After working as a professional programmer for fourteen years,
primarily in ads and web performance, I
careers to biosecurity. It's now been a bit over a year: how has
In terms of my day-to-day work it's very different. I'd been at Google
for a decade  and knew a lot of people across the organization. I
was tech lead to six people, managing four of them, and my calendar
was usually booked nearly solid. I spent a lot of time thinking about
what work was a good fit for what people, including how to break
larger efforts down and how this division would interact with our
promotion process. I read several hundred emails a day, assisted by
foot controls, and reviewed
a lot more code than I wrote. I tracked design efforts across ads and
with the web platform, paying attention to where they might require
work from my team or where we had relevant experience. I knew the web
platform and advertising ecosystem very well, and was becoming an
expert in international internet privacy legislation. Success meant
earning more money to donate.
Now I'm an individual contributor at a small academically affiliated
non-profit, on a mostly independent project, writing code and
analyzing data. Looking at my calendar for next week I have three days
with no meetings, and on the other two I have a total of 3:15. In a
typical week I write a few dozen messages and 1-3 documents writing up
my recent work. I help other researchers here with software and
system administration things, as needed. I'm learning a lot about
diseases, sequencing, and bioinformatics. Success means decreasing the
chance of a globally catastrophic pandemic.
Despite how different these sound, I've liked them both a lot. I've
worked with great people, had a good work-life balance, and made progress
on challenging and interesting problems. While I find my current work
altruistically fulfilling, I was also the kind of person who felt that
way about earning to give.
I do feel a bit weird writing this post: while the year has had its
ups and downs and been unpredictable in a lot of ways, this is
essentially the blog post I would have predicted I'd be writing. What
wouldn't I have written in Summer 2022?
A big one is that the funding environment is very
both means that earning
to give is more valuable than it had been and it's harder to stay
funded. I think my current work is enough more valuable than what I'd
been donating that it was still a good choice for me, but that won't
be the case for everyone. If you've been earning to give and are
trying to decide whether to switch to a direct role, a good approach
is to apply and ask
the organization whether they'd rather have your time or your
I do also have more knowledge about how my skills have transferred.
My skills in general programming, data analysis (though more skills
here would have been better), familiarity with unix command line
tools, technical writing, experimental design, scoping and planning
technical work, project management, and people management have all
been helpful. But I'm not sure this list is that useful to others:
it's a combination of what I was good at and what has been useful in
my new role, and so will be very situation- and person-dependent.
Happy to answer questions!
 Except for ~six months in 2017 when I left
to join a
startup and then came back after
getting laid off.
Comment via: the EA Forum, mastodon
As someone with 16 years at a big tech firm, who is thinking about a career change, I really appreciate this post. Thanks.
How much did the supposedly severe decline in Google's organizational health contribute to your decision to change jobs?
It wasn't a contributor. I liked my part of Google, and would be happy to go back there if it turned out that was the career move that made the most sense altruistically.
Can you elaborate on this? I only personally know one person who works at Google, and haven't heard about this decline.