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Ask HN: Moving from academia to tech?
9 points by stablemap on Sept 17, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 10 comments
Short version: What advice would you give to someone interested in leaving non-applied academic science and getting into tech?

I wanted to give a very general prompt so that any answers I'm lucky enough to receive might be useful to others, but maybe I should mention that I'll soon have a PhD and live in a major US city. Let me bring up some more specifics in the form of concerns that I don't think are overly personal.

* I read HN every day and have a rough idea of what's going on but haven't had time to program seriously in years. I believe I'm still capable of throwing together a useful web application in a matter of days but I imagine this is true of today's unpaid interns. I've no relevant portfolio or formal experience.

* In the evenings I'm enjoying reading about algorithms again. Given my training I think I could make meaningful contributions here. But again, no real experience and I'm used to thinking about theory for days at a time -- if I even reached an interview I think I'd be a disaster.

In person I would have more to say but this is already very long. You are right to be skeptical of the basic idea. I hope it's at least an interesting question and that I didn't miss anything while searching.

What kind of job(s) do you think you're interested in?

I moved from academia to a data science job, and it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.

My background: Math PhD from a top school, though my research was very abstract - not really related to machine learning, algorithms, or statistics. I had some coding experience in undergrad but none in grad school.

My path: I did the Insight Data Science bootcamp (http://insightdatascience.com/), which was very effective for me.

There are really two things I got out of the bootcamp that made it effective:

1) Connections

2) Impressive project(s) to show off & get your foot in the door.

You may be able to do these things without the help of a bootcamp, and I think especially if you're more interested in coding, there are a ton of good bootcamps that can provide you with the connections and last little bit of training to land a good job.

Thanks for sharing your experience. Our biographies are the same up until to the data science part.

I hadn't really thought about these bootcamps. I'm skeptical, not only because the tuition is most of a year's stipend; but your numbered points are persuasive.

I think software engineering is an obvious target. Maybe that's still too broad. There are aspects of data science (here is another word for me to define) that seem interesting.

What kind of projects did you create? I've looked at their site but can't see anything concrete.

I know someone who moved from Postdoc level Physics to Machine Learning. He is a strong and capable member on one of the teams that I work with.

Its certainly possible, but my guess is the big challenge is persuading a company that this is actually possible.

His strengths are being to understand the mathematical concepts and use them as tools to solve real world problems. I do not know your subject, but I would recommend finding something in what you do and applying it to tech -- you should be aiming MUCH higher than throwing a web application together.

Edit: I'd also recommend applying to Google and not expecting to make through the interviews. The amount of effort in getting up to interview level there certainly helps in getting positions in less well known companies.

>the big challenge is persuading a company that this is actually possible

I wanted to say this but didn't want to be presume too much, so thank you for saying it -- getting a foot in the door seems a problem. I'd like to think that I'd have strengths similar to your physicist friend, but I can't prove that right now.

I work in algebraic geometry. There is an "applied" subfield but I have very little knowledge of what it is those people do, and my experience is that mathematicians have a funny definition of application. Reading some papers tomorrow couldn't hurt, though. Of course I still want to work on interesting problems.

Define tech.

I could not do this in a satisfactory way -- I admit it was a poor choice of words that I spent some time making.

Do you think it would be good to be much more specific? I worry the "ask" tab would be a mess if it were filled with such threads. I'm also uneasy with the relevant terminology.

"I want to get into science." <-- "science" is about as specific as "tech". You're going to have to narrow the focus of your inquiry to get a helpful response from me :)

PhD in ...?

Mathematics. Maybe I was too vague.

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