/11 boom years of DoD spending, raked in huge sums of money in a variety of ways, mostly in R&D. Sometimes it was pretty neat. I built some devices and was involved in some projects that were literally inventing the cutting edge. Sometimes it was a pain, because the Government as a client is really about as much a drudgery as their can be.
And other times, it was disheartening. Over the last two years I have lived a double-life: at home I rail against Defense spending and cheer cuts, I cheer Ron Paul's foreign policy of ending our military presence overseas, and I cheer when huge programs get cancelled. At work, I wrote proposals seeking DoD funding. I helped organize systems so that our company could win more proposals, so we could convince our clients to fund follow-on work, and when I won a large proposal, I got promoted.
But lately the seemingly endless flow of money from the Pentagon to my pocket has both slowed but also taken on a sickening odor. I no longer feel like I am making a difference. And I am still naive and idealistic enough to believe that I should be making a difference.
With my two degrees, and my fairly large body of electro/mechanical/biological engineering experience, it was no problem getting interviews and then second interviews with several companies, including Google. And so Friday afternoon I accepted an offer from a small medical device development company.
In a way, its a load off. The worry about job security has taken on a new flavor. Before, I relied on my managers to bring in work and I relied on the Government to fund it. Which is, by the minute, becoming an increasingly perilous way to build a career. Now, I'm #3 on the corporate totem pole at an organization with 12 total people, and my fate and job security are both quite literally in my hands. My new boss, the CEO, has convinced me he can bring me work. We must innovate or we die. That is exactly how I want to live my life.
It helps that my new company has rented lab space in a building that looks like the love-child of the Guggenheim and St. Mary's Cathedral, a LEED-certified, organic building that still smells like fresh paint. It helps that I got a raise. It helps that it's right on the way to my wife's work so I can carpool with her occasionally. It helps that I'll save more than $150/month on gas. It helps that I'll be doing the work that I was trained to do. It helps that I will be doing the work I want to do. But what really makes me feel good is that I am one less cog in a military-industrial machine I no longer trust or believe in.
I will miss my boss and his boss. They were two of the best managers a young engineer could ever have. I guess the right way to honor them is to channel them, as my new company hopefully grows and I get underlings.
I want to wrap this up with a bit of advice, in case some young engineer comes across it. When I was younger I never understood the concept of "putting in your time" because it seemed so ridiculous to me. If you are good, you should get the good work right away. But believe me when I tell you: your first job will probably be really shitty. Learn everything you can anyway. Your second job will probably not be the one from which you retire, either. Nevertheless, learn everything you can. Then, on try three, take a risk. Email your dream companies and be surprised how many of them email you back. I was.
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