Why did I “leave medicine” to become a software developer?

(left) Obtained my PhD in medicine; (right) working as a software engineer

Coding is just a powerful tool to solve real problems, and also help us think differently.

Job Interviewer: “Why do I leave medicine and work as a software developer?”

This is a question I was repeatedly asked during my job interview for a software developer position.

Me: “I didn’t leave medicine.”

If what you mean by leaving medicine is I don’t work as a clinical doctor. Yes. But I never decided not to work on any projects related to medicine.

My story — Realised the power of coding during my PhD program

I did lots of data analysis during my PhD program. At the beginning, nearly every colleague (mainly the clinical doctors) leverage SPSS to handle the statistical analysis. But I started to find it tricky to reproduce the outputs as you have to click the menus one by one in the exactly same sequence. Usually, researcher would provide statistical methods in the paper, but only the names of statistical method like T-test, etc.. That’s it. It can be challenging for the publication to try to reproduce your statistical results, not to speak of communicating with your peers about the way of your approach to the data.

I felt the desire to believe that there must be a better way to handle research data analysis and sharing our results among peers. Nobody in my department by that time asked or suggested me to learn and use R inside an academic paper. I was lucky 🍀 to join a one-week R training in the second year of my PhD program. Following the training, I immediately coding in R and use it for data exploration, data cleaning, data management, building statistical model, etc.. Every step are clearly be illustrated in the manuscript. The R script was even included in my publications (again my promoters did not told me to do so), along with my output visualisation images like tables, plots. With R, you are not just performing a common T-test or other statistical tests, but also the way of investigating the data in depth, connecting all the important pieces together to tell a good story (push a paper or write a regular literature article). I learnt a lot about data analysis itself after using R in my daily research work. I gave away all of my books on that topic to other students before leaving Netherlands at the beginning of 2020.

REASON 1: Coding skill + medicine knowledge = POWER

I thought it would be a great combination between software development skill and medical knowledge for a digital product in healthcare industry. But I was wrong (relatively). Let me share my true experience in Shanghai (China). I have tried to apply jobs of software developers to the companies engaged with the medical field in China, but none of them considered it necessary or of any value to hire someone who has a medical background. What they wanted was only pure software developers. I still insisted that even the developers can just do the coding following the product design, but it’s still valuable to have a different perspective by someone who has a totally different education background to look into the product.

REASON 2: Coding itself is a powerful skill, not a career

Coding is just a powerful skill, in the sense that it can be used in various industries and fields. Building digital solutions through coding provides tons of opportunities. But it seems hard for those who have a computer science degree and only work as a developer in her/his life to understand the idea of “coding is just a powerful skill, not a career.” Well, that’s not the key. We only need to know the fact that we, as developers, can build products in various fields. Knowing how to code is power.

REASON 3: Keep striving with coding skill

Coding is an incredible powerful tool to help us solve the real problems. Understanding and working with it also shape our thoughts and strategies. It’s an extremely needed skill. Coding becomes my life style! I don’t know what will happen, but simply keep pushing myself forward — striving for daily growth as a human being and transforming to be a creator.

I recently left my job as a Front End Developer to start a full-time startup project. Any progress will be constantly shared on this site.

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