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What's next Brady?

// 2011
degree = 0;

// 2015

// 2017

When you put it like that, it all seems pretty straightforward. Of course, that only reveals half the story - what’s next Brady? My adviser utters those words on a weekly basis. I’m always unsure if it’s the start or end of a conversation with him - sometimes it’s said hopefully, other times disappointedly. Regardless, it’s always the one thought lurking in my mind. For once, I’ll try and answer it directly.

I’ve just earned my MSEE from UIUC. Technically there’s still some paperwork to finish up, but that’s all negligible. Six years at the same place, and it’s officially become the longest constant in my life (take that, elementary school). I think most people, myself included, would be interested in seeing something new. The default post-college answer: get a job. Go to work, make money, etc. Most of my friends tried it out and turned out pretty good at it.

My problem is I’ve hated every job I’ve ever had, almost. They’ve run the whole gamut: from slow to fast, from simple to challenging, from monotone to daily challenges. Sure, my sample size isn’t the largest (about 6), but it’s all I have access to. There’s just something utterly revolting about returning to any of the jobs I’ve had. This isn’t meant to be a knock on the companies or the people there either, it’s definitely a “me thing”. The one thing I have noticed is that they’ve all been medium/large companies. So I decided to just try something random and join the first hardware-oriented startup would take me. After a couple months of emailing anyone that even looked like a startup, one finally stuck. That company ended up being Astranis, a small company out in San Francisco. They do some really cool work with satellites and software-defined radios, and to say I’m excited to get out there is an understatement.

But there’s a small nagging thought in the back of my head - you’ve felt this way about every other job. The work always sounds cool, but even after a brief 3 months, I’m ready to leave. I wish I could put my finger on why, but I honestly have no idea. There is just zero appeal in the 40-hour, 8-5, M-F week and the slow suffocation that occurs inside me. My guess is that it has something to do with the N+1 nature of it all. Very little of the work I’ve done has ever been original in the design or creation sense. Re-iterating and the smallest of improvements to justify Version N+1 is mentally stifling to me.

I’m very much hoping it’s workplace related, and that this summer will remedy that. Am I positive? No, which is why I decided to do a test run for three months, and then I’ll make a real decision come August. But if it doesn’t work out, then what? It’s always good to have a backup, which brings us to part two!

That “almost” tag is pretty important, and it applies to one job in particular: Graduate Assistant in my research group. I do not know if I’m good at it, but I do know I love it. It’s the whole spectrum: teaching, learning, researching, creating, it’s all of it. My adviser + group (yes, even you Charlie) just provide the best environment to succeed and be happy. I know that this, unfortunately, is rarer than it should be. Many of friends here can’t say the same, which honestly makes me cherish it all the more.

So naturally, my back up plan is to not leave! In order to do that, I would have to enter the PhD program here at UIUC. I took the qualifying exam, passed it, and now the opportunity is open to me. I wouldn’t be committed to doing the full PhD, it just gives me an excuse to keep tinkering. An obvious thought may be creeping up right now - why would my adviser want me as a PhD student if I don’t even know if I’m staying? Even more, it’s clear I’m not really interested in a PhD, I’m just killing time. It’s a big ask for sure. My adviser is just cool with it - actually, he’s just cool. This is really the core problem honestly, and is an amusing little situation:

If my adviser were not this cool, I would have to choose now, and would probably choose PhD (or at least delay the real world).

However, if my adviser were not this cool, I wouldn’t be attracted to staying at UIUC.

What a complaint to have! Anyways, the resulting conclusion is 3 months at Astranis, then another too-long blog post in August about the next decision. There’s more background that’s been left unsaid (why not get a PhD, why UIUC, etc etc) but this answers your question, at least for now.

P.S. If you reached the conclusion “Brady is probably getting a PhD” without knowing all the above, then I highly recommend a course on random processes.

P.P.S. If you reached the conclusion “those damn millennials!!”, then I all I have to say is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