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September 2013

Clear Mind, Wild Heart, Spiral Career Path, New Job

Atigeo-Logo_150x41pxI recently accepted an offer to assume the role of Director, Analytics and Data Science, at Atigeo LLC. This career transition mostly marks a shift of title and status, as I've been consulting at Atigeo as a Principal Scientist for the past 18 months (part-time during the academic year and full-time during summers). I'm excited about continuing to exercise and extend my skills and experience in natural language processing, machine learning and usability, contributing to Atigeo's health products - an area of heightened interest for me over the last several years - as well as exploring other emerging opportunities for the company and its partners and customers.

ClearMind_WildHeart_DavidWhyteOn the cusp of this transition, I was inspired by David Whyte's 6-CD set, Clear Mind, Wild Heart, and his compelling poetry and prose regarding "courageous conversations", "cyclical invitations", "investigative vulnerability" and "hazarding" oneself on "successive frontiers" of existence. I've listened to this entire collection dozens of times, and have referenced his poetry in several previous posts. During this particular cycle, I was struck by his observations about feeling hemmed in, and the importance of taking advantage of periodic opportunities to harvest the fruits of one's labors and loves. I also revisited and reflected on Martin Buber's insights - channeled by Oriah Mountain Dreamer - about bringing all of who I am to my work, and came to believe that I am better able to bring more dimensions of myself into my new (current) work than I could at my previous work.

Uwb-logo-purple-150x150This is not to say that I was not able to bring many dimensions of myself into my previous work. Indeed, teaching computer science at UW Bothell (and UW Tacoma) offered me an opportunity to exercise and extend a broad array of skills initially cultivated in an earlier teaching cycle at the University of Hartford. Unfortunately, as time went on, I was experiencing increasing conflict between my desire to promote experimentation and exploration among students, and my need to assess their competency in a standard, objective and time-efficient way. I found myself acting as gatekeeper - to ensure that students' grades reflected their capabilities to take on greater and greater challenges further along the curriculum (and ultimately in their careers) - and yet wanting to help them tear down walls. I also found myself increasingly uncertain about opportunities for my own career growth in academia.

Supreme_Spiral_Staircase_-_Rory_FinnerenAs I pondered the paths that lay before me, I reflected on the ways my professional life has evolved in cycles. I started to chart the different stages on a spiral graph, but soon realized that there are too many dimensions, and my progression has not followed an orderly or entirely predictable sequence. Instead, I'll settle for inserting an emblematic photo (that I particularly like for its upward vs. downward perspective) and simply listing some of the dimensions through which my career has cycled:

  • academia and industry (and large and small institutions in both realms)
  • teaching, research, design, development and management
  • artificial intelligence, mobile and ubiquitous computing, and human-computer interaction

Apparently, I'm not the only person to have thought of careers as following a spiral path. In an intriguing paper on "Career Pandemonium: Realigning Organizations and Individuals" (Academy of Management Executive, 10(4), 1996), Ken Brousseau and his colleagues describe the spiral career path as a non-traditional model involving periodic major moves across different areas, in which "the new field draws upon knowledge and skills developed in the old field, and at the same time throws open the door to the development of an entirely new set of knowledge and skills". That sounds about right.

The authors also offer a related insight about career resiliency:
Instead of people dedicated to a particular discipline, function, job, or career path, the career resilient workforce would be composed of employees who not only are dedicated to the idea of continuous learning but also stand ready to reinvent themselves to keep pace with change; who take responsibility for their own career management and, last but not least, who are committed to the company's success.

I am grateful for all the support of my continuous learning at UW Bothell - from the faculty, staff, students and administrators - during the last career cycle, and I hope to maintain some form of connection with the university during this next cycle.

As I proceed with my latest self-reinvention (or, at least, transition), I can't help but note the marvelous rendition of the idea of non-linear paths through life articulated in one of my favorite Harry Chapin songs, All My Life's a Circle:

No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;
There's no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.