I'm planning on pivoting away from pure software, and this post is meant as a sort of explanation and rationale for the choices I'm about to make.
Over the last few years working in the software industry, I realized that pure software work is just boring. What's worse, much of the work in this industry seems to be pretty useless, if not even detrimental to society. Code is a powerful tool for making this world better, and yet I'm having a hard time seeing it used that way.
If code is a tool, then it's a means to an end. A carpenter is not an expert in using a hammer - they're an expert in using a hammer to build something useful. I'm increasingly feeling more like a hammer expert in an industry of selling modern nail art, and so I think it's time to focus on developing expertise in some other fields, where I could use computing to create things I believe in.
There are two areas of human endeavor that I've been dreaming about for a long time now, and I want to make a serious effort to contribute to them. I'm thinking of switching over my career to one (or both) of them over the coming few years.
I find space intrinsically interesting. I've dreamed of humans exploring the universe since I was a kid.
I believe that expanding outwards, and moving various industries from the surface to Earth orbit and further out, could usher a new era of prosperity for humans. It could also play a vital part in restoring the damage we've been doing to our home for the past three centuries.
Space programs worldwide have become quite neglected since the end of the Apollo era, but in the last decade - in big part thanks to the private sector, now dubbed NewSpace - things have been picking up pace. Still, development happens too slow for my taste, and I would love to give my best to push it forward ever so slightly, so that maybe humanity will become a real spacefaring species within my lifetime.
Ultimately, my dream is to directly contribute towards bootstrapping an industry in space - that is, to work on things related to asteroid mining, ISRU, zero-G manufacturing, or many of other supporting areas.
I believe Eric Drexler when he writes that molecular nanotechnology pretty much the key to the future. Mastery of nano-scale processes could literally solve half of the problems humanity faces (i.e. the half we don't inflict on ourselves). And as I'm fond of saying:
Life is technology. It is very advanced nanotech that we didn't design, and we can't control… yet.
Biotech of today is finally letting us tinker with existing machines that work on molecular scale, and gain necessary experience to design our own nanosystems. I think that modifying and ultimately reverse-engineering an existing, working technology is much simpler than developing our own - but even if not, it's currently our only example of working nanomachinery to study.
To be clear - I was never particularly interested in living things by themselves. I have no passion for flowers and animals, and I prefer concrete jungle to a raw forest. But I love engineering of all kinds, and it is with this view that I feel drawn towards biology. My dream is to work on things that help us design our own nanomachines for use in making lives of everyone better.
While I've been paying attention to both spacetech and biotech for a long time, it's only in the past year or two that I really started considering a serious career switch. I could just resign from my current software job and try to get hired by anyone in my industries of choice, but that feels both irresponsible and like a waste of time.
Instead, I want to spend the year 2018 on getting the "lay of the land" of both spacetech and biotech industries - to figure out who is working on what areas, what work is impactful, and what kind of skills are needed to contribute something meaningful. And while I hate this word, I know I need to spend some effort on networking.
If you, dear reader, have any experience in either of those industries or maybe tips to share, I would very much appreciate some help in getting my bearings.
But what about…?
It's still my personal tool of choice, and I plan to remain active in Common Lisp community. I will keep using it wherever I can, but I'm more practical about it than I used to be a few years ago.
It's fun as a pastime, but I don't feel like I want to make a career in it anymore. I'll probably keep writing small games as a pure hobby.
I pay attention to both the more hype-driven areas like deep learning, and those more dream-driven, like the work of MIRI and OpenAI. However, I don't feel like focusing on those particular areas right now, beyond picking up basic skills in machine learning. If an AGI takes off and renders all our endeavors obsolete, only better for us. If it decides to kill us all, it at least won't be because of a software bug I made.
Energy problems are constantly on my mind, and I have some interest in cleantech. A possible future pivot into that industry isn't beyond my imagination, but as it is, I feel that both spacetech and biotech can offer a lot in terms of solutions for energy and climate problems, so my current choice is tangentially related.