Engineer Scientist, Firmware
I work as a firmware engineeer for Hewlett-Packard. My group develops the algorithms that control All In One devices--printers that scan, copy, and fax. When people ask me what I do all day, I tell them I solve puzzles, little puzzles and big puzzles. At any time, I'm working on several different things with time scales ranging from a few minutes (why did my code fail to build) to several months (develop a paper moving algorithm for 20% faster printing). Some of the puzzles involve other people (the power supply is overloaded), while others involve just figuring things out by myself ( how can I write a perl script to automate a process). The great thing is these puzzles have answers, and it's satisfying to discover them.
Many people study engineering to get a job like mine, but I'm happy I majored in math. I believe my liberal arts major gave me a freer, fuller educational experience. More importantly, mathematics qualified me not just for one job, but for a whole range of possibilities.
I tried several other careers. After college, I spent a year playing poker in California card rooms. I thought it was going to be pure fun, but I found spending my days with card players unpleasant. Many of them only talked about what bad luck they had, and they talked a lot.
I spent some years doing creative writing in an academic setting. That was interesting, and I met wonderful people. But when I took an elective course on interactive computing, it was more interesting than writing.
I became an entrepreneur, developing utility software for the Apple II with a company called Beagle Bros. I learned a lot about computers and had friends who got rich, but most of my work was done alone at my home computer. When I obtained a regular engineering job, it felt like a holiday. I was suddenly surrounded by bright people who enjoyed their work, and I didn't have to feel guilty about not working weekends.
I moved into management for a few years. It gave me a feeling of knowing what was going on in the company and being an Important Person. It was exciting and challenging, but then I took a six month sabbatical. I ended up using the time to write a mathematical paper on the theory of poker (Nov. 98 American Mathematical Monthly). I enjoyed it so much that I had to get back to solving puzzles on a daily basis. I transferred back to engineering, and have enjoyed the change.