My snapshots for why I do what I do

A type of conversation that occurs not infrequently goes alike:

  • Other person: “why are you here?”
  • Me: Uh?
  • Other person: “I mean, work at the university. You can earn so much more money when working in industry.”
  • Me: Ahh. Well, I have worked in industry for 3.5 years. It was fine for a while, but not enough…

Then I fill in the dots to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the occasion. Related to answering such questions is Anthony Finkelstein’s “why I do what I do” blogpost: it consists of snapshots of positive aspects and events that made him feel it makes it all worthwhile being a professor in software engineering, which is a nice idea to give small hints toward answering it. Here I compiled some of my ‘snapshots’ of positive aspects, pleasant events, and encouraging feedback that have occurred that make me enjoy my job more than to give into a latent thirst for money and possessions and go back to industry (but note that I reserve the right to change my mind again). In random order:

The excitement when you’re the first person in the whole world who solves some particular problem or discovers something hitherto unknown.

After having covered topics like relational algebra, SQL, and distributed databases in the lectures, a student comments, baffled, “I thought databases was just about playing a bit with MS Access, but there’s so much more to it. It’s really amazing!”

I got to see the Sydney Opera House—wanting to see it since I saw a slide of it in my last year of high school during art classes—right before presenting my paper at a top-ranked conference, and the university paid for the trip to the other end of the world.

“We are pleased to inform you that you paper “xxx” has been accepted for …”

I stumbled upon a paper related to my PhD thesis, stating they use my theory to solve the problem they had.

A fourth-year student emailed me at the end of the course that he’s impressed that I’m a caring lecturer also going beyond what I have to do, and that he has yet to meet someone like me.

Socializing with colleagues from different disciplines, and brainstorming about joining forces to research and devise solutions to fix the major problems in the world.

I traveled to Cuba to, upon invitation, teach a course in my research area to well-prepared and motivated students who were eager to learn. And an extension one of the course’s projects even resulted in a joint paper.

A paper cites one of my papers as if it is the default/standard paper to cite on that topic.

Free access to most of the primary sources of scientific information regardless the discipline.

I can investigate issues that I fancy looking into, and even can earn a living with it.

Seeing students surpassing their own expectations and becoming aware of the capabilities they didn’t think themselves they had but actually do have.

Meeting up with colleagues and having stimulating conversations about pressing problems and known unknowns in our oh-so-relevant sub-sub-sub-field of our discipline, alternated with pub talk on the ‘tales from the trenches’ and nerdy trivia.

I know what the box is made of, what it does, and can make it compute what it should compute.

I travel to different countries and meet many people from all over the world, reconfirming time and again we are all very human, and live in and share this world together.


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