Hadas Kotek » Blog »

There's a lot to like about working in tech

This is the last installment of a three-part series of my musings on leaving academia. Previous posts include a detailed description of my path to leaving academia and what I miss about it the most.

Despite of (or maybe because of) the recent wave of layoffs and its general impact on my life1, I’ve recently been contemplating some of the things I like most about my non-academic career in tech. Some of these things could also easily be ported over to academia, and maybe some of them already have some parallels, but that’s a topic for another time.

Job security

This may be counter-intuitive, especially with the context immediately above, but with my background and a few years of experience in my new career under my belt, I feel confident that there will always be a job out there for me. It may come with different responsibilities or pay or level of interest, but there will be something. That’s a liberating thought. What’s more, I know that changing jobs doesn’t need to entail moving to another city, which in academia it almost inevitably does.

Having choices!

Which leads me to the more general point: you have choices. You can choose where you want to live, who you want to work for, what kind of work you want to do (and importantly, you can set boundaries around who you don’t want to work for and what you would not be comfortable doing). When I got started on my non-academic job search, a friend told me in an informational interview that I needed to figure out the answer to three questions:

  1. What do you want to do?
  2. Where do you want to live?
  3. How much do you want to make?

All of those questions blew my mind — especially that last one — but she was absolutely right. You have choices and you can calibrate your search to fit those parameters.

Lots of career growth opportunities

Within the job I have, and in future jobs I may have, there are many different career paths that I can grow into. For me, specifically, there have been several areas I’ve focused on in the past: Ops, Project Management, Ontology, and Data Science, all in the broad context of annotation and machine learning. Going forward, both within my current job and in future ones, I could choose to focus more specifically on any of those areas of expertise (or pick up a new one!) — I’m not bound to any single one, and my career path is wide open with many potential future directions.


A related point to the above, in our “post”-COVID world,2 is that more and more jobs allow for part- or full-time work from home/remote options. WFH can make life much more convenient and opens up a lot of opportunities, for obvious reasons.

In general, there is a lot of flexibility around precise work hours and time off. The flexibility of just stepping away from your work for a couple of hours for errands is not unlike the flexibility you have as an academic, though one big difference is being able to take time off whenever suits you, not necessarily during semester breaks. (On the other hand, I generally have a whole lot less time off than I did as an academic,3 so there’s that.)

Work-life balance

There are very clear boundaries surrounding time on and off work. I work 40 hours per week. No one expects me to work on the weekends, or at odd hours of the day and night. No one expects that I’ll be available or do any work when I’m on vacation — I am truly away then. Nothing I do is really ever “on fire”, as they say.4 In fact, I have set an “off work” Focus on my phone and computer which hides all my work apps (Slack, Mail, etc.) and their notifications in my off hours, so I am never even tempted to look at them. It’s great!

If you ask me why there is such a difference, I’d say it’s because my work now is always part of a larger project that is determined by the company and ultimately belongs to them. I take pride in what I do, but I don’t feel the same sense of ownership. I have some distance and a clear boundary between me and my work.

As an academic, I believed that my professional success was directly tied to how much work I did. I consider this a sad statement, but it seems to me that ultimately the greatest benefit from my research went to me and my career growth (well, and Science, if you want to think about things that way), and to an extent to a broader community of researchers and students, but mainly to me. There is always another project you could do, another paper or grant you could write, another abstract you could submit – this is how you’re evaluated, and it never ends.

Now there are project deliverables and clear timelines. As long as I meet the deadlines and produce high quality work, I am doing my job and will be appreciated for it. What I do contributes to a larger product that is used by millions of people. Of course I could ask for more responsibilities and deliver more output, and I do occasionally, but the work should still fit in those 40 hours — it’s just that how I spend them changes.

Having managers and structure

My 40 hours are clearly allocated to certain projects; those projects are broken up into smaller tasks, which are closely tracked and usually have short deadlines. We work in two-week sprints and three-month quarters. We check in and revise our goals on a regular basis. It’s reasonably easy to keep track of what I need to do and to estimate the time needed to complete it. If we were significantly off in our estimates at any point, we can adjust, for example by changing the deadline or pulling in more resources to help make the deadline.

