Spoiled for Educational Choices
March 24, 2013 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Short Question: Should I a) Pursue a degree in IT with the goal of becoming a database administrator or b) Continue my studies and get my Masters in Social Work?

Long Question and Context: Last year I graduated with a Bachelors of Social Work. Since then, I have also earned my practitioner's license (A LBSW, which is a thing in very few states outside of Texas and a doorway to very few jobs). Since getting laid off my grant writing job, I've been completely unable to find a job in the helping profession in the area. I've since taken up with a tech company and as part of my job have been learning SQL. It has come fairly naturally to me and there will be an opportunity for my work to pay for a few classes in a CIS degree. However, I've also been all but accepted into a nearby Masters program for Social Work.

I think I'd really being getting a DBA, and my family is really supportive of this. But I also have a keen understanding of social work (I was nominated as the student representative to the NASW Texas state board). I can see which way the wind is blowing, and know how hard it will be for social workers of any level in the coming years, but also feel a moral obligation to stick with it, as the entire reason I sought out social work is to challenge social adversity. So I am faced with two very different career options (and I need to make a decision soon) and I am paralyzed by the decision. Since MeFi has it's share of tech folks and helping professionals, any thoughts would be appreciated.
posted by Shadax to Education (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
All I can tell you is I started out in the mental health profession (psychology major, worked with patients in clinical settings) and transitioned into IT a few years after working on the ground in counseling. Mental health work is brutal, thankless, physically dangerous, emotionally trying (the patients aren't typically cooperative in their therapy) and frustrating. And it pays shit. In IT I *still* get to help people, I still get to make a difference, my "patients" are much more cooperative, the pay is A+++, there are lots of opportunities to work in client facing roles if you are a people person and probably most importantly, my background in mental health (especially de-escalation techniques) and enduring patience help me to stand out among my peers in the field as many MANY fellow IT folks don't really like people and/or are strong introverts.

I say ditch social work and strategically move into IT. Database work is hot right now due to big data.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 7:58 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have a bachelors, do _not_ get a second bachelors in IT. A masters in IT? Yes. Certifications on Oracle, SQL Server, and/or MySQL? Yes.

There are also opportunities at the intersection of social work and IT. Your background could be invaluable for reporting on a database maintained by SAMHSA or one of SAMHSA's contractors, or even a state mental health agency, particularly if you have a strong statistical research background in social work.

Just as an FYI, the govt jobs pay bad compared to the field (but great compared to social work!), but are amazingly stable. Federal contractor jobs pay great, but as soon as your employer loses the contract, you're out on the street.
posted by bfranklin at 8:25 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

From my best friend who is a social worker: It's emotionally draining, there's high stress/high responsibility for low pay, and you're buried in never ending paperwork. This social worker works over 40 hours/week just to keep up and if there's an emergency, it's however many extra hours it takes. I know we need good social workers, but I would do IT if I were you.
posted by biscuits at 8:40 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can always do social work later. Do the DBA job now, and bank tons of money - since you are socially aware, we expect that you are not one of those people whose lifestyle expands to take up their entire salary. Live simply and bank a lot. You may even get a retirement pension after 20 years (do companies still do that? I have one from 20 years ago). THEN you quit IT and do social work. It's a lot easier to work a hard, low-paying job if you have money in the bank.

In addition, if you are working for a good company, your job will have pretty regular hours and you will have lots of free time. You can volunteer at a shelter or a legal clinic or a soup kitchen or whatever. Still making a difference, but also taking care of yourself first.
posted by CathyG at 8:24 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone that weighed in. I think I've made my decision and believe that I can do greater, more lasting good by applying IT knowledge towards non-profits. I doubt I will go to school with a degree in mind, but will be focusing on certifications. I am still going to go through with at least the final steps of getting into grad school so I have a few months to decide.

Again, thanks to everyone who responded on here or through private message. You've given me a lot of perspective that I otherwise lacked.
posted by Shadax at 7:05 PM on March 25, 2013

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