Making the career path commitment
I am about to earn a Master's Degree in Computer Science from George Mason University, with a specialization in Voice over IP-related codec design and implementation. I'm torn between going to work for a vendor in a technical pre-sales position (of which there are plenty to be had these days) or pursuing more of a research and development position in the field of product design and development (of which there are plenty to be found also, especially in light of my EE bachelor's in signal processing devices). I guess I'm about to make a major commitment in one direction or another and I wanted to ask for your input or advice as to which way is the right way for me.
What can you tell me that I don't already know?
Given your background and credentials there probably isn't much I can tell you that you don't already know, but I can ask you to look deeply into yourself and your inclincations and personality. If you're more of a people person and like to interact with and help others figure out how to use technology, the pre-sales position is probably your best bet. But if you're more the quiet, focused type who likes to experience getting lost in your solitary efforts doing design, construction, testing, and so forth, the product development position probably makes most sense. The key lies in picking some pursuit that matches your personality and proclivities, as well as your talents and interests. This will indeed be both an interesting and important decision and I wish you the best of luck in working things through.
If you ponder my advice and still feel stuck, try talking to working professionals on both sides of your divide and see which people you resonate with best, and who seem most sympathetic and positive to you: what you like about them will probably also spill over into what you like about the work involved with each of these two career tracks.
Remember, too, that most people change jobs every 5-7 years, if not more often in technology areas. If you pursue one path with dedication and focus and it doesn't work out, you can always try something else.
Best of luck to you in your career planning. Feel free to post again if I can help with other questions or concerns that might turn up along the way.
This was first published in November 2007