Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Leaving the ivory tower

I've been planning to leave academia for some time, but kept on putting it off. Unlike the U.S. where tenure is a thing pursued vigorously by the great and the good, here in the U.K. at least it has long gone to dust. But my job was as permanent as they get, and actually left me a lot of time to do a lot of other things outside it that interested me...

Looking out over the Pacific
However recently I took a look around and discovered that everything that was getting me up in the morning had nothing to do with my day job, and everything to do with what I was doing outside it. That just isn't any way to live. So, I've just pushed the big red switch. I now have a long rope and will be using it to leave the ivory tower real soon, my last day here at the University of Exeter is later this week, Thursday the 4th of April.

I was originally planning to take a couple of months off to look around, mainly because I'm in the fortunate position that I can do that, and such opportunities shouldn't be wasted. However some Tesla-driving individuals said "Yes!" and I've now working on something that's going to swallow my life for the next couple of months.

However, I'm not complaining, it's just the sort of getting out of bed project that I'm quitting academia to do in the first place. You'll be hearing more about it shortly, just as soon as I can talk about it...

In the short to medium term I'm planning on staying freelance, and doing consulting, contracting, writing or anything else that'll pay the bills and keep the wolves from the door. Although I'm not opposed to the idea of joining a (large) company, I've just spent thirteen years working for someone else, it'll be nice to work for myself for a while. Or at least be nearer the top of the tree, as you can generally see the rest of the forest much better from there. That said, it doesn't mean I'm not open to offers; they'd just have to be interesting offers.

So, while I've got a large number of things that might come off; I'm interested in work. Preferably work of substance, but beggars can't be choosers.

I've done a number of (some quite infamous) things with iOS, and have a lot of experience on the app side of things. I have done a number of things that are now generally being lumped into the "Big Data" camp. While I'm not a Hadoop and NoSQL guy, I've done some interesting work with machine learning and agent architectures, mostly to do with distributed sensor networks. I'm a hardware guy, or at least I'm an Arduino guy, and have done a number of other things to do with that increasingly ubiquitous hardware platform.

I like playing with mobile platforms, hardware, software, sensors, 3D printers and data visualisation. Or preferably all of the above at the same time, a good example of this is the work on the Data Sensing Lab I've been doing for O'Reilly.

Basically I'm an emerging technology guy. If it's new and a lot of people know nothing about it, I probably know something or am learning about it right now. Then I generally write a book about it and move on to the next emerging technology. I like being on the cutting edge. It's interesting out here. Oh yes, I also helped discover the most distant astronomical object yet found; a gamma-ray burster at a redshift of 8.2. However I'm not so sure that's a useful skill outside of the ivory tower.

In summary then; I write, I code, I speak and am always willing to offer advice on things I know about.

Update: It has just been pointed out to me that I foresaw my own exit from academia some seven or eight years ago, back when I was still having fun in my day job, "...so what happens when I stop having fun? I'll probably have to sit down and make enough license plates so I don't have to worry about that stuff again."


  1. awesome!!! of course, if you want tenure, just find a job in a US university. We love British accents and competent programmers :-D

  2. Crikey! Best of luck for the future. Hope you find the right combination of creative challenges and financial security.

  3. It's interesting to see that I actually foresaw this seven or eight years ago, http://www.dailyack.com/2005/11/making-license-plates.html. How odd.

  4. Good luck with whatever you decide to do next.

  5. Hi Al, I'm sure you'll do well in whatever you decide to do. Good luck and let us know how it does! - KeithS

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