Six years ago, when I considered graduate studies (10 years after graduating my B.Sc) I was CTO in a company that was at a crossroads, leading to very short term product and technology thinking. Looking for a change, I felt the academic world offered a space where deep, broad thinking was preferred over nearsighted goals. So I reduced my position at work, and took on studies back in the Technion.
I finished the needed courses in a year and a half, but the thesis took much longer. Friends warned me it’s difficult to context switch between work and research, not to mention family, and they were indeed right. Still, I wanted to feel the academic life again, and figure out if I wanted to pursue it full time and continue to a PhD.
The conclusion gradually distilled into a resounding No. I’ll stop at Master’s. One reason was my allergic reactions to too much maths, so prevalent in the Technion, but there was also something deeper. I realized that the user experience is where I’m at, and core computer science research is far from it, except perhaps HCI departments.
There is a significant gap between the cutting edge in academy and in practice. A paper may be worth publishing due to a statistically significant increment of 5% in relevancy (see the major interest around the Netflix prize), whereas actual users will barely feel the difference. On the other hand, stuff that is considered “commodity” in the academic world, can make big waves if implemented well in the industry, and for a good reason. Companies have built a major user following (and a fortune…) just by doing excellent and usable implementation of basic CS algorithms.
So if I have to choose between making a the research community happy, or making end users happy, I definitely choose the latter. Perhaps I’ll go back to do my PhD in another 10 years, but until then, it’s Farewell Academia!