So, if someone turned the page on my life and I'm at the beginning of a new chapter... What might I want to do next? Other than familiarity, what was it about the prior job that kept me so energized?
Spirit of team and place: The startup feel drove a sense of possibility and accomplishment and excitement. Features came fast and furious, results came fast too. I was hands-on with the users and they were power users, so expertise played a big role. The enthusiasm helped me feel alive, and feel that I mattered.
Challenge: I got to stretch my brain on a regular basis. Whether I was learning new things or redesigning familiar things, I was juggling a lot of information at a fast pace and spent a significant amount of my time focused. This was starting to fall away towards the end, due to a variety of circumstantial things, but when it was happening, it was part of the draw for me.
Meaning: The software I was working with tried to make meaning out of text. Human language analysis. Complicated, messy, imperfect, and yet... deep and relevant. I found myself fascinated with aspects of searching, classifying, reading, extracting. I enjoy that field. It may not be all I enjoy, but I do enjoy it.
Respect: I was well established as an expert on the system. That had a few downsides but for the most part it was something I really enjoyed. I can function very well when I understand how everything connects. And I can contribute a lot, and it encourages positive interactions with people.
As I look ahead in life... I find myself drawn to the higher end computing work, that requires expert knowledge. I am pondering how to learn what I want to know. I don't know that I have time or patience to deal with returning to college. But I want master's level work, and don't even have a bachelor's degree. And what I want to get into is more formal academic sources; math, algorithms, computational linguistics. I want to grow beyond "just a developer" and into something that is so much more.
Why? Well - I'm bored. I want the work, the salaries, and the respect that come with having a specialty. I want to stretch beyond where I'm at right now. I NEED to grow. I NEED to stretch into challenges. I ache to feel the joy of pursuit again. I'd like to do it "for real" instead of feeling like I'm an "almost" -- that is, I'd like the formal academic theory that makes it complete, instead of guessing how to use others' tools to do things.
And this... this is absolutely out of sync with the local job market. Sigh.
What I can practically do in the coming year is stretch a bit into more modern "best practices" for Java. I can adjust to test-first development, Hibernate, Spring Webflow, JMS, jQuery. I can pick up the toolsets that are used locally and make sure I'm basically reliable using them. I can probably find an adequate, somewhat interesting job using those. And then? Then I get bored again.
I can stretch across platforms; maybe Android or iPhone, maybe Mac desktop apps, maybe Windows games. Any of these would be a worthy challenge and would increase my marketability. Learning to work on big Java would do likewise, although I'm unlikely to be able to do massive parallel processing apps in my free time; it's impractical. And again I'm not sure how much call there is for it locally.
So, I'm really at a point in my career, after 12 years of Java and about 15 years of professional coding, where I'm going -- now what? Okay I'm competent for most basic and intermediate work, and there's very little local demand for true experts, so... now what?
I didn't realize I would top out my field this quickly.
I feel like learning certain additional specialties or formal academic aspects should carry me farther. But I'm really not sure whether I can provide all the discipline to do that by myself, or how far I could get. So many other things in life are so very interesting, and I end up wanting to learn and do it all, all at once. And so few people around me "get" the depth of dedication that I need if I'm going to devote to really learning. I worry that everyone will forget about me socially while I'm buried in my learning. I do get lonely.
Life isn't in a good situation right now for me to return to school. I need to be working full time for income. I can cross train to other tech areas without school, though it's a clumsy process to do solo (a team is easier). But I'm not sure what to train into. I can make an educated guess that mobile computing knowledge is going to be in high demand. It's also going to be a clumsy area for me to move to, since I've done web but not desktop apps and the paradigms are very different.
Other geeks out there -- have any advice? Where do I go when I run out of growth room?
I don't seem to have the natural people talents to make me an effective manager of anything other than a tech team. I'm blind to egos and politics and tend to see task not people, which makes me a great engineer but a poor manager. I'm finding I'm more interested in the engineering side anyway. But where do I grow from here?