Once in a while I have conversations with my manager about my work load: is it too much? do I like what I’m doing? do I feel stimulated and enjoy the direction my work is going in? If there is too much work on my plate, we have a conversation about what to prioritize and what to delegate or push back to a later time. If I don’t enjoy what I’m doing, we may have a conversation about changing my load for the next quarter and picking things I like better to focus on in the future. Or maybe we have a conversation about identifying resources to support me in improving in the things I’m getting stuck on now. Several times, I’ve said I’d like to learn how to do X or grow more in direction Y, and my manager has worked with me to make that happen.

In general, I have clear and frequent conversations with my manager about short- and medium-length goals, and every quarter or two we have a conversation about long-term goals. I feel like I have clear feedback and I know where I stand and what I should be doing, for example if I just want to stay in the same direction and pace I’m going in, or what I’d need to do if I want to aim for a promotion or a change of direction.

Being evaluated for the things you’ve been hired to do

This sounds trivial, but being evaluated on the actual things you’ve been hired to do, and receiving the support and training that you need in order to do it is really great. As an academic, the myth goes your job is 40% research/40% teaching/20% service but we all know that teaching and service can take up much more of your time but isn’t valued nearly as much as your research for hiring, tenure, and promotion. You end up doing a whole lot of things that you’ve never been trained to do — including classroom teaching, making teaching materials and assessments, supervising students, administering budgets, and various other administrative tasks — which you also never really get good feedback on so you can improve, and that, if we’re being honest, not everyone is interested in improving in the first place because they are not valued as much as the research even if they do take up the majority of our time.

Onboarding and trainings

My job offers various trainings for things that we’re required to do. There are trainings for people managers on how to be better managers. There are trainings on how to give people feedback. There are technical trainings on tools. There is also a clear onboarding process for getting started at the jobs and various ways you can get support and ask questions if you get stuck. Trainings can get kind of tedious sometimes, too, but generally speaking there are more accessible ways to get unstuck.

Working toward a bigger goal

One thing in particular that I’ve come to appreciate is that the work I do now is part of a much larger operation with many moving parts, which eventually contributes to a product that I can see out there in the world. My team and I work together to contribute to these broader goals, and we can see our impact in real time.

Project management tools

There are some great project management tools out there. They allow you to keep track of goals and time you spend on them. They help you streamline the work. A couple of related things I like are that the default meeting length is 30 minutes. I have felt no loss of productivity because of going from the academic default of 60 to the industry default of 30. In addition, everyone uses the same calendar app and keeps it up to date, which allows me to schedule meetings so much faster and more easily than in my academic life. You just add your invitees to your event, check out everyone’s availability, pick a time that works for everyone, and add the meeting there. You might send a heads up in slack if for some reason this meeting was unexpected. Invitees can accept or decline and you can move the meeting around as needed. It takes me just a few minutes to schedule multi-participant multi-time zone meetings, as opposed to days and sometimes weeks in my academic life.

The fast pace

The product we build is constantly being worked on and improved. We move fast, and we can see results in the short and medium term. The glacial pace of academia would never fly here. Waiting 3 or 6 or even 12 months for a review, or another 6-12 months for an accepted paper to appear in press, or taking a year or more to collect data and write an initial draft up; in essence, taking years to get to a point where someone might give you feedback or point out errors or things you might improve — none of that would make any sense.

Getting feedback from people who are invested in your success

Which brings me to a broader point about reviews and feedback. The academic review process is adversarial in ways that are usually not helpful. Your reviewers aren’t invested in your success. (Sometimes they might even benefit if you fail.) A lot of reviewers take their job not as trying to improve your work with the goal of getting it past the goalpost for publication, but rather as simply trying find fault and deficiencies. Reviewing is unpaid and thankless. It’s not uncommon for reviewers to misunderstand things or to ask for changes that could take weeks or months and generally be unreasonable.

