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When I was a kid in the 1980s it didn't seem harder than my other hobby, programming a Commodore 64. The relative difficulty is probably higher now, and of course your friends/neighbors/postal carrier may be more paranoid that anyone with chemistry equipment is a "drug cook."

My hands-on work with chemistry started by growing crystals when I was in the second grade. By third grade I was making very simple fireworks. I remember showing some of them off to classmates at my birthday party when I turned 9. By the time I was 10 I had taken over half of the family garage for my home lab.

I double majored in chemistry and computer science in college. I went on to graduate school afterward, working with computational chemistry and HPC. That's where I faced up to the reality of the job market. I didn't want to be an overworked, underpaid postdoc. Competition for academic tenure is brutal. The job prospects for non-academic chemists did not look promising. Since I had already been writing software for 15 years at that point, it was easy to transition to software as a career when I was done with school. I still love chemistry and would work in it or an allied field if it offered pay/perks comparable to software development.

Even software-in-the-field-of-chemistry underpays: when I started applying for software jobs Schrödinger made me an offer, but the pay was a third less than an entry level backend developer position for a West Coast startup. And they wanted me to relocate to New York City at my own expense.

Even though I am glum about the employment prospects for chemists in the USA, I still love chemistry and encourage any interest I find. If you are looking to encourage a child -- or even take it up as a hobby yourself -- a good place to start is Robert Bruce Thompson's Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments:

For more advanced hobbyists there are still a few forums around like that on Sciencemadness. (I think that Sciencemadness is probably the best one in English, but I am biased.)


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