Emmanouil Koukoumidis Systems Builder & Data Junkie

To Ph.D. or not to Ph.D.?

Written by Emmanouil Koukoumidis on June 19, 2014.

Several people have been asking me about whether they should do a PhD or not. Sometimes they frame their question in a different way: "If you knew back then what you know now (already a couple years in the software industry), would you do it again?"

If you aspire to become a researcher or a university professor, then PhD is the way to go. If not, then this becomes a very hard question to answer as it depends on what skills you want to grow, and on how many sacrifices you are willing to make… But, before I throw more light here, let me tell you how a PhD looks like…

"If PhD were to be described as a journey, then it would have to be called an Odyssey. A long, tough journey. Often, the sea is rough, your ship gets wrecked and you need to figure out how to make your own raft in order to set sail again towards your destination. But then again, there will often be no wind in your sails and you will have to row, row and row... However, at the same time such a journey teaches you a whole lot on both a technical and personal basis. When coupled with influential advisors and collaborators, this trip becomes a life-changing experience that instills a diverse set of skills and values." - Emmanouil Koukoumidis, Ph.D. Thesis

The main skills that a PhD helps grow more effectively than being a junior Dev in the software industry are creative thinking, communication skills (they are way more important than you may think!) and leadership. In PhD, you will learn to come up with your own original ideas, to evaluate them, and to effectively communicate/defend them. These are skills that will you help become a great innovator and leader in the hardware/software industry. Skills that non-PhDs will take way longer to grow. However, at the same time, while you (the PhD) are growing these skills building hacky prototypes along the way, the non-PhD in a reputable software company is learning how to build production quality systems. Also, by the time you graduate money-poor and exhausted from the super hard work, the non-PhD will have a higher position than you and a lot of savings. However, you will have the skills that will allow you to quickly catch up and excel… So, would I do it again if I knew what it would take? Hmmm... Would Odysseus have gone to Troy if he knew that it would take him 30 years to go back to Ithaca? I think I would, it is a very tough journey, but very rewarding as well…