I need advice on going from accounting to accounting software design
November 7, 2011 11:27 AM   Subscribe

How can I go into a more appropriate field based on my passion like designing accounting software?


I am 27 and a very creative - abstract thinker. I have ADD and hate accounting "work" but love the ideas behind it.

I graduated college and went into public accounting at a small CPA firm. I was excited and planning to study for the CPA exam. My experience was pretty bad unfortunately. The manager of the firm was a real passive aggressive ice queen who made everyone she reviewed feel stupid. Most of my colleagues could handle this but I couldn’t. Years of feeling terrible about myself and not being able to do anything right have left serious wounds inside. So from here I got very discouraged.

Ironically enough, it was this feeling of worthlessness that helped me find something awesome about myself. Everyone always talked about a problem with browsing folders and looking for files and I had always been a very creative problem solver so I came up with a way to fix it.

I taught myself visual basic and wrote a 1,000 or so line add-in that added dynamic “folder browsing” menus to the ribbon in word and excel. I spent about three full months learning and writing it but I finished it and it is going on the second year they are still using it. I felt creating it amazing.


My current job: Pushing paper at a fortune 500 company doing corp. accounting.

I enjoyed it at first because my manager (who hired me and why I took the job) was AWESOME. He left though 4 months into it and believe it or not one of my old supervisors at the public accounting firm - who sucks slightly less than my horrible old manager from there – is now my manager!!!!!!!!! What are the chances?!

So now again, I am trapped with a passive aggressive ice queen like manager who talks about herself non-stop all day and throws people in front of the bus. I am frustrated, depressed, and tired. I want to quit but I can’t obviously.

I am trying to study for the CPA exam which I take in a month or so but it is really hard when all my energy is sucked out during the day. But I feel like I need my CPA or else I will be a failure if I leave accounting without it. But I am so mentally rundown and frustrated with pushing paper all day it is really hard to focus and study.

Getting my CPA isn’t the issue though because the job doesn’t affect it and god knows it would be easier studying if I was actually happy. Note: I want to get the CPA regardless of the job because I just truly want it.

Where do I go from here?

I have had lots of trouble finding anything that I could apply for because I am not a “developer” but an idea person with a very technical background. Don’t software companies need accountants with programming knowledge??

I just don’t know what to do and I am feeling hopeless again.

Work experience at this point:

2.5 years of public accounting
1.0 years of corp accounting

Just to be clear, I have a very strong background in computers and if I am not creating something I go insane so accounting "work" is bad for me.

One way to describe, if it helps, what I like doing is that I love making complex problems simple and developing a system around that solution to “capture” the efficiency and retain it.
posted by iz0rz to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get a certificate in an ERP package and go into that field? It's not "real" programming, it's writing small pieces of code in a very high-level programming language to model specific business workflows. Most people who do this don't have a formal programming/CS background. It's also something you could eventually consult in, which might be up your alley as an independent thinker.
posted by miyabo at 11:41 AM on November 7, 2011

Like miyabo said, you might pick a product to pursue and there will be opportunities to do both development-type design and also business process design. I've worked in the Dynamics space for many years, there's always a need for consultants in all four of those products.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:47 AM on November 7, 2011

Don’t software companies need accountants with programming knowledge??

Unfortunately, they'll hire consultants when they do, and those consultants will usually have much more than four years of experience.

What they will hire as full-time, though, are programmers with a financial background. If you want to work for the sort of company that designs accounting software, you'll likely have to learn a more "serious" language than VB, perhaps Java or C#. It is probably not going to be easy, but maybe in a year or two you can have a program you wrote on your own that you can present when going for these jobs.

However, that sort of job is not going to feel the same as your folder browsing triumph. You'll probably be working on a team and a lot of the requirements and UI design of the software won't be done by you. You'll hear from your customers, but you won't see them using it daily.

If you like whipping up quick solutions for a group you interact with directly, there are companies that hire internal "application developers" that put together whatever the company needs internally. I did it as an intern for a few months and then later in life volunteering for a political campaign. It was pretty fun, although it might not scratch your itch for creating lasting works.

If you want to go this route, put together a couple more working applications like your folder browsing VBA plugin and talk them up in your resume.
posted by ignignokt at 11:49 AM on November 7, 2011

Build your own on-line accounting application? A lot of niche industries are trying to manage the business with Quickbooks because they don't have a better option. Build a better option, and offer it online as a monthly subscription. Also, with your background you could probably move into a consulting CPA type of role for a firm that works with small businesses, which would have you working in the Quickbooks world, and would give you the up the up close view to see where Quickbooks fails small businesses, and where there might be an opportunity for you to build something better.

Or, as mentioned above, get competent with an enterprise accounting app, such as the Dynamics family in the Microsoft world.

I just exited the accounting software world, after 6 years on the sales side. I don't ever want to go back :)
posted by COD at 11:56 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at the big four? Do you have friends at any of those firms or consulting firms that address financial planning?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:06 PM on November 7, 2011

ignignokt makes a good point:
However, that sort of job is not going to feel the same as your folder browsing triumph. You'll probably be working on a team and a lot of the requirements and UI design of the software won't be done by you. You'll hear from your customers, but you won't see them using it daily.

If you want to see your great ideas implemented, you should look for a small company, maybe even on the level of a mom & pop operation. It sounds like you have the skills that a small operation might need in an accountant or bookkeeper. Small places need people with a variety of skills, especially tech skills. They also need employees who aren't afraid to dive in a learn something new, even if it's not part of the job description.

Or consider setting yourself up as an independent accountant/consultant. Learn to file taxes, and then when tax season is slow, market yourself as someone who can teach a small business owner how to USE the tools they have. And when you see someone struggling with a situation like what you describe in your post, you can sell them your solution. :)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:57 PM on November 7, 2011

If you enjoy problem solving, public accounting might be a better fit for you. If you like the software look for a CPA firm that specializes in Automation.

You might also have luck working with the software companies. But working with Oracle at a past company, I've found that they tend to be much heavier on the IT side of it. It was the public accountants who stepped in and made the IT processes work with the accounting processes.
posted by politikitty at 2:44 PM on November 7, 2011

iz0rz: "I am not a “developer” but an idea person with a very technical background. Don’t software companies need accountants with programming knowledge??"

I hate to break it to you, but my experience says no. Accounting is a pretty easy skill to pick up the basics of. ignignokt is correct; we hire Application Developers to develop and maintain accounting systems, and consultants in a pinch (who generally make an even worse mess than what we started with). So basically, employers are looking for programmers with accounting knowledge. And application developers have a dismissive attitude to "idea people" with less technical background than themselves, so you'll find it difficult to break into appdev teams with a non-traditional background. Personally, I find developing accounting packages for small departments to be nails-on-chalkboard grade annoying. We have one such package that is roughly 50 percent of our codebase, partially because it's old, and partially because they have a series of annoying ideas about HTTP resulting in things like "don't save" buttons.

As an unrelated anecdote, my dad was three courses short of a double major in college: CS and Accounting. Even though he had an Accounting degree, he worked for DoT as a programmer out of college. As his software skills became less relevant transitioned to Business Analyst, which sounds like a better fit for you personally. Analysts dig through corporate record keeping looking for ways to improve the company, though with smaller firms you may find yourself struggling to simply document the status quo.

In any case, your best bet is probably to learn SQL if you haven't. A proper understanding of SQL will go a long way in reporting and analysis.
posted by pwnguin at 6:46 AM on November 8, 2011

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