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From Chem to Coding: How and Why I Switched Careers

September 03, 2019

It’s been a little more than three years when I decided to learn coding and turn my back away from chemistry as a career. Yet, I haven’t really written anything about this transition.

Part of the reason why I’m not really open to talking about this is that I think that it is a manifestation of how I suck.

I already have a career (or lack thereof) and I even have a PhD. One of the reasons why one would switch careers at this point is because he/she is a failure in that area. Or it’s just that the person does not really enjoy it anymore.

In my case, it’s actually both. I thought I’ve given it my everything, but I don’t think it has really given a satisfactory return of my investments, so to speak. Or maybe I just haven’t really given it the best of me because I don’t really enjoy it in the first place.

In fact, I have been thinking of switching careers some years before I even did it. I’ve considered going back to school to take an MBA but that’s just not my cup of tea. I even looked at being a physician assistant or a nurse, but I don’t think I’ll be happy. At the time, I was a teaching postdoc which was poising me for a future as a professor for a liberal college or something like that. I just knew it’s not what I really want to do.

Another reason I don’t really want to discuss this issue is the fact that I don’t really need to. It would only piss me off when someone else had to say about my decisions. And chemists are way too traditional, especially those who graduated from the Philippines (well, most people who grew up in the Philippines are a little less open to change, and are really set in their ways—in general). So, if you graduated with a degree in chemistry, you’re supposed to be a chemist for the rest of your life. Something like that. That’s why I stuck to it for too long even if I wasn’t that happy anymore. I was a traditional, Filipino chemist.

After quitting my last full time chemistry job, I spent some time evaluating what I really want to do, of course, aside from taking a break from that crazy stint of a job. Of all the jobs I had, it was the most that made me so unhappy (though it paid relatively ok). I pretty much saw that to fix that, I had to just stop doing it. And that’s what I did! Then, I thought about where to go next and planned to make changes so I can go do it.

The change of course didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual discovery. But I was determined to make changes and learn. Deciding to go to tech wasn’t something that I did because it was popular. I just know that I love working with computers. In fact, the first book I bought when I first came to the US to attend a chemistry grad school wasn’t a chemistry book. It was a book on HTML and CSS because I had just done a website for a group I was a member of at the time. I did this website using Notepad and used the site Tripod to run it. It was a personal project that no one told me to make, I just did it for pure enjoyment. (The website is now deleted due to privacy concerns.)

I also had some previous background on pattern recognition which was one of the topics of my postdoctoral teaching position at UT Austin. I actually enjoyed learning that, and when I heard about data science, I thought, I could do it.

So then I learned Python. I took MOOCs which have exploded at the time (and still going on right now). I thought I liked learning it, though I was really attracted to web development. Hence, I learned Flask.

Then I learned JavaScript and more HTML and CSS. Then, I decided to go to a coding bootcamp, instead of a data science bootcamp. Because I think that’s where I would be happy.

I also saw the need to network. I attended a few meetups and met a lot of people. Until I met someone who would advocate for me. That took a while but it happened. So now, I’m working in tech and a lot happier than I used to be in my previous job.