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Showing posts from April, 2013

The other side of "academic freedom"

My various blog posts about moving from academia to industry have prompted a number of conversations with PhD students who are considering academic careers. The most oft-cited reason for wanting a faculty job is "academic freedom," which is typically described as "being able to work on anything you want." This is a nice theory, but I think it's important to understand the realities, especially for pre-tenure, junior faculty.

I don't believe that most professors (even tenured ones) can genuinely work on "anything they want." In practice, as a professor you are constrained by at least four things:
What you can get funding to do;What you can publish (good) papers about;What you can get students to help you with;What you can do better than anyone else in the field. These are important limitations to consider, and I want to take them one by one.
Funding doesn't come easy. When I was a PhD student at Berkeley, I was fortunate to be a student of David…

Running a software team at Google

I'm often asked what my job is like at Google since I left academia. I guess going from tenured professor to software engineer sounds like a big step down. Job titles aside, I'm much happier and more productive in my new role than I was in the 8 years at Harvard, though there are actually a lot of similarities between being a professor and running a software team.

I lead a team at Google's Seattle office which is responsible for a range of projects in the mobile web performance area (for more background on my team's work see my earlier blog post on the topic). One of our projects is the recently-announced data compression proxy support in Chrome Mobile. We also work on the PageSpeed suite of technologies, specifically focusing on mobile web optimization, as well as a bunch of other cool stuff that I can't talk about just yet.

My official job title is just "software engineer," which is the most common (and coveted) role at Google. (I say "coveted&quo…