When I quit my job as a philosophy professor, many people predicted that I’d miss doing philosophy and thinking about philosophical problems, giving talks, writing papers, and that sort of thing. I don’t.
There are some academics who just love the specific problems that they work on. I’ve known people in philosophy who are almost obsessed with specific problems in ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, and that sort of thing. There’s nothing else that captures their imagination nearly so much as investigating those particular problems. They’re simply not interested in anything else.
In my experience, those people are actually quite unusual. When people say that they “love doing philosophy” (or math, or ancient Greek, or whatever), it’s not the subject that they really love. Rather, the subject is fun and engrossing because of the methods and the skills necessary to investigate it. In my case, I enjoyed working on problems from game theory and formal logic, and I don’t do much of that at all anymore. But I don’t miss it because I’m working on new problems that require a lot of the same skills I used to bring to bear on my academic work. As it turns out, in order to design an algorithm to do something nobody else has done before, and then implement it in a professional setting, you need a lot of the same skills that a logician must have. So software engineering, in my case at least, is a very nice replacement for a large part of my academic work. I think a lot of people who enjoy their academic subject would have the same experience. They’d discover that it’s not the topic that’s so gratifying; it’s the type of problem they’re working on, and how that type of problem gives them the chance to flex their intellectual and creative muscles.
Furthermore, there are a few aspects of my work that are much more satisfying than my academic work. I was always frustrated by the fact that even if my work was published in prestigious journals, it would have very little impact. My work in the private sector has much more impact, both on the startup I work for as well as the clients. That’s very nice, and I could never get that in academia.