It was the 7th of August 2018. I was coming to the end of my software development internship with Storm Technology. I was 27 and had come to a crossroads in my life.
The backstory; I studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Galway and graduated in 2012. Straight out of college I landed a dream job with the best medical device manufacturer in the world; Medtronic.
Medtronic was a fantastic company to work in and be part of. They gave me opportunities to travel all over the world, they trained me with lifelong skills, and paid me very well. The caliber of people working in Medtronic was second to none.
Going back to my degree in Mechanical Engineering. I actually took the first year as Undenominated Engineering. This meant I didn't have to specialize until second year in University. I got a chance to taste some of the other engineering tracks. As a result, I got a chance to dip my toes into some software engineering in 2008 / 2009. The first language I learned was Fortran; a language that first appeared in 1957! I then moved onto some C++ for the second semester. It was magical; write some code, compile, run and something useful would appear on screen. I didn't get to dive deep into any of these languages but it was enough to plant the seed. At the end of first year I had to make a decision on what engineering track I wanted to pursue. I scored highly in both the Mechanical Engineering and Software Engineering exams and ultimately picked mechanical engineering.
Now back to my career in Medtronic. It was great. I got to bump heads with brilliant people, work on projects that had a massive impact on peoples lives and was well rewarded. However, there was something always at the back of my mind that kept pulling me towards software. On occasion I would buy a course on Udemy to learn a small bit about building websites. As part of our upskilling in Medtronic, we got the opportunity to build some projects at home with an Arduino. That was the tipping point.
After some conversations with my girlfriend (now wife) and family in 2017 I decided to take a one year sabbatical from Medtronic to pursue software development. I applied for a masters in Software Design and Development at the University of Galway . It was fully funded by Springboard which meant I had to pass an interview process in order to be accepted. I loved every part of the course! Writing code, compiling and running it with success never gets old. The dopamine release was addictive.
I worked a few months as a software developer in my internship. They were a fantastic few months, and credit to Storm Technology (specifically John Tallon), I got to work on very interesting projects. Had I spent my internship doing menial tasks (like some of my classmates), my life might have turned out totally different.
In August 2018 my sabbatical was coming to an end and thus I had decisions to make. I had spent four years training to be a mechanical engineer plus another five years working as a mechanical engineer. I had only a few months working as a developer. If I was to change career now would I be wasting those 9 years? The sunk cost fallacy was real!
Around the same time I had been listening to this guy named Naval. I first heard him on episode 18 of The Knowledge Project. He fascinated me with his views on wealth, health and happiness so I started digging up as much content with him as possible.
I then came across a Persicope that he recorded that was uploaded to YouTube. He spoke about decision making heuristics. Specifically, he spoke about when you're faced with what's seemingly a 50-50 decision. See 38:44 below:
If you have two choices [....] and it looks 50-50 to you, A or B and you can't decide. Take the path that is more difficult and more painful in the short term. Because what's actually going on is one of these paths requires short-term pain and the other one maybe requires pain further out in the future - Naval Ravikant
Before hearing this, my mind was in such conflict. I didn't know what to do. Go back to my job in Medtronic or take the chance on becoming a software developer and starting over? When I heard Naval speak these words it all made sense. My brain was avoiding conflict. It was trying to push off the short-term pain. I knew what I had to do. .
Just like Naval explained, my brain was treating these as 50-50 options. Returning to my career in Medtronic was the option that had less short term pain ( returning to higher salary, old job, familiarity). Taking the chance on becoming a software engineer was the option that deep down I felt would leave me more equanimous in the long term. It was the path that was more difficult and more painful in the short term.
Decisions:— Naval (@naval) July 13, 2018
• If you can’t decide, the answer is no.
• If two equally difficult paths, choose the one more painful in the short term (pain avoidance is creating an illusion of equality).
• Choose the path that leaves you more equanimous in the long term.
I had been chatting to my parents and girlfriend about this conundrum for a few days. That day (7th of August 2018) I messaged my then girlfriend and mother with my decision. I still have the conversations on WhatsApp.
Laura ALWAYS has my back and it's one of the many reasons I married her.
Messaged my mother...
So the decision was made. I left Medtronic and joined Storm Technology to become a Software Engineer.
How have things turned out with four years of hindsight? Just fantastic. Making this decision has changed my life for the better in more ways than I could've imagined. I no longer have the Sunday blues, I stopped drinking at the weekends to escape the dissatisfaction with my career and I've become interested in sharpening my career skills outside of work hours. I went from having a job to a career. I also married the love of my life.
Any lessons? Maybe. What I'd say is to take time to listen to your gut. I felt there was something calling me in 2017 when I decided to try software engineering again. I could've ignored it and carried on in my safe job. Perhaps thing would've turned out just fine had I remained, I don't know. What I do know is that the gut feeling would've still been there, only 4 more years would've passed.
So when faced with a 50-50 decision take the path that's more difficult and painful in the short-term.