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I had an interesting half of a conversation with a co-worker today. (The other half got preempted; we'll have to revisit the topic later.) He made the observation that when people are young, their goals are apparent and straightforward to work toward. Learn how to tie your shoes. Learn to read. Study for the next exam. Become an expert in a field. Get an internship. Get a permanent job.
Suddenly you're an adult with a full-time job and you notice your goal-setting isn't on autopilot anymore. Are you really happy doing what you're doing? What do you want to improve? In what ways do you want the future to be different from the present, and how will you get there?
On a personal level, am I happy with my job? What do I want to be doing in five years? Am I taking steps today that will help me achieve what I want? Is this all there is to life? Are there no major, life-altering changes anymore? Will it be like this for the next thirty years? Is this what life is all about?
It looks to be a far-reaching conversation.
The only response I was able to give immediately related to my job satisfaction. I'm very pleased with the course of my career, and it isn't something I've had to plan in detail. The bottom line is that every year I've been at Intel has been more interesting than the previous one, and as long as that continues, I'll be happy. And I do expect it to continue. Computers are already Too Complicated™, and Moore's Law guarantees the complexity will continue to grow.
The complexity of the thing (how's that for vague?) I spend most of my time working on is increasing by an order of magnitude as we turn over from one generation of microprocessors to the next. A couple years ago I only worked on the back-end of this tool. More recently, the increase in complexity has been an opportunity for me to get my Roark on and do some genuine microprocessor architecture work.
I remember during my first internship at Intel the sense of awe and wonder I had about being in the midst of so many extremely intelligent and talented people. I wrote an e-mail describing the sensation as being like a mortal among gods, and marveling that they paid me for being there. To this day, there are still times I feel that way. Let me put it this way: there are hierarchies of godhood, and I get that feeling of awe every time I have significant interactions with the gods above me.
I've met and worked with some awesomely intelligent people. Everyone knows who they are by simple atmospheric osmosis. They're highly regarded and get an almost palpable respect whenever they speak, in a hush-comes-over-the-room sort of way.
I have the great privilege of working with the most intelligent group of people I have ever known, every working day. We create and debug the most complicated and least observable devices mankind has ever built, and we have fun doing it.
Yeah, I like my job. It's the best part of my life. I won't start worrying about it until, and unless, I discover at some point that it doesn't interest me anymore. I'm confident that that point won't come for at least several more years. :)
I'm less satisfied with other aspects of my life. But that's a whole 'nother conversation, and it's too late to keep writing tonight.