On the other hand, when I get feedback now, it’s from people who are invested in the success of my work. The turnaround time is fast, and I can ask questions and get their help if needed. It’s a much friendlier process.

Being valued and being told that you’re valued

This is another obvious one, but it’s nice to be regularly told you’re a valued member of the team. And it’s also nice to be shown that in various ways, too, including in promotions, bonuses, raises, swag, and other gifts. Most things we get throughout the year are small, but it still makes a different.

A separate but related thing I appreciate is that my team treats me like an expert in the thing that is my job. They actually seek out my expertise and my opinion on relevant matters. This took some getting used to. As an academic, you work in an environment where everyone has very similar experience to yours and there will always be senior colleagues who take up all the air in the room. Most of the time you’re simply not the foremore expert in anything. But in industry you’ll likely be hired into a team where team members have diverse backgrounds and experiences. In my case, there are a few other linguists around, but none who do quite the same thing as me. People on my team rely on my expertise and knowledge and they have their own different set of expertise and knowledge, and we come together to make a project work. This change in the composition of who you spend your work day with is, for me, one of the most noticeable and enjoyable.

Opportunities to learn and grow

I’ve already discussed some of this above in relation to career progression, but a separate point that comes to mind now is that being on a team with members who have all kinds of diverse backgrounds means that you have opportunities to truly be exposed to diverse opinions and to learn all kinds of new things. I thought this was true in academia too, but academia is very narrow compared to what’s out there. (And obviously tech is narrow compared to other industries and life in general, too, so there’s definitely more horizon-broadening I could be engaging in.)

On the other hand, to give one point to academia, engineering teams aren’t exactly the most diverse. And management — especially upper management — has a particularly white-cishet-male-abled-etc bias. Things weren’t great in academia, but I think they’re noticeably worse in tech, and that’s saying something.


There are good things and bad things about HR. HR is not your friend, it is there to protect the company, not the employees. That said, some of the truly atrocious things that happen in academia would simply never happen in industry. To be clear, things aren’t perfect in industry, either. It very well could be that it’s in the company’s interest to protect the bad guy in various situations, and they will do so without thinking twice. I think we all know some stories. But I want to think that the “lone genius” model that uplifts and protects bad actors with some regularity isn’t A Thing in quite the same way, and that’s good.

Being well compensated

Finally, to end on an obvious and unmitigated good category, being well compensated for your work is really nice, actually. I recommend it. I mentioned above the swag, the bonuses, raises, promotions. There’s also stock/options, and decent insurance. In general, making enough money so you don’t have to constantly worry is very nice.

Separately but notably, getting 401K matching (aka retirement savings) is so important, especially for us former academics who spent years as students and then in precarious employment that didn’t provide this benefit. Academics often start saving for retirement quite late, so we have some catching up to do.

In conclusion

There’s good and bad in every job and profession. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to like about a career in tech. I, at least, am happy where I am now. With the layoffs in the air, spelling all this out has been a useful exercise, so thanks for going along with me for this ride.



  1. Indirectly! and I hope it stays that way. 

  2. COVID is not over, people! 

  3. To be more precise, “vacation/time off” was never even a concept for me as an academic. You worked during the semester, though if you didn’t come into the office occasionally on days when you didn’t teach I don’t think that would have been an issue. And you could do whatever you wanted during semester breaks. At least in principle, you could take 3 months off work, especially seeing as you weren’t paid during that time. In reality, though, I think most of us just took our work with us wherever we went and kept on going. I personally did almost all of my research and writing during breaks. Teaching and service took up most of my time during the semester itself. So without working during “off” times, I would never have gotten any real work that contributes to my career growth done. 

  4. The only exception to that is that when I was managing the work of contractors. I always wanted to be sure that they had work available to them — because they are hourly workers and if there is no work, they can’t bill those hours. I would do my best to fix those kinds of situations ASAP even if they came up at unusual hours. But if a random person on my team needs something at an odd hour or day? They can wait until normal business hours.