What's a good career move for me, prefer travel?
December 16, 2009 2:08 PM   Subscribe

What's a good career move for me?

Forgive the length, as I've been giving this a lot of thought and really need to resolve this. I'm a bit unhappy with my career and have been for a while now. As it happens, I'm at a point in my life where I can make a clean break and chase my dreams, I just need some guidance.

My history: I'm 29 years old, single, no kids, and up until I was laid off earlier this year was working as an engineer. I don't have a lot of money or possessions, but have very little debt. I also own a house that I'm renting out to make some extra money. I should also mention that I'm not really the typical engineer - much more outgoing, hate being in a cubicle all day, and get bored easily.

The past five years I've spent working for a small design firm, basically writing software for cheap electronics - mostly two-way radios. I'm not a very skilled programmer (Assembly and C, that's it), found the work too stressful, and am honestly surprised I lasted there as long as I did. Before that, I spent a couple of years pulling cable for a telecom company - mostly grunt work, but worth mentioning.

Despite my misgivings in college, I finished my BS in Electrical Engineering since I was always a math/science whiz. I did reasonably well I think, given how hard the program was.

What I'm looking for: What I would really like is a job that allowed me to live abroad, or at least travel frequently. I've taken a few extended trips over the past few years, and am convinced that's what I should be doing. If I have to work stateside for the next couple of years, I would prefer to be able to at least live in another part of the country. I've been living in the same mid-sized Midwestern city my whole life, and for reasons I won't go into here, would really like a change of scenery.

What I've considered/been suggested so far:

Foreign Service - This would be perfect! I'm applying as an SEO, but have been given the impression that I will most likely not get medical clearance (which is very stringent) due to a minor condition I have to take medication for.

Other federal jobs - I've contacted a few three-letter agencies (CIA, FBI, etc), but haven't heard anything back yet. I don't know if there are any other government jobs out there that fit what I'm looking for.

Military - I'm not really the military type, but I haven't ruled it out completely.

Teaching English - Not exactly a career I would want long-term, but at least it would get me out of the States for a while.

Any other suggestions? I'm open to re-schooling if necessary (although paying for it could be an issue).
posted by photo guy to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Teaching English - Not exactly a career I would want long-term, but at least it would get me out of the States for a while.

this! you've been living in the same mid-sized midwestern city your entire life! go see the world!
posted by lia at 2:24 PM on December 16, 2009

You could try to do some kind of consulting. The job postings usually say how much percentage travel required. Some are even 100% travel, which means jetting off somewhere every single week.

If I were braver I would recommend just picking up and moving somewhere I've always wanted to go! Figure out the job part later.
posted by Theloupgarou at 2:35 PM on December 16, 2009

Many Sales Engineers travel a lot, and being outgoing is a definite plus.
posted by bgrebs at 2:59 PM on December 16, 2009

If you have basic to good hands-on technical skills in addition to what you mentioned, there are jobs with military contractors that involve travel to Afghanistan (for the better part of a year) to maintain, operate, and repair military equipment. The conditions are "austere," but they pay is pretty good. While most people who take this type of job are former military, it's not absolutely essential that you have that experience. I have no idea whether or not the medical clearance required for these positions would be as stringent as that of the Foreign Service position you mentioned.

If you did have to stay stateside, military contractors need all types of technical people to work on R&D for the military equipment I mentioned above. Certain positions in this industry do require a lot of travel to client sites (especially if you become an SME in whatever-it-is and are one of the only people that understand certain parts of the product you're working on). You could name a place you wanted to live, and you would find a military contractor there, although they tend to congregate near military bases for obvious reasons.
posted by hellogoodbye at 3:17 PM on December 16, 2009

You sound similar to me. I have a background in engineering and computer science, hate the cubicle life and have almost zero tolerance for boredom.

I work as a consultant for a major IT/Business Services firm. I highly recommend it. I am always learning new industries, technologies and methodologies. I use my technical background with my outgoing nature to deliver value to clients. There are lots of opportunities to travel, especially as you gain more experience. In fact, from what I've observed the more you are willing to travel, the faster your career can progress. I am successful because I get along well with people and can grasp complex ideas that a lot of people write off as being too technical for them. My inability to do mundane, boring tasks is actually seen as a benefit because I will generally try to innovate my way out of having to do them.

There are frequently long hours, salaries have stagnated somewhat and the benefits have been gradually tightened with the economy, but I expect that to change with the economic climate. Well, not the long hours part. If you value being intellectually engaged, then the hours aren't really a deal breaker in my opinion. There are some pitfalls to the industry, but nothing that can't be navigated if you have an idea of the landscape going into it.

Feel free to me-fi message me if you want to know more.
posted by dobie at 3:48 PM on December 16, 2009

1) Teaching English - Not exactly a career I would want long-term, but at least it would get me out of the States for a while.

I know a couple people of similar background who left to teach in Japan, thinking they would then break into technical work once they were already there. It's not easy without the language skills, desire to be a codemonkey, and desire to be a codemonkey for 10-12 hours a day. Plus, it really disconnects you from your state-side network. That said, a lot of people have fun doing it for a couple years. But it can be disappointing to not find the tech-dream-job-in-Japan, and to come back to the US and have a hard time searching.

2) Have you considered sales of technical products? If you have good people skills and a solid technical background, this is a great blend for selling the same products you don't want to actually code. This may or may not involve international work, but definitely involves travel. (Another good title to look into is business developer - it's less sales-y and more technical consulting like.)
posted by whatzit at 4:12 PM on December 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, great information!

you've been living in the same mid-sized midwestern city your entire life! go see the world!
@lia - I couldn't agree more! This is pretty much what I've been telling everyone for the past year, and a major part of why I want to change my life. I've pretty much put myself on a deadline to fine a way to pull this off by the time I'm 30-31. I guess I feel like I've put off my dreams long enough, and now's a good a time as any to follow them.

@bgrebs, @whatzit - I've considered sales or apps engineering as a long-term option. Not sure it's what I want right now, but I guess it might be a good option further down the road..

@hellogoodbye - Working with military contractors sounds interesting. I'm not sure how a civilian goes about getting in, but I'll keep looking. I've also considered trying to get a civilian job with the DoD so I could at least get those lucrative government benefits.

@dobie - I've considered consulting, although I'm not sure I want to go into IT...

@theloupgarou - I always love hearing people say "just go for it"! Maybe I need to hear that more often :)
posted by photo guy at 9:27 PM on December 16, 2009

I think you should also consider international development. As an electrical engineer, there are a pile of infrastructure projects in the developing world on which you could consult, helping to make things safer and more resilient. I'm not as certain where to look in the US (if you were in Canada, I'd send you to the list of CIDA-funded organizations), but start contacting some non-profits, who while they get government funding typically will probably not have the same medical requirements as the traditional Foreign Service route. N.B.: This won't pay you gads of money - but you'll get to travel a lot and it's "feel good" work in a way that military contracts and teaching business folk how to form an English sentence might not be.
posted by Kurichina at 8:07 AM on December 17, 2009

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