One of my classmates in my statistics class at Georgetown asked me how I went from doing tropical biology to becoming a software tester. I decided to share my response here because it might be interesting to others who are contemplating a radical change in career direction.

I was convinced throughout college that I wanted to be a tropical field biologist. I studied abroad at a field station in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and after graduation spent almost a year doing research in the Philippines on seed dispersal of a particular understory tree. I even got a publication out of the latter in a German ecology journal. So, I was all set to go for a PhD in bio, but while I was in Manila and Bataan I took some time to reflect on where things were going and I realized I didn’t want to do fieldwork for the rest of my life. It is an amazing experience and I’m glad I had the chance to try it out, but as a career it is a very isolated and difficult lifestyle. You have to spend a lot of time in very remote, uncomfortable, and occasionally dangerous situations to collect data. Experiments often fail, and you have to wait a whole year until you can try again (due to the seasonality of flowering, fruiting, migrating animals, etc). Almost no one pays attention to biology research unless it has a medical application, and most tropical biologists spend their lives documenting the ongoing destruction of species and ecosystems they care for very much but feel powerless to protect. What this means is that in order to follow this path, one must be extremely passionate and dedicated to their discipline. I actually had the good fortune to study under such a person in the Philippines- a man named Leonard Co who in my opinion was a modern-day Linnaeus. Sadly, he was shot about a year ago while doing fieldwork. He was a cheerful, multilingual, botanical genius whose whole life was dedicated to scientific discovery and conservation.

Yet as much as I admired him, I realized I did not want to follow in his footsteps, because I couldn’t imagine myself specializing and focusing so intensely on a single subject. I like learning about a wide variety of things, and since the financial crisis was going on at the same time, I started reading a lot about economics, which I didn’t know much about previously. Furthermore, I had never lived in a big city prior to Manila, and even though I always thought of myself as a rural person, I learned to love the excitement and mental stimulation of the urban environment. By the time I came back to the US, I was totally confused about what I wanted to do career-wise, so I just decided to keep an open mind when I got a job offer to do software testing in Charlottesville. I have enjoyed this work for the past 3 years and am grateful to the folks who decided to take a chance on hiring someone based more on his sense of curiosity than his programming experience. Since I still enjoy learning about both biology and economics (and especially how they sometimes intertwine), I decided to go ahead and try for a masters through night classes in something that seems to be useful in both fields, which is how I ended up studying math and statistics. My career philosophy now is more about just making the most of whatever opportunities come around and trying to always be learning something new rather than having a master plan to save the world. I do hope to someday use my technical skills to help conservation efforts in places like the Philippines and other parts of the tropics, but I imagine it will be more in my personal time than as a career. Indeed, I have continued to visit tropical countries and am always inspired by the beauty of the landscapes and the generosity of the people in places like Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, and Malaysia. I also feel fortunate to have maintained a connection to environmental issues through my work in that most of my projects have been supporting government (EPA) air quality and energy efficiency programs.

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Yesterday was my birthday, and it was a fantastic, joyful day that filled me with delight. It wasn’t because I got a bunch of presents or cake or anything like that (although last weekend I did have a great time celebrating in such fashion with my family in North Carolina too). In fact, I spent most of the day in the office working. The reason I am so happy is that so many of my friends and family sent me birthday greetings from all over the world! I know it seems like a small thing just to post on someone’s facebook wall or send them a text message, but those small gestures mean a lot to me.  I want to say THANK YOU to all of you near and far for being my friends. Whether I met you only for a weekend while traveling or have known you since I was a little child, your kindness, inspiration, and the new perspectives you have given me are what make me glad to be alive. If a good friend is more valuable than gold, then today I feel like the richest man in the world.

[En Espanol] Ayer fue mi cumpleanos, y fue un dia fantastico con mucho felicidades, que me lleno con gusto. No fue porque yo recibi muchos regalos, ni pastel, ni algo asi (aunque la fin de semana pasada me diverti mucho celebrando con ellas cosas con mi familia en Carolina del Norte). En serio, yo pasaba la mayoria del dia trabajando en la oficina. El razon que estoy tan feliz es porque tantos amigos y familia me mandaron saludos desde muchos paises y lugares diversos del mundo! Se que parece una cosa de poca importancia poner algo en el “muro” del facebook o mandar un mensaje por text, pero esas cosas pequenitas significan mucho a mi. Quiero decir GRACIAS a todos Uds. cerca y lejos por ser mis amigos. Si te conoci solo por una fin de semana cuando viajando, o si te he conocido desde cuando eramos ninos, tu amabilidad, inspiracion, y las vistas nuevas Uds. me han ofrecidos son los que me dan feliz vivir. Si un amigo verdadero o amiga verdadera vale mas que oro, entonces hoy me siento como el hombre mas rico del mundo.

[Em Portugues] Ontem foi o meu aniversario, e foi um dia fantastico com muitos felicidades que me cheio com gosto. Nao foi porque eu recebi muitos regalos, nem bolo, nem algo assim (ainda que a fim de semana passada me divirti muito celebrando de tal forma com minha familha em Carolina do Norte). Em realidade, eu passava a maioria do dia trabalhando no escritorio. O razao que estou tao feliz e porque tantos amigos e familha me mandaram saudacoes desde muitos paizes e lugares diversos do mundo! Sei que parece uma coisa de pequena importancia colocar algo no “muro” do facebook ou mandar um mensagem de text, mas essas coisas pequenas significam muito pra mi. Quero dizer OBRIGADO a todos voces perto e longe por ser meus amigos. Se eu te conheci so por uma fim de semana quando viajando, ou se eu te tenho conhecido desde quando eramos criancas, teu amabilidade, inspiracao, e as vistas novas voces me tem ofrecidos sao os que me dar feliz viver. Se um amigo verdadeiro ou amiga verdadeira vale mais que ouro, entao hoje me sinto como o homem mais rico do mundo.

[Sa Tagalog] Kahapon ay ang aking kaarawan, at ito ay isang mabuting, masayang araw na napuno ako sa tuwa. Ito ay hindi dahil ibigay ng mga regalo o cake o anumang bagay tulad na (bagaman katapusan ng linggo ko ay may isang mahusay na oras pakikisalu-salo sa tulad ng paraan kasama ang aking pamilya sa North Carolina pa rin). Sa katunayan, nagtrabaho lang ako sa opisina. Ang dahilan ako kaya masaya ay na kaya marami sa aking mga kaibigan at pamilya na ipinadala sa akin na pagbati ng kaarawan mula sa buong mundo! Alam ko ito tila tulad ng isang maliit na bagay lang sa post sa facebook wall ng isang tao o ipadala ang isang text na mensahe, ngunit ang mga maliliit na gestures ibig sabihin ng marami sa akin. Gusto kong sabihin SALAMAT sa lahat ng kayo malapit at malayo para sa pagiging mga kaibigan ko. Kung makilala kita lamang para sa isang katapusan ng linggo habang naglalakbay o may kilala kita mula sa kailan ako ay isang maliit na bata, ang inyong kabaitan, inspirasyon, at ang mga bagong perspectives sa iyo ay may ibinigay sa akin ay kung ano gumawa ako masaya mabuhay. Kung ang isang mabuting kaibigan ay mas mahalaga kaysa sa ginto, tapos ngayon pakiramdam ko ang pinakamayamang tao sa mundo.