Sunday, November 10, 2013

Why I Left a Great Place to Work - from Industry to Academia

Three months ago, I quit my job at SAS to become a professor. It was quite a surprise to many of my friends, colleagues and customers.

SAS is known to be the best place to work. As a SAS employee, I enjoyed a competitive salary, lucrative bonuses, generous retirement plan, subsidies of dependent care and many other benefits that you can read from many major media outlets.

At SAS, I started up and lead the energy forecasting business. With the help from a great team, in less than two years, we built a multi-million dollar opportunity pipeline from scratch, brought in multi-million dollars of revenue, developed and launched the SAS Energy Forecasting solution, the state-of-the-art forecasting solution for the utility industry. With such a shiny record, I would have a bright future with my industry career if I continued working there.

Am I crazy to quit a great company and a job tailored for me?

During the past few years, I've been providing consulting and education services to 100+ organizations in the utility industry worldwide. Looking at thousands of people on my contact list, I found a serious problem in the field I'm in. Most people are either senior folks with 25+ years of industry experience or recent graduates on the job for less than 5 years. I have also been getting notices from those senior folks about their retirement or intent of retirement, which make the workforce problem even worse than it sounds. These experienced engineers and analysts are retiring in the next 5 years or so, taking away the knowledge and experience that is not yet ready to be picked up by the new comers.

Brainwashed by my mentor, I believe I should do something meaningful for the industry so that I can enjoy a happy retirement 30 years later. Staying at SAS will definitely maximize the value I bring to the company, but maybe not to the industry. When an academic job offer was presented to me, I think I should take the opportunity to do something I am passionate about:
producing the next generation of finest analysts for the industry.

On this academic job, I will spend most of my time on three things:


I'd like to continue pushing the boundary of knowledge. An academic job offers me the freedom to conduct research in any direction I want. There is a Gap between Academic Research and Industry Needs. Coming from the industry with a good understanding of utility business, I'm confident that I can continue generating useful research outcomes for the industry. I enjoy discovering new things, but I hate to have my papers reviewed by nonsense reviewers. Hopefully every reviewer in this field follows my Four Steps to Review an Energy Forecasting Paper.


I found it very rewarding to work on consulting projects, particularly the challenging ones. All of my research ideas in energy forecasting are generated from consulting practices. I believe working directly with the customers is the most effective approach to applied research. As a professor on a 9-month contract, I can spend three months every year working on the projects I'm interested in without worrying about profitability.


I was fortunate to have the opportunity of working closely with several top experts during my early career. All I need to do was to suck the knowledge as much as I can. Then I grew up quickly, a surprise to most people, but not to me and the giants who brought me up. There were many people guessing my age after my talks or workshops. Going through the rapid growth in person, I learned how to train and mentor people. A significant portion of my academic job is right on teaching and advising students.

At thirty, I stood firm.

Confucius said: "At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I know the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right." I just turned 30 today. Quitting my SAS job is the second craziest thing I've done so far.

1 comment:

  1. I admire you for taking on a noble role in academia and teaching the future leaders of the world. - Thank you


Note that you may link to your LinkedIn profile if you choose Name/URL option.