Where do IT people go to die?
April 19, 2011 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Where do IT people go to work when they don’t want to do IT anymore, or even work in a corporate environment? In which jobs and/or careers would IT experience be valuable?

After 20 years in corporate IT (most of it in heath care) I’m starting to think it’s time for a change. However, not only do I have no idea what I’d like to do, but the thought of starting over from scratch is terrifying. I’d love it if I could jump into something else where my experience would be an asset and not just wasted.

I'm in the early stages of planning and want to explore all my options. I’ve been with the same company for over 15 years and I have no idea where to even begin.

I don’t have a degree. In anything. Just a short stint at a tech school learning something (computer electronics) that has nothing to do with what I do now. I’m one of those “worked my way up” people. I’m eager to go for some schooling but family and work obligations would limit just how much I could do.

I could work for less money but I need health care for me and my family.

So, what areas should I look into? Where did you escape to from your previous life as a cubicle monkey? All ideas and random advice are welcome.
posted by bondcliff to Work & Money (24 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Blake at 8:45 AM on April 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm a former "IT Guy". I moved from IT into technical product management for wireless networking products and when the stress of that job got the better of me I moved into technical training in the same field. It was less than a 10% reduction in pay but a 100% reduction in stress and a huge improvement in quality of life. Of course you've got to be willing to travel. I'm usually out 2 weeks a month but always back home by the weekend. I get to play with the newest toys and teach folks how to use them. Very satisfying but it takes an outgoing and mentoring personality which I found rare amongst many of my former IT peers.
posted by white_devil at 8:58 AM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would look at small businesses in general. They're less likely to have blanket degree qualifications, and while everyone has computers these days, most small businesses aren't going to need a full-time IT person per se, but would see the added value in someone who really knew IT, even though it wasn't thier primary area of responsibility. When I owned a small business, I managed all our email accounts, websites, and networked about 10 computers, and did all the routine maintenance, upgrades, etc. It was a small part of my week. Small companies would see your ability to perhaps deal with all their IT headaches in 4 or 5 hours a week as a significant plus.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:08 AM on April 19, 2011

many small businesses have IT needs that you could cover in addition to your desired work. For example, in our small architectural practice, we have a single server with a tape backup system and about a dozen workstations. It gets expensive to contract out our IT services, but it's not worth having a full-time person on staff. If (for example) you wanted to work with architects, you could take care of IT while interning/apprenticing at CAD work, marketing or design. Many professional jobs (architects included) require additional schooling and licensing if you actually want to be an architect, but if you are just looking for a change of scenery and some variety in your daily duties, I think any small business would find your experience valuable.
posted by Chris4d at 9:12 AM on April 19, 2011

This doesn't necessarily take you out of the corporate milieu, but my husband transitioned from being an IT person for 15+ years to being a project manager.
posted by desjardins at 9:12 AM on April 19, 2011

A lot of IT work is thinking about "systems" in general and understanding the base principles involved.

It seems that there's two paths. Either people move out of IT into a place where they are more generic administrative people, e.g. project/product managers or technical salespeople, or they move into something that's not corporate at all.

I've encountered most of the former IT people I know in completely un-IT-related fields that require a detailed understanding of principles -- generally old-car mechanics who need to understand the principles of how engines work, home renovators who need to understand how different ages of building envelope systems work and how to tie them together, and other more mechanical professions that give more visual or tactile feedback.
posted by SpecialK at 9:14 AM on April 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Do a resume and really analyze what you do, and what it can be called that is not IT. Maybe you really manage people, or operations. Maybe you have exceptional Excel skills and can manage budgets. People like to hire somebody who already has the skills they need, so break out your specific skills. The resume is an exercise, the goal is a skills list, not a usable resume, though getting that info together is always useful.

Do the kinds of career exploration that used to be in What Color is Your Parachute. I don't know what the best books are now, but your librarian will.

Start building your network, both in and out of your current employer. Doesn't have to be formal. I do a fair amount of desktop support, and will chat people up while I wait for computers to do stuff. I learn a lot and it's interesting. People like to talk about what they do, all you have to do is ask. Pay attention to the job postings at work. Opportunities arise even in bad economies. If you see a posting that interests you, email the person who's hiring and explain that you're looking at your growth options in the company, and trying to find out more about what jobs might be available, and ask to meet with them for 15 minutes. Ask about the job skills, typical experience and education, and what the work environment is like. You must write a thank-you note for meetings of this nature. It's quite possible your current company has jobs that you could move to.

Take Adult Ed or other courses, or watch youtube.com/edu videos on different interests. If nothing else, I find this interesting and fun.
posted by theora55 at 9:25 AM on April 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Are you at all a people person? With your background (I'm assuming you have good experience with project management, software rollouts, integrations, etc.), you'd make a great candidate for a Sales Engineer at a software firm.
posted by mkultra at 9:33 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I’d love it if I could jump into something else where my experience would be an asset and not just wasted.

