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Career Guide for Ending Factory Farming

Thank you for writing this guide.

I made a career mistake which is relevant for others interested in helping animals. The takeaway from my mistake is that, depending on one's skills, one should not be too quick to dismiss earning to give as a career path, despite the indirect route to doing good. Some people have skills that can make them enough money to pay for more than one salary at an effective organization that benefits animals, so earning to give can in some cases be much more effective than direct work.

I once had a successful software business, but in the later years I didn't like the work much. When I discovered factory farming, veganism and EA, I decided that I wanted to help animals directly. It felt more meaningful than software: actively working to end factory farming, not just making money to donate. What I did not realize at the time was that this was just a temporary phase after discovering veganism, and the motivation to work directly in the field would not last forever (although it lasted a few years).
I eventually began doing volunteer animal activism, and I did an internship at an animal charity, because I wanted to start a new career as an EAA researcher, despite needing to learn a lot before I could hope to become a competent researcher. At the time, I was convinced I would enjoy the work and the learning much more than developing software. And I was dead wrong.

After the internship, a new business opportunity in software stared me in the face and I went for it. Not only am I now making many times a basic salary in an EAA charity, but I re-discovered my passion for coding. I've loved coding since I was in middle school. It was a passion and a hobby way before it became a job for me. It stopped being fun when I hired others in my prior business and went from coder to manager, and I made the mistake of confusing my lack of enthusiasm for managing people with lack of enthusiasm for software development. That, combined with my (temporary) passion for animal advocacy, led me to want to change careers.

It was a big mistake. It was a mistake because I had decades of experience and training in a field in which many people make very good money, and no training in anything where organizations in the animal space had any talent constraints. I had better chances of making a bigger impact by using the experience I already had to make money than to branch out into a new career in direct work. It was a mistake also because it turns out that I enjoy solitary work much more than working with others.

My current work is about half coding and half everything else involved in running the business, but no employees. It's just me, my software, and the odd call to the accountant, and I intend to keep it that way. And while the non-coding half is often stressful, overall I enjoy the work way more than I did my internship in the charity, even though I was privileged to meet and learn from awesome people in the internship.

I love writing code in part because I experience flow at it, and I look forward to donating what I don’t need. I don't need motivational tricks for productivity any more. I just want to work as much as I can. I've also stopped doing volunteer activism, and trying to influence friends and family. It wasn't a good use of my time, even though I continue to admire the people who give their time for the animals.

While my experience is unusual and many people have their greatest impact for animals doing direct work for profit or non-profit, I encourage you to think through your skills and experience and work out where you're likely to have the most impact, even if it's not direct work in anything related to animals. In economic terms, think of your competitive advantage. Try to test your assumptions with small-scale experiments if possible.

I didn't discover anything new, of course. This is standard 80k advice. I just had to learn it the hard way. (Also, to a large extent I was just lucky. It's usually not easy to find good business opportunities, and I could not have entered my current business if it hadn't been for the prior one, which was also mostly luck.)

Since this guide seems to be focused on direct work, I encourage the author to make a more prominent discussion of the importance of considering earning to give.