Science vs. Industry

Yesterday I was called by an HR officer from NetCracker, my former employer. She told me they "have a lot of new activities", so now they "fulfil repeated recruiting" and suggested to return to NetCracker. It is really funny, because 1.5 years ago they told me that according to the corporate policy it was impossible to employ somebody who had left the company once. I politely rejected them, but the talk refreshed my memories about previous hesitations.

When I switched the company to Graphics & Media Lab, it was a hard decision. That time I firmly decided to prefer scientific career over industrial. I considered a lot of pros and cons to make the decision. Although they are often personal, I'd like to share my observations with you.

Advantages of research work:
  • When you work as a researcher, you invent something new instead of just coding different stuff. This job is creative, not just constructive.
  • When you work as a programmer, you result is just a code. You don't publish papers, no one knows about your results. Moreover, they are often proprietorial.
  • If you work as an office worker or a manager, you could be paid a lot of money, but you are supposed to work 24x7. It really sucks because you do really annoying paperwork or participate in meetings, but do not produce anything substantial. If you have a lot of money, you have no time or desire to spend them to anything interesting. That's the reason why my roommate Andrey Korolev left Shell.
  • When you work as a scientist, you should not learn all the boring technologies. You can't be a prominent Java programmer without knowing heaps of jXxx libraries, a number of frameworks and without having some useless certificates. Besides, your knowledge could be narrow, they are restricted by your employer's needs.
  • Scientists are mobile: they move from one university to another. Some universities do not prolong contracts with professors, even if they are very cool. For me, it seems boring to live all the life in one place. (Though you could be sent to business trips while you work at some big corporation)
  • If you work at university, you might have a teaching experience of some kind, which is useful for you, if you use it properly.
Advantages of industrial work:
  • The main advantage is a good salary. :) If you are not a complete geek, it does matter. Science is usually funded by grants, which is unstable.
  • Since your employer needs profit, you do something practical. You can be sure that you don't investigate some abstract stuff that will never be applied.
Trust or not, our lab combines advantages of both directions. We usually work on projects ordered by customers who pay for it. Of course, we select only those projects, in which we can get some scientific results. Actually, it is done automatically, because it is not profitable for a customer to pay us for coding. That's how applied science should work, I think.

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