How do I tech career (or other career that is less boring)?
July 12, 2017 8:05 PM   Subscribe

I work in student services at a university, and I'm in a bit of a career rut. To get some of the intellectual stimulation that I'm not getting at work, I've been taking computer science classes, and I've enjoyed them and done well. I'm starting to think that maybe I shouldn't be so adamant that I'm just doing this for fun and not for job-related purposes. Can anyone help me think of jobs or careers that would scratch the same itches that my CS classes do?

I currently work as an academic advisor, which is a job that I enjoy. However, I'm bored, and I'm not seeing a path to getting un-bored. I explained to my supervisors that I was feeling a little stuck and would like some new responsibilities, and they're giving me some new tasks that are important and challenging but that I don't think are really going to address the problem. My new tasks are administrative, and they involve a lot of careful record-keeping and attention to detail, which are not my strong suits. I think my bosses are happy with my work and want to keep me, but I also am not sure that there are any tasks at my current job that would give me the things that I feel like I'm missing. I'm starting to think that maybe I should consider moving on.

There are some things that I really like about my current job. I like working with students, especially struggling students. I think I'm pretty good at looking at a situation, figuring out the big picture, and explaining it in a way that makes it seem manageable. I think that students often come into my office feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, and I feel great when they leave feeling less overwhelmed and more in control of the situation. I think I'm good at conveying empathy and lack of judgment. At its best, my job allows me to combine my analytical skills and my interpersonal skills in ways that help people, which is swell. I also really like my co-workers, and I like that I sometimes get to work collaboratively with them on projects. For instance, I've done a couple of conference presentations with other people, co-written an article for a journal, and collaborated on handouts and presentations for students. I think I do some of my best work as part of a team, in part because I like bouncing ideas off of other people, but in part because I struggle a bit with organization and details, and I do better when I'm working with someone who is better at that.

There are also some things that I don't like about my job. I enjoy the social aspect to a point, but there are days when I spend eight hours straight talking to other people, and I find that exhausting. I'm an introvert, and I think I would enjoy a job that had a better mix of time spent with other people and time spent working alone. I am pretty intensely analytical, and I don't get to use that as much as I would like. Finally, I don't see a lot of room for career advancement, and I'm pretty worried about what's going to happen if I don't advance. My university is in a budget crisis that doesn't look like it's going to resolve anytime soon, and we aren't getting raises that keep up with inflation. I am also worried about being like some of the senior people in my office, who are wonderful dependable workers who take on lots of extra drudgery because they are wonderful and dependable, but who don't see any rewards in terms of salary or career advancement.

I've taken Intro to CS for non-majors, in which I got an A, Intro to CS for Majors, in which I got an A-, and Discrete Structures, which I audited so no grade. What I like about my CS classes is the ability to really focus on a problem that requires thought, experimentation, and creativity to solve. I am not a good multi-tasker at all, and when I'm coding, I find it really easy to go into flow and focus intensely on what I'm doing. I like learning new things, and I like coming up with a solution to a problem and then realizing that there's an even better solution. I love the feeling of hacking away at something that seem impossible and then finally figuring out how to make it work. I am very aware, though, that the reality of software development is pretty different from taking a university CS class. I also don't think that I currently have the skills to do software development, and I'm not sure how to get them.

Complications: I'm 43 and female. I think I read a bit younger, and I could probably manipulate my resume to make it look like I was a 35-year-old trying to look 30, rather than a 43-year-old trying to look 35. But nobody is ever gong to mistake me for a 23-year-old tech dude. I can't quit my job until I have another job, so I wouldn't be able to do something like a coding bootcamp. I live in a Midwestern university town, and I don't want to leave, at least for the time being. I keep reading articles about how employers here are desperate to find skilled workers and are paying bonuses to their employees who lure back their friends who have moved to big cities, but I have no idea whether that's true.

The university career center has a tool for students that administers a battery of tests and then gives you a list of careers that suit your skills, and it told me that I should be an aerospace engineer. That seems unlikely to happen at this stage of my life. Anyone have some better ideas for me to pursue?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious to Work & Money (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
A few disconnected thoughts:

I think that if you are doing well in CS classes, and finding programming to come naturally, you are ahead of a lot of people who go into programming as a career. That might be an important signal that it's worth pursuing.

Working as a programmer or software engineer in most companies might not get you the social and "helping people" satisfaction you like about your current job. Roles like that do exist, but in my experience they aren't the default. That said, if you become a strong programmer, and are also great at the people side of things, you can move up quickly. That is close to the career path I've taken.

I also wonder if you might be good at product management (NOT project management). Product management (at least in a company that does it well) involves a lot of analysis as well as social skills, and for the right company and product can also really benefit from technical knowledge. Figuring out what customers want via talking to them and doing research, analyzing business opportunities, defining strategies (big picture) and communicating them to teams and leadership, working with engineers to make the vision a reality, etc. I think it can be a very rewarding career for technically-minded people who don't want to be heads down coding all day long.
posted by primethyme at 8:45 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


It isn't going to pay extremely well, but a Desktop Support job might suit you. You get to solve problems, and if you're in the right organization, interact with people. In big organizations, this tends to be 100% phone or remote support, which sucks. In smaller organizations, or orgs subdivided into smaller segments, you have an IT support staff to end user ratio that allows for personal interaction.

