Drifting in and out of consciousness (oxfordhacker) wrote,
Drifting in and out of consciousness

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Review: New(ish) job

As I mentioned (albeit obliquely) previously, I got a new job. Of course, it's not so new any more, but I'm still enjoying it. Of course, my summary of it as 'curing cancer with SQL', is something of an over-simplification. For a start, I use other languages too. Also, we're not curing cancer, so much as all premature death and disease. Don't believe me? Check out the plaque on our wall (click for a more readable version):

And that is one of things I like about by new job: the six foot wide bronzed plaque on the wall commemorating a famous graph (Richard Doll demonstrating exactly how bad smoking is for you) and spitting in death's eye. It genuinely is a heartening thing to see every day.

Here are a few more of my favorite things:

  • The commute
    I can do it by bike, which is great. I cycled to my last job too, and I'd hate to have to get in any other way. Also, I had a fun time for the first couple of weeks figuring out my optimal route, using Google maps satellite pictures and dead-reckoning to forge shortcuts through car parks, across fields and, in one memorable miscalculation, through a river, a marsh, and a golf-course. Now it's darker and wetter I'm less adventurous, but it's nice to know I have the option, and summer should be fun.

  • Diversity
    I don't know quite how to put this without seeming weird, but it's very nice to have a bunch of different people around. It's probably just the contrast from my last job, which was a small company of almost all male geeks, and the only time we saw a non-white face was when the cleaners were emptying our bins. I'm certainly not blaming anyone there, it just seemed a slightly... unhealthy situation. Whether it's middle-class guilt or just neophilia, it's really nice to be working with foreign people and women. For example, we were discussing the perils of working with large IT projects the other day, and one of my colleagues said: "One monk: water; three monks: no water". Of course, he had to explain what he meant, which made for a pleasant and enlightening diversion. I like that sort of thing.

  • Friendliness
    I don't know exactly what it is (perhaps simply the fact that not everyone here is painfully geeky) but the atmosphere is very friendly. People start chats for no reason, chats which aren't painfully awkward because they're actually good at small talk (as opposed to SmallTalk). They leave spare apples from their gardens or exotic sweets from their holidays in the kitchen for people to help themselves. After my bio was posted in the coffee rooms, someone emailed me to find out more. He didn't even take offense when I confessed that, while I was pleased to have intrigued him, I'd been aiming to intrigue attractive lady statisticians. We ended up going out for a lunchtime pint and talking about music and games. Like I say, nice people.

  • Cleverness
    Many of the people here are ridiculously clever, but somehow instead of feeling gormless by comparison, I feel clever by association. After all, I'm the sort person who gets invited to talks like this:

    A genome-wide study of statin-induced myopathy: SLCO1B1 variants predict risk
    Come along and see this exciting result which is the topic of Emma's thesis and recently out in the NEJM - it is not very often you'll see a p<10-28 result!

    I went, by the way (how could one not?). I even understood some of it! I think.

  • Tai Chi
    There's a class next door every Wednesday lunchtime. I've been to a few sessions now and I really enjoy it, though it's harder than it looks. Still, few more weeks and I feel confident that any monkey stepping to me will have its sorry ass repulsed. It also got me thinking, for the first time ever, that perhaps I have benefited from those seemingly pointless junior school PE/drama lessons in which we improvised interpretative dance pretending to be trees. I doubt they made me more graceful, but perhaps they helped to teach me to switch off my embarrassment when necessary, which is useful when I'm the only one in the class and we're doing hip rolling exercises...

  • Meetings
    At least a couple of times a week, as part of my job, I have to discussing things with clever, charming ladies over coffee and, if I'm lucky, cake. I flatter myself that this plays to my skills, but either way it's certainly something I'd like to get better at. More companies should do this.

  • Purpose
    I was used to the idea that my job's only purpose was to fund the rest of my life. After all, you have to be really, because despite your best intentions, the best that most people can reasonably aim for is something that isn't actively doing evil. I exaggerate a little, but I'm not driven enough to get a job actually helping people directly, so I soldier on and salve my conscience by volunteering at Oxfam. However, I guess I'm less cynical than I thought, because it's pleasing and refreshing to now be working for an organisation that has a definite and benign purpose. I know I'm still just hacking databases, but it's for a good cause.
    This was all highlighted last month when I wandered along to someone's leaving do (I didn't know her but everyone was invited.) It was all pretty standard stuff, but inside the usual enormous card of signatures they'd included a graph. It showed, if I recall correctly, infant mortality from leukemia, with lines marking when she started at the unit 40 years ago (about 85% mortality) and now (about 5%). It wasn't all her work, of course, but it was pretty incredible to think that her career had contributed towards something like that, and that mine conceivably could too. I mentally pictured the graphs that could be made of my accomplishments at previous jobs. That was when I decided that I really want to stay here.

Damn, I was going write a quick, bullet-pointed post before going down the pub, but I seem to have gotten carried away...
Tags: work
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