Even if you start over from scratch in a completely new field, your previous work experience will never be wasted. True, you might not have use for a good deal of the technical knowledge you're using now (although there will be times when it's sure to come in handy), just working in a corporate environment - hell, even learning HOW to work, has taught you some valuable, often intangible skills.

In your question you mentioned that you have no idea what you would like to do, and I think it's critical that you spend as much time as you need to determine exactly this. Not only would doing so make the idea of starting over from scratch much less terrifying, but it will also make all the other questions you have easier to answer.

Personal example: I'm currently an IT guy who, in a little less than a month, will be starting nursing school. This is, obviously, a completely different career, but I didn't just choose it blindly. When I began trying to think of careers outside of IT, I did a lot of soul searching and tried to figure out what motivates me, what I find rewarding, and what careers might be a good match for that. I made a concerted effort to try and not answer those questions while looking at them through a pair of IT issued glasses, however. I wanted to start fresh and ignore all previous work experience (which has been wildly varied.) I realized that I really enjoyed helping other people in all manner of ways, but I thought, perhaps, that helping sick people get well would be among the most rewarding things I could do. So I started exploring careers in medicine. I'm lucky enough to have lots of family in the field and I questioned the hell out of them and several friends in similar positions. They assured me that yes, it was rewarding, no, I was not crazy, and yes, knowing my personality it would be a great fit. Fine - so nursing it was, but OMG, how the hell could I fit it in my life? How would I afford it? What would my (then) fiance say? Am I ruining our future?

Deep Breath. The hard part is figuring out what you want to do. Once you do that, I think you'll find that (unless you've chose something incredibly obscure), options abound. Colleges are always looking for revenue, and as such, are always coming up with creative ways to attract more students. In my case, I have a VERY supportive wife, and I'm lucky enough to be able to go back to school full-time, but in the course of my research I found I could go back nights if I wanted, apply for all types of degree programs at numerous local colleges. Really, as long as I was willing to make the commitment, there was a school out there that could accommodate most of the schooling scenarios I could envision.

It has taken a long time to get here (I've been taking prerequisite courses while working for the past four years) and, should you switch careers, there will definitely be sacrifices made by you and your family, but my point is that all those fears I had at the beginning of the process were lessened hugely by approaching the issue with very small steps and not trying to make huge changes all at once.

tl;dr Do some extensive soul searching and find out what it is you want to do - IT or otherwise. If you need help determining this, ask friends, family, and people who know you for advice/where they think you might be a good fit. Then work with your family to determine the best and most reasonable approach to making this happen and realize it is not a timed competition. You're in a good spot now to be able to earn an income and still contemplate this career change. Take as much time as you need to get trained/shift over while still keeping yours and your families needs at the forefront.) Enjoy and Good Luck!
posted by Rewind at 9:41 AM on April 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

A lot of the people I know who have kind of sidestepped IT itself have gone into business analyst positions, which is a phrase that can mean just about anything. Some are the in-house reporting gurus/data wranglers, some work in the more technical roles in accounting, logistics, operations, EDI, etc. You might go search for the phrase on some job sites and see some real-world examples of how employers are defining it.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:42 AM on April 19, 2011

When people ask about mid-career change, I always suggest they take a look at Working Identity. (There's some interesting slides and a book.)

The recommendation goes double for an IT-kinda guy who is more likely than most to think that the way to handle these things is by sitting down, coming up with a list of requirements, figuring out an answer and making a project plan. The way that works for a successful mid-life change is much more exploratory and social than that.

You might want to add teaching to your list of options to consider. You might well need to get some qualification if you want to teach in school, but there seem to be ways of doing that which are feasible while still keeping some kind of an income going.
posted by philipy at 9:47 AM on April 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

I would suggest you look at some of Barbara Sher's books. I liked "Wishcraft" and "It's Only Too Late..." Some good ideas on how to get past the hurdles you are facing. They help to define what you want and how to get there, past perceived obstacles. I would also suggest you take a look at "What Color Is Your Parachute" (or some of Bolles' other books; content has moved around over the years). Bolles has charts showing careers vs. attributes and skills. His website may be worth looking at:

Personally, I just got fed up with IT after so many years (primarily the politics but I also got fed up with learning my umpteenth language, framework, architecture) and never wanted to go back. The postings above give you some ideas on other areas of IT but I suggest you take a wider view. That is where Sher's books and the Bolles books can be of help.

You might find a session or two with a career counselor might be helpful. At least the career counselor will have a decent read on the market. There are so many young people, fresh out of school, who are terribly underemployed. Best to know what your chances are of getting work, especially if you contemplate going back to school for a year or so.

