349: Escaping Academe

Without fully intending to, I found myself transitioning out of academe and back into industry this year. It started out as a consulting engagement, something to do while I sat out my enforced leave from Ateneo. Then the work started picking up, new opportunities opened, and what was a sideline became full time.

It’s funny because in a way this was all Ateneo’s doing, anyhow. It has to do with teaching loads administrative loads, year loads, and overloads. I won’t go into the grisly details because it’s confusing as heck and it won’t make a lot of sense outside of the university. Suffice to say, it came to a point where they wouldn’t let me teach for one semester…but they would still pay me. How could I refuse?

The break couldn’t have come at a better time. I was becoming increasingly unhappy with Ateneo. The politics and the culture had become more grating over time. Internally, there was a big mess with the faculty union (that there was a faculty union was already a warning sign but I tolerated it because Ateneo). I began to disagree with the university’s advocacies and what I perceived to be the heavy-handed slogan approach to promoting them. Even the annual retreats began to feel shallow and superficial.

There were a great many other things besides — behavior, decisions, and decision-making processes that flew in the face of common sense. That’s the price, I suppose, of moving up the organizational ladder: you see the warts underneath the makeup.

And yet all that would have been tolerable if I still had a network of support inside my home department. As it was, that was also disintegrating. They made the mistake of asking me to be assistant dean the previous year, I made the mistake of accepting. I made some pretty unpopular decisions. If nothing else, university folk know how to hold a grudge. They never tell you to your face, though. Instead, the weapon is collegiality: proposals get shut down “because it’s already been decided in our meeting,” the same meeting you weren’t informed of.

These days I lead a small software development team. The team is young, all under twenty-five, save for myself and one other. I’m now the oldest in the office and though that fact makes me a little sad, they never make me feel it. We start our mornings with our team meeting, where we discuss the accomplishments of yesterday and the plans for the day. It’s our way of keeping ourselves accountable to each other. During lunch break, we may play a game of cards. The day is well structured: go in at 9AM, leave at 6PM, Monday to Friday. The problems are challenging but the teamwork is good. I’m not the best programmer but I love seeing how my teammates turn out their code. Each difficulty is an opportunity to learn something new. And, yeah, the pay is better, too.

Do I miss university life? I miss the ideal of it, and to be honest, there was a time that I lived it during the first few years, something for which I’m thankful for. Reality eventually caught on, though, and I’m afraid it’s left the idea a little tarnished. But…so it goes.

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Dom Cimafranca

Teacher, writer, project manager, and all-around nice guy.