Transitioning from Academia to Software Engineering

Storing Data — DNA

Having a career in academia was my primary goal since I first stepped into the university. During those four years in university, I tried to fulfill all the requirements to be able to reach my goal. After I received my bachelor’s degree in Biology, I left home and moved to the U.S. to pursue my doctorate degree. Doing research, spending hours in the lab, working hard to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of complex structures were part of my scientific training. One of the most rewarding moments of my life was to defend my hundreds of pages long dissertation thesis and having a graduate degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

A few months after my graduation, I moved to Seattle due to my husband’s job and started looking for research opportunities in the area. It did not take too long for me to realize that trying to find a research position on a particular topic and limiting your job search to only one state does not help you to find one easily. I knew that I did not want to pursue a career outside academia and then I decided to apply for teaching positions. I did not have a lot of college-level teaching experience when I accepted my first job offer, but having great colleagues and a supportive environment made my new journey less stressful.

The first years of teaching were very satisfactory for me; I was in a place where my achievements are recognized and valued, I was learning tons of new things every day and most importantly I was able to inspire my students as a female faculty with a Ph.D. The challenging part of teaching for me was to deliver the same subject with minor changes to new students every quarter. You as a faculty are of course free to do research and advance your courses with different materials, but unfortunately grading workload and other professional/personal commitments do not let you focus on any other thing. Then, I came to a point of questioning my own career decisions and I was brave enough to ask “why don’t I try other things I am passionate about?”.

I started my career with the intention of becoming an academician and now considering to change it to a non-academic route was sounding like “quitting”. I had many questions to answer; “Am I going to waste my scientific training by moving outside academia?… Do I betray people who believed and supported me for many years to achieve my academic goals?…”. What I know is a career change will not erase my past, this will be more like branching out my career path into a different position and the name of this new direction is software engineering! And here is my “Why”:

I was surrounded by people who are in the tech field for many years. Over the past few years, I had many friends who had joined the tech field and that was an inspiration for me to look into it for myself. All these people including my husband who is a software engineer were encouraging me to learn programming. They were thinking that I would be a nice fit with my problem solving and critical thinking skills.

I took their suggestions into account and ended up taking an online introductory programming course. At the end of the day, I had an incredible learning experience. I love to keep learning and coding gave me that opportunity to try new things freely. It was not different than doing experiments in the laboratory, my laptop was my new lab bench. Conducting experiments with reproducible and reliable methods was one of the most important rules when I was in the lab and now I was following similar scientific methods by using different tools to test my code. Being able to get the results of my coding experiment in only seconds with a few keystrokes was very exciting.

Now as a boot camp student, I see that programming energizes me and I don’t understand how time flies when I am coding. The combination of research and teaching skills I gained from my academic experience is helping me to critically analyze and solve the algorithm problems when I am programming. I feel like I am making a difference in my own life every day by learning new skills and this leads me to be more productive than I was before. I also would like to add that witnessing the efforts and enthusiasm of my toddler to learn everything around herself has a great impact on me to build a growth mindset in my new journey. It is very valuable for me to demonstrate that we are capable of doing more than we think we can as humans. I am optimistic and passionate about the future with this new direction.

Full-Stack Software Developer with a background in academia. Seattle, WA. https://www.linkedin.com/in/bahay-gulle-bilgi https://www.bahaygb.com

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