Good Luck.
posted by PickeringPete at 9:49 AM on April 19, 2011

posted by jeffamaphone at 9:51 AM on April 19, 2011

This is difficult to answer because its so subjective, but I have to disagree with the idea of being a part-time IT guy at a small business while maintaining other full time duties. If you're from a corporate IT background you'll be driven crazy by small business IT. You won't have the funding or tools to do the job properly and you'll be spending a lot of time managing machines with users as local admins junking them up with unauthorized software and malware. You won't have a strict 2 or 3 year depreciation, you'll be working with 5+ old machines all running different OS varients and software. You won't have central management tools for upgrades and software pushes. You won't have images to apply to messed up machines. You'll have all sorts of phones and other employee bought junk that 'must work with our system.' You'll have the boss's son show up with an ipad and demanding it works with your flash-based site running on some cheapo web host running a CMS that was outdated 5 years ago.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:27 AM on April 19, 2011 [12 favorites]

Seconding damn dirty ape. I did part time IT, along with marketing and other stuff, at a small company for 4 years. It was a horror show.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:40 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Beware Academia. IT isn't going to be much different there from outside academia (except for fewer hours).
posted by thewalledcity at 10:41 AM on April 19, 2011

IT experience is just so damned useful. In my case, before the internet came along (yes) I was a writing person. Over the years I had merged my previous life with my IT life, and done quite a bit of blogging.

So when I stepped off the IT bus, it was to become a freelance writer who specializes in online content and blogging.

I know a lot of other people who have basically become freelance IT consultants, or set up their own computer repair shops. There is a lot of demand for these services, but it's a tough road and if you require health care, then freelancing might not be for you.
posted by ErikaB at 12:09 PM on April 19, 2011

In addition to thinking about what you want to do, think about different approaches of how quickly you want to get there. You can take the 'tiny steps' approach, perhaps several job changes gradually moving you towards the area of interest or you can take the 'dive in the deep end' approach where you switch as fast as possible.

The right approach will depend on your exact situation, just be aware there are fast and slow routes to getting the same job and small incremental changes are usually much easier to pull off.
posted by Lanark at 1:15 PM on April 19, 2011

As others have suggested, I would think about what parts of your old job you enjoyed. Did you like coding? Writing documentation? Building consensus between opposing parties? Researching new technologies? Being the bartender at the after-work party? No IT job is just IT, so you can sometimes channel a related talent / passion that you developed in IT into another job.

For the record, I quit IT to go to culinary school. Turned out I wasn't especially good at it, but at least now I know!
posted by molybdenum at 2:57 PM on April 19, 2011

The short answer is look at all the vendors you've worked with in your current role. Would you want to work for any of them?

Molybdenum has it right, no IT job is just IT. You have to have some business experience and most likely industry specific experience which would be valuable in another role. I went from being hands-on IT (desktops, servers, etc.) to an account manager for a software company who speaks to folks who do the job I used to do. Eventually, I plan to work my way up into a manager position (i've managed before) and then operations - which is turning out to be my ultimate goal. I love putting in processes and fixing things that are broken - turns out it doesn't have to be desktop related. It can be broken process. The best part is I didn't have to start completely over, I just had to go back to a non-manager position and learn some job specific skills relevant to the role.
posted by getmetoSF at 4:26 PM on April 19, 2011

I started out as a developer. That lasted about 5 years until I decided I couldn't do it anymore. Then I went and got my MBA and I've worked as a consultant for larger firms ever since. Sometimes I do work that I would not really consider to be IT, but other people seem associate with IT. I really like it. I like working on the business side and bringing my IT background to help solve actual business problems. I like working with people and prefer doing strategy and planning than coding.

The only downside is reading Metafilter thread pile-ons about how all MBAs or Consultants are apparently the worst people in the world.
posted by dobie at 8:01 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! This thread has given me a lot to think about. I have a feeling I won't be able to pick some best answers for a year or two but I hope someday I will.

I've also been kicking around looking into GIS, which while still IT, combines some things I'm somewhat interested in. We'll see.

Mostly I need to start making some lists, updating a resume, and figuring out what it is I like to do.
posted by bondcliff at 4:41 PM on April 21, 2011

My husband went to a psychoanalytic institute and became a psychotherapist. They almost didn't let him in because they assumed that someone with his background would not be able to deal with people on an emotional level.

Haha on them.
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:16 PM on April 22, 2011

Not to be a wet blanket but 20 years in one field and no degree is going to limit your salary in anything new. On top of this we have 9% official unemployment right now, and it's even higher if you consider people stuck in crappy jobs but unable to move. If a job description has 10 requirements employers want all 10. A few years ago they'd be happy with 7 out of the 10, not any more.

To avoid resume filters kicking you out for not being "perfect" you're going to have to network. And network some more. Did I mention networking?

What you need to do is decide what you love about your job and what you hate. It's a cliche but make a list of the good and bad stuff. Maybe you love coding but can't stand dealing with accountants that don't know IT. Then find a place to code that doesn't involve accountants.

I spent years trying to convince myself that I could work in an office. Finally a forced job change made me look again. After an insane job search (even with an MBA and a valued certification it took almost two years ) I'm on the road again and I couldn't be happier.

Oh and welcome to your 40's. A mid-life crisis can really suck. If I didn't have a family I'd be teaching English in China.

Oh and who the Hell works 15 years at one place these days? Anyone? Bueller?
posted by JohntheContrarian at 8:11 PM on April 22, 2011

« Older The Winamp Countdown (nee-ner-NEE-nerrr)   |   How can my wife get a teaching job, or a similar... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.