There are obviously things you have to know to get that type of job, but I think two things really matter:
* Bedside manner - how you work with customers
* Interest - if you have computers at home that you've torn apart, upgraded and rebuilt, that goes a long way, even if you've just started doing that. You can buy used desktop computers for a $100 - $150 now, and they're 100% usable. You'll need to know Mac OS and Windows, along with common desktop applications and troubleshooting.

You might also consider business analysis, which is basically this guy. Jokes aside, business analysis does require a fair bit of technical knowledge, and I don't know a surefire way to break in to that field (unlike say, a code school for programmers). But again, this lets you interact with people, help them and solve issues analytically.

A university might be a good place to try these kinds of jobs. In my experience, there are instances where they'll take on the right person and then train that person on the job. I've worked with a number of people who have done this, and the dedicated ones really did well.

Note that in any IT job, you're almost certainly going to be looked down on because you're female. People will assume you don't know what you're doing, no matter how good you are. I've never seen any explicit harassment, but I've definitely seen condescending behavior. I don't mean to warn you off. My guess is that IT is much better than other male dominated fields like restaurant kitchens or construction work. I wouldn't even say the attitude is pervasive, in my experience. But that dynamic definitely does exist, even among well-intentioned men in IT. Again though, I think the IT industry would benefit greatly from some diversity, so I'd encourage you to give it a look!
posted by cnc at 8:57 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Some thoughts about CS and programming as a career in no particular order:

- It is very true that there is a shortage of programmers out there. If you enjoy it and get good at it, you WILL find work, and you'll probably have all the work you'll ever want.
- I've never seen it it first-hand but there is some ageism and sexism in IT hiring which I'm not going to lie, will probably make breaking into the work a bit slower than if you were 25 and male, but I think the culture is changing slowly. On the plus side, I think it's a pretty meritocratic field - I work with a few people who have no degrees. It doesn't matter once you get your foot in the door and can prove yourself.
- If you're used to spending a lot of time working with other people, you might find the work a bit isolating, but if you're introverted, you might not mind that. What might become more of an issue is the feeling that you get when you're working on something that doesn't seem worthwhile to you, or you work for a few years on something and then it never sees the light of day.
- CS and IT work can be amazing if you find the right place to work, but it can also be terrible if you get into the wrong job because it does tend to be a bit lighter on the human interaction side, which for me is one of the things I lean on if I'm not enjoying the work itself.
- The comment above about project or product management I think is a good suggestion for something that you might find an easier transition into. Technical writing is another option, but it sounds to me like you enjoy the problem solving, which I don't think is that big a part of technical writing. Support is another good avenue.
- If you have the problem-solving mentality (and it sounds like you do) programming and technical problem-solving can be very satisfying. You will never run out of things to learn. The flip side of that is that you may find it overwhelming once your feet don't touch the ground anymore in the way that they do in intro courses.
- You definitely need a bit of time to get up to speed on some basics and get comfortable with one or two technologies that are in demand. This can be done in your spare time, but it would be a lot of work.
- This is the best time in history to train yourself, especially if you want to learn how to code. There are endless sites to teach you the things you need to know.

I'm not sure if any of this is helpful, but feel free to ping me if you want to chat (apologies if the response is slow).
posted by arxeef at 9:33 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Sorry if this is way off the mark or is stuff you already have under your belt, but I wonder if things like courses in R and SPSS might scratch the analytical itch while also allowing you to make a move somewhat adjacent to academic advising and helping struggling students (not sure what that would be exactly). People who are really good at stats and data analysis are always valuable.
posted by Gotanda at 3:49 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


If you want to move more to tech but stay in an academic setting so you can continue taking classes, what does your institution have in the way of instructional technology support and consulting? That's what I do and its about 25% fairly mundane support and 75% problem-solving, working with people in other disciplines on larger projects, writing, and teaching. I don't need to know programming, but the couple of guys on my team who do have more technical and coding skills than me do get periodically called upon to use them in various ways.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:58 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Does your institution allow staff to pursue a degree while working? Could you work on a Master's?

I was in a similar boat and started doing prereqs for a Master's in CS. I'm a woman (though younger than you) and I was finding that hiring managers just didn't take me seriously for more technical roles. I'm going back to school in the hopes that the credential will help/I'll be able to land internships or entry level opportunities.

