As a method of introducing myself, and providing context to future blogs, I wanted to write about my past career experiences in exercise physiology/healthcare and how I ended up pivoting to software development. The pivot is a frightening leap to take, when so much of your previous career has influenced what and who you are up to this day. At the very center of this transition was the desire for my life and identity to not heavily revolve around my career.
It is undeniable that this seems to be a standard path for most people around my age, career defines self, and that snowballs. Providing more context, the business sector in which that career exists seemingly has a lot of impact on how you view the world. For me, I had been in the exercise physiology realm for 10+ years. I have a bachelors degree in exercise science and a masters degree in kinesiology. While completing my masters degree, I worked in healthcare. This was the only avenue I found to ring true to my desires for a career at the time, it was also one of the few routes of working with an exercise physiology undergraduate degree (that wasn’t personal training related in Indiana). Here I got a ton of work experience, and some pretty unique working environments.
Using Those Degrees
My first job out of undergrad was working as a nightshift cardiac telemetry technician at a large hospital. From 7PM — 7AM, three days per week, I monitored cardiac rhythms of anywhere from 20–50 patients, within the hospital system. It was my job to find any irregularities in heart rhythms and report them to nursing and physician staff, as well as any immediate life-threatening changes. This worked for awhile, but then it lost the challenge and excitement, and it was also at nightshift. Working nights was less than optimal for me and significant other.
I started searching around and got connected to another cardiac focused position, but within a different hospital network, and this time it was outpatient(which meant normal business hours)!!! Here, I programmed and tested patient’s internal defibrillators and pacemakers. I would see the patient before they saw their cardiac electrophysiologist physician, write up a report on the current state of their cardiac device after I tested it, plus any abnormalities and changes to the device settings. This was a great position, working four 10-hour days per week, and never weekends. After being there for 1.5–2 years, a very apparent reality was that there was little chance for any desirable horizontal or vertical career movement from this position.
No big deal though, at the time, I was about to finish my masters degree, and the world of career possibilities was going to be so much brighter…right? Not really. This felt off, because I had spent so much time and effort working a full-time job and going to night-school to complete my masters, it seemed like then things would be different career wise. This time around, I took action that I didn’t with undergraduate completion. I reached out to my favorite professor and asked for some time to talk about careers. This one meeting changed my life.
How About Another Degree?
When discussing possible career tracks, my professor had asked if I had thought about going for a PhD, and this was something I had never, even-once, truly considered. Now that seems like a challenge I was up for taking on, not to mention that working full time and attending graduate school forces you to be a good student (there is just a limited amount of time). So I had become a pretty good student, and felt myself excelling academically because the topics were intrinsically interesting and I was learning how to learn, not just learning information about a topic. Then it became more clear to me that working at a university as a professor and researcher would be a natural career of evolving challenges, and constant progression as knowledge and understanding is always expanding. Long-story short, my (now) wife and I made some big life/career choices to move to Colorado so that I could pursue my PhD in exercise physiology and she could work in a different industry than her previous job.
The time I spent working on my doctorate, was personally expansive, at the cost of work-life balance, which is very blurry while in the student role. I wasn’t just a student though, I also performed laboratory research, provided 1-on-1 cancer exercise rehabilitation with patients, and taught 1–2 undergraduate courses per semester. I taught undergraduate courses as instructor of record, which is a little different than some graduate assistantships where you are more of an assistant to the professor(at least in the my cohort). On top of this extra responsibility, the courses I taught were in multiple disciplines.
Teaching was such a great opportunity (and one I will cherish) to lead groups of students through the daunting physiological world within and think like a scientist. This was one of my favorite parts of being a doctoral student, teaching other students and creating a classroom environment that promotes asking questions, talking through concepts and applying those concepts to the real world. Because of the mess that can be graduate assistantship funding, I also taught a first-semester freshmen focused course on educational psychology. While we did dive into specific concepts such as personal autonomy, human memory, and understanding motivation, the course broadly touched on being a new university student and how to make the most of your time(and money) while being a student. This brought a more empathetic touch to teaching as this whole experience was brand new to each student, whereas my other students had at least one year under their belt. Oh and I forgot to mention, the educational psychology instructors were encouraged by our director to make the class our own, providing a level of autonomy over our own work.
The research work I did was mostly in an animal laboratory, where I used mice to study the effects of exercise in the progression of cancer. Yes, I exercise trained mice on treadmills, which was frightening, funny, and exhausting all at the same time. This was where I wanted to be though, studying how exercise makes humans healthier and resilient to disease progression. Besides the extended training schedule(3 sessions/week for 12 weeks) of the mice, laboratory time on tissue analysis days was mentally, physically, and emotionally draining. After a handful of completed experiments under my belt, this was one of the points that provoked me into looking at what else there may be as a career. I didn’t want to think about cancer anymore. It was/is a heartbreaking topic to contemplate and environment to be in, and I just didn’t think my mental health goals aligned with this line of work for the rest of my life. It truly takes special individuals to keep fighting against this restless disease.
Wait…You Can Do Something Completely Unrelated?
At this point, I had dedicated nearly a decade to using my exercise physiology degrees in the world. Throughout that decade, I gradually moved towards working with more and more complex understanding of human physiology, but it still just didn’t feel right and I finally hit a point of talking to my wife about the future. Was I about to change directions when I was 2.5 years into a 3.5 year program? I love the complex thought that goes into understanding the physiological systems interacting to maintain human life, but without the aspect of life(or the loss there-of). This is where I started to identify a different career possibility.
I wanted to solve problems, by understanding input and output of the problem, and understand each step along the way. This is the fundamental approach I took to understanding how a single cell has extracellular signals which modify how it function(epigenetics). I like problem solving and wanted it to be a standard for my work, I just didn’t want the problem to be a devastating disease to the human race.
Maybe I was too attached to a decision I made a long time ago, and needed to rethink that decision as someone with an additional decade of life experience. It is easy to say that now, but I have to admit that I didn’t seriously consider changing careers until I did. Currently, I am in the last module of the Flatiron Software Engineering program and so excited to see what my future work-life will look like. While my knowledge of complex physiology may not be directly relevant to coding, the complexity is, which I must say is refreshing.