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A rewarding job? Is that a thing?
January 27, 2012 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me find a more interesting, fulfilling job in the tech industry?

More details than is necessary:

Right now I never get pushed to learn, or think, or (sometimes) even do at my job.

I would like to work at a place that pushed me a little, giving me problems to solve that were within my grasp but not rote or routine. I'd love to build and maintain things—scripts, modules, whatever—that did something meaningful.

Right now I have to drive my job instead of the other way around.

I don't mind being self directed, but the solution space for any given problem at my current IT job is fundamentally limited, and I'm not high enough in the hierarchy to push for more than very minor changes. Basically, the most I can do, the most I'm wanted to do, is sometimes automate MS Office documents with visual basic. When I'm feeling ambitious, a database might be involved. Occasionally I build a small Access app.

I can script things in bash, python, php, javascript, sql, and visual basic, but I'm not an expert in any of them. I don't work with all of those languages daily, and when I switch to one I haven't used in a while, I sometimes have to look up the basic syntax and relearn it for the first day or two of a new project. I always have to read up on MySQL's storage engines when I design a new database and can't remember the tradeoffs between them. I maintain my own VPS for pet projects and friends' websites, but I've never had to make anything scale beyond that one box. I feel like I may be equivalent to a recent, inexperienced comp sci grad--without the math skills and without the fundamental computer theory (my degree is in English Lit). My only leg up might be that I do some freelance stuff and am generally capable of looking at ugly, hacked together code coming to me without any documentation and figuring out what it does and how to modify it. At least in PHP.

I feel like I could grow into any number of positions quickly, but I don't have direct evidence of that. I don't have experience being a part of a software team or a web development team. And who would anyone want to hire someone that doesn't have that kind of experience?

I'm in California and could move anywhere in the state if I was needed to. I have enough spare time that I can work on learning a particular skill/language/software or creating a portfolio project.

More than anything, I want to feel like I'm heading in a good direction--in a direction that will lead to more satisfying work.

I see a careers section at, and I feel fundamentally inadequate. Software engineer? I'm a software engineer the way a janitor is a sanitation engineer. Redis? Solr? Hadoop? Never used 'em. Product designer? Data miner? I create reports and statistics from massive databases of information at my current job, but calling that "data mining" feels excessive.

Or take Dropbox. They are awesome. Their product is the best thing ever. I would feel deep personal satisfaction working for them. I'm sure I would be surrounded by smart, capable people I could learn amazing things from. But what do I have to offer them?

It doesn't have to be a hip tech company. I'd love to be part of a non-profit, where there were problems that needed to be solved. I could solve them! I want to solve them!

But how do I get there from here?
posted by jsturgill to Work & Money (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Self starter who wants to be pushed? Has technical skills and looks like pretty good communication skills? You sound like a great candidate for consulting.
posted by sandmanwv at 9:21 AM on January 27, 2012

Did I just post this question? No? Wow, you sound a lot like me. :-)

I'm right where you are, but this series of blog posts has really been inspiring me. The writer is a software tester with oodles of experience in testing as well as customer support (and other talents, but read the posts to find out more). You can read the whole series by navigating the links on the right side of the page under "Archive."
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:24 AM on January 27, 2012

A recent comp sci graduate should have a strong theoretical background in software engineering as well as decent mathematical skills.

If you want to work your way into this kind of role without formal education, you may want to check out internet resources such as MIT's courseware, Stanford's classes over the internet, and/or Khan Academy. You could also take some courses at your local community college.

In my experience, top notch people have a strong theoretical foundation and are always learning to add to that. They can solve problems from first principles, if needed.
posted by elmay at 9:28 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I will second sandmanwv's opinion, consulting may be a good option. Software engineering is in very high demand right now, especially for consultants. Another thing I would recommend is to start doing more in your spare time of things that you would like to do in the future. Setup a small project to start learning more about different technologies and how they interact with each other. I would pick a technology base that is stable and will have a long life ahead of it and work to become more experienced in that technology. A lot of the work seems to be centered around Spring MVC, Ruby on Rails, or PHP, at least in the part of the country I live in.

Google App Engine provides a free instance of their environment and Amazon EC2 also has a free micro instance as well.

