What to Do After Undergraduate Work

I’m really unsure what the heck I want to do with myself in the next few years. At the moment I’m holding on to UTD, hoping the time goes by slowly and that I will have all the answers by the time I am done here (yeah, right).

The issue that is troubling me right now is work. I work for an Austin-based webdesign firm called AO Design. At first I was hired on as a lowly XHTML coder, but I quickly got into more serious programming work, and now I am quite critical to the operation of the company. I do all of the programming work. Sure it’s kickass for a 20 year old college student to be lead programmer, but the angle I am getting at is that it’s a lot of responsibility. One side of that is that I can’t just leave whenever I feel like it—the company will be screwed (for a period). So I have to plan. If I intend to leave, I have to set out a date and work to make myself unnecessary. But all this is not at all to say that I intend to leave soon.

Actually, my boss is setting me up to run this company in a few years. Eventually he wants to retire, and I think he wants to give his baby a good home. But the question is, is this right for me? I mean…is running a webdesign firm really what I want? I’m not sure. I know I’d be good at it (my main reason for saying that is that I could do (and largely have done at some point) all jobs within the firm, and I think that would give me a managerial edge)…and it certainly sounds cool. But…I’ve always planned it differently. I figured I’d go to work for Redhat, Novell, Google, etc. In some sense I really idolize the careers of people like Miguel De Icaza, Nat Friedman, and Havoc Pennington. They’re the young guys driving Linux desktop development forward at this point. They’re leading the charge. That’s where I should be and intend to be. 27, trotting the globe giving talks on OSS and hacking GNOME software with some equally kickass friends in our spare time. Blogging the whole journey and giving Linux kids some unlikely dream to reach for. And it’s not like these people are rich—but that’s not what matters.

Something like half of the core UTD Linux Users group members (basically all friends of mine) were hired out by Texas Instruments to work on Linux stuff. I would bet that they could get me hired too—my knowledge is on par with theirs. That would rock. On the other hand, it’s $10 / hour—a fraction of what I make now. But at least I would have (semi-)regular hours and no one calling me at 8am because something is wrong and some damn client is pissed off. And TI wouldn’t hurt on a resume. Believe me, I’ve considered trying to hold both jobs. But I think I’d be on the verge of death if I did that. But over summer, I think I will try and do it.

Then there’s school. My intentions are to grab a Master’s Degree, no final decisions on going further than that, but this instant I am doubting that I want to go the Ph. D. route (while at the same time thinking that would rock). But whatever I do, I really want to go to a kickass CS school. That means MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, someplace like that. I feel like that would be worth it and I really think I could do it.

But then I think about my friends here. Not only are there a lot of people here that I love, but I’m developing some social roots—the kind of networking that lands you a job (think Texas Instruments). That carries serious value. How does one weigh that against success and a personal dream?

Is it odd that I am already thinking life is short and feeling fear about planning these years such that I don’t waste any of my time? Is that long-sightedness or paranoia? I’ve always thought that I shouldn’t allow local personal attachments to get in the way of my long-term plans, but that only holds worthwhile to a point. I could cut off friendships again with the same voluntarily, unfeeling crack. But how many times can it be worth it? Down the entire span of life, friends are critical, so to always neglect them in favor of other things is to fall off the other side of the balance beam.

On the other end of things, the more I struggle with work and education decisions, the more I want to collapse into a ball of personal comfort, stay put, and not take any chances. It would be easy and comfortable to take graduate courses at UTD. Would that ruin the dream? Would it enhance the journey? …I like my problems more deterministic than this…