Prior to this, I used my familiarity with coding to land an email marketing job. I learned how to code emails (they're like tiny websites from 1999) by looking up everything I didn't understand and now I'm freelancing at a tech company just building emails for them. It can be stressful due to deadlines (we need it right now!!!!!) and the fact that most people don't understand the technical side of email, but it has a lot of looking at a situation, figuring out the big picture, and explaining it in a way that makes it seem manageable (to the non-technical people). Memail me if you want to know more.
posted by marfa, texas at 4:49 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


In my experience working for larger companies, IT is mainly being shifted to off-shore, remote teams; so if you don't already have the experience under your belt, you may be at a disadvantage. Would you be interested in moving laterally into learning and working with Database Management and /or Programming/Development?

I'm sure you can find applicable classes at the university you are currently working at, and can and should talk to you campus database managers/teams to get an idea of what they deal with. From a friend's experience in one of these roles, they still get to enjoy campus life, interact with students (though less so than you do), and it's not quite as ageist and sexist as purely IT or CS can be.

And if there is nothing available on campus, lots of companies use and need DB/SQL people.

Good luck!
posted by RhysPenbras at 6:11 AM on July 13


"My new tasks are administrative, and they involve a lot of careful record-keeping and attention to detail, which are not my strong suits"

Record-keeping is what computers do, and programming is a very detail-oriented activity. Im wondering if you can dip your toe into IT by computerizing the task at hand.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:15 AM on July 13


Im wondering if you can dip your toe into IT by computerizing the task at hand.

This goes over better some places than others. I've definitely worked in admin roles in offices where offering to automate a task you'd been given to do manually would have been taken as "I'm lazy, but I can get away with it because I'm smart and my parents are rich." Other places it's (rightly, IMO!) seen as taking admirable initiative. YMMV.

But for what it's worth, if you find you enjoy looking for ways to speed up an existing workflow using computers, that's called being a systems analyst and it pays big bucks. I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. Process improvement is a big deal, and requires a combination of analytical and interpersonal skills to do well.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:30 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


> I can't quit my job until I have another job, so I wouldn't be able to do something like a coding bootcamp.

You don't have vacation? You're going to have do some bootcamps and get certs to jumpstart yourself.

With your background, I would highly suggest you read up on Agile management, and get something like a scrum master certification. 40 is late to get into a tech career, imo (i'm in my early 40s now, but i've been doing this for 20 years), but it's fine to start in on a cs management track if you already have some administrative experience.
posted by empath at 2:35 PM on July 13


Lots of good ideas here! Product management, training, and instructional technology support all sound like things I might like and be able to pursue. I've been playing around a little bit with SQL this summer, and that totally seems doable, although I don't know how interesting it would be. I think I would super enjoy being a systems analyst, but I have no idea how one gets into that.
Sorry if this is way off the mark or is stuff you already have under your belt, but I wonder if things like courses in R and SPSS might scratch the analytical itch while also allowing you to make a move somewhat adjacent to academic advising and helping struggling students (not sure what that would be exactly). People who are really good at stats and data analysis are always valuable.
This is something I've definitely considered, because data analytics is a huge thing in the world of student support right now. Pretty much every university is using data analytics to identify students who are likely to struggle and target them for extra support. There are also a couple of graduate certificates at my university that I think might be relevant. I'm a little hesitant, because I think it would take me a while to get the necessary skills, and I'm worried that the trend is going to run its course. I also have ethical concerns about some of the stuff, particularly with respect to decisions about financial aid, and I think a lot of the data-driven student success initiatives draw wrong or simplistic conclusions from accurate data. That may, though, be a reason to pursue it, because I think this stuff would benefit from the input of someone who worked directly with students.
Im wondering if you can dip your toe into IT by computerizing the task at hand.
I don't think the particular tasks I'm taking on would be conducive to this, but I have been automating some stuff that I already did and making some little Python programs to solve some little annoying problems. People at my job are fine with it, although they treat me like some sort of freakish magical wizard creature with mysterious and frightening powers.
You don't have vacation?
I have a ton of vacation, but I can only take it at particular times, and there's no period during the year when I can take more than three weeks at a time. I could only do a bootcamp if it were a really condensed bootcamp.

I think I would be incredibly terrible at project management. I know that's the standard role for women and old people in tech, but I can barely keep track of my keys and remember to charge my phone, let alone manage anyone's projects.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:23 PM on July 13


Most bootcamps are a week or less.
posted by empath at 3:33 AM on July 14


I think we mean something different by boot camp, then. The coding boot camps I've seen have typically been 12 weeks.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:59 AM on July 14


I'm a little hesitant, because I think it would take me a while to get the necessary skills, and I'm worried that the trend is going to run its course.

Possible. But I think that stuff is going to stick around a while. The question is will humans in the local institution be doing it or will it be outsourced or abstracted to some AI crap.

I also have ethical concerns about some of the stuff

Yes! The panopticon approach to student and institutional (well mainly institutional) welfare is kinda scary.

That may, though, be a reason to pursue it, because I think this stuff would benefit from the input of someone who worked directly with students.

Exactly. Be that person who can run rings around the rest with the data crunching but also actually knows who the students are as people. Sorry, I know that is a lot to hang on you or anyone.
posted by Gotanda at 6:39 AM on July 17


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