Also, take a look at your local community college to see what classes they offer so you can get a jump-start on self-learning.
posted by dyno04 at 9:30 AM on January 27, 2012

Your biggest hurdle is experience and your biggest asset is your drive. You need to start interviewing at start ups. I don't care if you really want to work at all of them, that's where the culture you want is and the practice will come in handy. People who wait until they have all the skills for the job they are applying to will get bored or continually be chasing some imaginary fit for a job.

When I'm hiring I can never find the skill mix for the job I am hiring for, it just never happens. Either we're not paying enough or the candidate just doesn't exist or if they have the right skill mix they are looking to interview for my level and those jobs get filled internally. So I look for people who are hungry, I care a LOT more about peoples attitude towards learning, their willingness to get uncomfortable and work through a problem.

I got started in this field where I am now and a previous technical discipline by being willing to take a crappy hourly job on the night shift and then counting on my ability to demonstrate I was hungry and would take initiative to move up. Moving up is easier/possible at growth companies, start ups and the like. How you get from here, to there is to start interviewing until you get a job, work at that job and if it's not the right fit, be absolutely willing to go try something else.

Remember your greatest asset is your drive, don't be afraid to let that out in interviews and introduction letters. Skills can be acquired, hunger and drive isn't as easy to come by.
posted by iamabot at 9:50 AM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you're interested in working at a place like, say, pinterest, one way to get a sense of what they're looking for in hires is to network, and figure out how to meet someone who works there. Then ask that person out for coffee.

Don't ask the person for a job. Rather, say something to the effect of "I am fascinated by what you guys do and I am wondering what sort of skill set you guys look for in successful hires. The reason I am asking is that I am looking to develop my skillsets and I hope some day to be able to work for an organization like yours."

That should give you concrete information about what sort of skills you need to acquire. Then it's a matter of buckling down and getting those skills.

Another suggestion: ask a question like this on
posted by dfriedman at 9:56 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

You could also ask on hacker news. The pinterest, or any other company you care to name, peeps are most likely over there.

Another tactic would be to start a new project on github, use Redis, Solr etc. Something like a blog engine that uses Redis as a datastore, makes everthing available in a RESTful way and does most of the work on the client side using something like backbone.js might be cool. Best case you get followers, worst case you get experience with those technologies and something to show off. Add a blog where you discuss the process of learning those products and building your app and you are set.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:47 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

(echoing everything people here are saying, esp iamabot)

"I'm a software engineer the way a janitor is a sanitation engineer."

1) You are negging on your skills. Knock it off, please :) If you see holes in your resume, and technologies you keep hearing about, *try them out*. Having run the tutorial or read the README or installed a package is still more than 99% of people do. If you want this to happen, then consider reframing: being green, but eager, and smart, is a good position to be in. Most programmers *stink*.

2) I work for a high-tech non-profit (us), and we are totally hiring.

3) California is a gold-mine in tech right now. If you aren't in on that, do so!
posted by gregglind at 11:32 AM on January 27, 2012

I'd very much invite anyone in the UK who feels like this to memail me a resume...
posted by piato at 12:44 PM on January 27, 2012

Probably your biggest barrier to something more rewarding is the lack of sales. As in you selling yourself to other employers, selling what you are capable of, selling your drive and ability.

IT is a strange game. Most of the technologies people work with are learned on the job or with an understanding you can pick things up quick.

Work to your strengths and pimp out your CV to the highest point your references will take you. If that is uncomfortable, just remember - you don't get anything without asking.

I would love to hire someone bored in their current position looking for challenges and a better job. From my side, I can pay you less, get more out of you and build competence for our organisation.

If you are passionate about what you want to do, can demonstrate what you have, this should be a no brainer.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:30 PM on January 27, 2012

I am very deliberately learning new technologies, languages, and methodologies as quickly as I can. I'm also adding to my personal website bit by bit, hopefully turning it into a decent professional showcase. I'm happy with my progress, if not with my current level of mastery of any particular paradigm.

When I think about it, the largest stumbling block between me and a workplace of infinite awesome is finding a true, clear, and accurate understanding of where I stand—what I have to offer others, and what I need in return to be content. All I know now is that the current balance isn't right.

I am working methodically on finding my greener pastures, and I'm sure I'll be reading back over this thread many times in the upcoming weeks and months as I network more aggressively and start sending out feelers into the job market. Thanks for responding.
posted by jsturgill at 9:18 AM on February 2, 2012

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