Tag Archives: PhD

Moving to London to get a PhD

Dawn in LondonSome people buy fancy, expensive sports cars and hook up with someone half their age during a midlife crisis. I always like to be a little different, so I’ve decided to move to London and go back to school to get a PhD for my midlife crisis. I’m still waiting on my student visa, but if everything goes as planned, I’ll be moving to London in early January.

Taking a step back from an amazing job and career is hard, but the reality is that this isn’t going to get any easier if I wait. I’m already in my mid-forties, so a rigorous academic research degree is just going to get harder to complete if I wait too long. I’m also incredibly fortunate to be able to afford to do this right now, and it gives me an opportunity to live in another country for a while, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

I also think it is time for a bit of a change. I’ve been working with open source communities for 14 years, and I’ve been in various community leadership / management roles full-time for more than 8 years. While I love community management, I’m a bit burned out and am feeling the itch to do something a little different for a while, so I’m going to spend the next 3 (or so) years focused more on the research side of communities. I love community metrics and analysis, but while managing a community and a team, I just haven’t had time to devote to this kind of research. Getting a PhD gives me an opportunity to spend time focused on research and analysis for topics that I find interesting.

I really like London, but my primary reason for selecting the University of Greenwich is because of the Centre for Business Network Analysis within the Business school. This group within the University of Greenwich performs quantitative research to look at the relationships between people in an organization or participating in communities, and I would like to extend this idea to look not just at the network relationships between individual people, but also between companies participating in open source communities. My specific area of research is focused on the Linux kernel community, which has large numbers of contributions from individuals being paid by organizations to contribute as part of their regular jobs. I will be studying Linux kernel code contributions from individuals who are employed by these organizations using network analysis and interviews to identify the relationships between organizations. I selected the Linux kernel because I find it interesting, and because it is a very large, neutral project with contributions from many different companies. The initial draft of my research proposal (PDF) has more details about the project.

The hardest part of this decision was the decision to leave Puppet Labs as a part of this process. We looked at a variety of options to see if I could stay in a part-time capacity, but the reality is that they need someone full-time in Portland to manage the community team. I will be staying on until the end of February to help with the transition and hiring of my replacement (we should have a job posting on the website in a week or 2). I’ll be continuing full-time here until I start my PhD program, which is currently scheduled for January 12, but could be a week or two later depending on when my student visa arrives. At that point, I will be converting over to part-time, since my student visa allows me to work for no more than 20 hours per week. Starting in March, I might be looking for a part-time community gig depending on how well I’ve been able to balance work and school during January and February.

I’ve always loved research, and this gives my an opportunity to spend some time doing research on a topic that I find interesting. I’ll be reducing my travel quite a bit, so you won’t see me at as many events, but you’ll still see me hanging around at various Linux conferences where I will be bugging people to talk to me as part of my research.


Q: Are you crazy?!?
A: Yes.

Q: What are you doing with all of your stuff in Portland?
A: I’m selling my house and my car. I’m in the process of donating piles of stuff to charity that I’ve accumulated and don’t really need. I’m packing 4 suitcases to take with me and putting the rest into storage. I’m actually looking forward to simplifying my life a bit and having less stuff (those of you who know me well know how much I hate extra stuff).

Q: Do you hate Portland?
A: No, I don’t hate Portland. I love Portland. I’m putting all of my stuff in storage here because I’m planning to come back someday. I still think of Portland as home, and when I’m ready to come back to the US, I’ll be coming back to Portland.

Q: Do you hate us?
A: No, I love the people in Portland. I said that leaving Puppet Labs was the hardest part of this decision, but it’s actually tied for top of the list with hating to leave all of the amazing people here in Portland. I’ll miss my friends in Portland, including everyone at Puppet Labs. Don’t forget about me while I’m gone (I’m coming back at some point), and if you make your way to London, ping me, and we’ll go out for a pint (note: the pints in the UK are bigger!) or a cup of delicious tea if pints aren’t your thing.

Q: Do you hate Puppet Labs?
A: Absolutely not! I love the company and the people. I’ve been part of the planning process, and I really do think that Puppet Labs is on a path to do really well over the next couple of years. I think they have a great team, and Luke is the best CEO that I’ve ever worked with (and I’ve worked with some good ones)!