At the beginning of this year, I applied to the University of Calgary's graduate program and was accepted. Excitement and change are flying about the air while an odd blend of worry and optimism mix in my brain. I would have publicized the news earlier, but I have been flat out between work, studying for my PMP Certification, becoming Batman, and ensuring some residual photographic and programming incomes.
Most often when I mention to people that I'm leaving steady employment to obtain a Masters degree in Applied Math, the responses I receive fall into one of two categories. The first type of response is 'what will you do?', sometime phrased as 'what does that mean?'. For those people I'll weave a tail about how I'm going to study in the finance lab and eventually move into writing software for financial people. The second response, usually from my geekier friends, is a vague reference to applied math not being as pure as Real Math.
Then the conversation usually moves into why I'd give up a relatively comfortable dink's life, to take a vow of poverty and return to the money racket that is higher education. The answer to that question is complex.
I believe what started me thinking down the path was reading the book: A Thousand Barrels a Second. Peter's telling of his predictions for the oil industry shook me a bit. I know that oil gets broken down into many products and that the world won't just change overnight. I actually predict another really good run, or maybe two, in the fossil fuel based energy sector. As the price pushes higher, you'll see more technologies that rely on different sources of energy become more viable. Throw in a little telecommuting + virtual reality to keep us off the roads and the supply-demand balance will shift and suddenly the oil and gas industry will become very tight on the margins.
I probably took Peter's words differently than most because of my upbringing in northern British Columbia and working towards a degree in Computer Science. I found myself first set back by the tech bust and then the forestry industry getting butchered. Both seemed like industries that could never fail.
The Dot-Coms were becoming overnight millionaires, and that there was enough of everything to go around in the new digital age. Stories of Silicon Valley excess, and the adjusting of economics to a limitless supply of electrons made it seem that mankind had now found easy street, and for the rest of time we could employ the miracles of the internet. I often joke that I heard the dot-com bubble pop.
Forestry in my home town also appeared to be invulnerable. Forestry itself is set up around supply and demand, and ensuring meeting demand sustainably. We thought everything in the world could be made from the parts of a tree, including a plethora of biodegradable plastics, and we would be able to just take our refuse and use it to grow more trees. While I grew up you either worked at one of the many mills around town, or you sold stuff to people who worked at the mills. Furthermore, the British Columbia Forest Service logo was the most common thing to see on the side of a white truck, which is eerily similar to the number of energy company logos I see now. Then a piece of legislation, and the price of forest products became too expensive and the industry was dismantled.
Staring towards the future, I became pretty certain that during my lifetime I'll see the oil industry be carved up. It won't die, both tech and forestry are still alive and breathing today. I believe it will just become a lot more difficult to be employed in the field, and I don't want to have the unemployment cycle make me a job seeking 50 year old whose only experience is tied to a tight energy sector.
The path now forked. If I was going to walk away from the oil and gas sector, what would I like to do? I thought about photography, but reasoned that if I had to flog it for a living, I probably wouldn't like it as much. I've had a couple encounters doing photography part time, that made it clear that doing it day after day, all day, day in day out would very quickly make the magic of capturing photos disappear in the wind. I entertained the idea of making custom wood products and becoming a carpenter, and again I thought that my love of turning and making woodcraft furniture would die after I faced the reality that I'd be competing against cheap people buying cheap stuff from Ikea and Walmart. It was around this time I began to consider finance.
I've carried a wonder of the stock market since I began earnestly investing around 2004. Furthermore a good deal of available time, I dedicate to analyzing and attempting to understand the markets. I've written useful pieces of software to help me out. I've voluntarily read books on finance that most people would find to be the most boring print ever put to paper. I spend most of my day with a secondary monitor showing me what is going on in the market. When worrying about industries, as long as there is money, there will be a finance industry and if there is no money, I probably don't need to worry about working.
At first the thought was to just switch, and I started probing into what kind of finance jobs are available. It appeared I would either have to set myself back, and get hired on somewhere as an associate somewhere, and take a pay hit because I would basically be a programmer not knowing what he's programming, or I could try and learn a thing or two about finance before I entered the field. A few searches about education in finance and I found the finance lab at the U of Calgary. The rub was that the programme in which I wanted to study, required full time study and a stint as a teacher's assistant. As the conflict with my day job would be too great, I wearily weighed my options.
Eventually the scales tipped in the favour of returning to school. I've served notice with my employer, and have started letting people know. There is going to be a lot of change in my life this year.