Going from Finance to Tech
October 5, 2013 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about switching from a career in finance to a career in tech. Lots of special snowflake details inside.

For a long time, perhaps since I graduated from college six years ago, I have felt like I am on the wrong career path. I feel like the time has come where I really need to switch industries. My job is very demanding. My heart isn't in my work and I feel like I'm underperforming as a result. I've also had a difficult time dealing with the stress of the job and the work culture.

I work in finance in a fairly nontechnical role. However, I enjoy the technical aspect of things. My idea of a good time is reading Gilbert Strang's Introduction to Linear Algebra, Donald Knuth's Concrete Mathematics, etc.

One of my big regrets is that I never took much math in college. But I am a very independent person--a self-learner with a hacker's mindset, and I try to fill in the gaps where I need to. I self-taught Python and enjoy working on personal coding projects.

Right now I've been interested in learning more about machine learning. In my spare time I've been taking the Coursera and EdX courses on machine learning. I've found this all to be very fascinating and it's got me pondering data science as a potential career. (Yes I realize that data science is an ill defined buzzword.)

General Assembly in NYC offers an 11-week Data Science program that meets six hours a week. Students pick a research project and then present their projects at GA-hosted employer meet and greets after the course ends. The vast majority of students already have a technical background, although there also are some people in fields such as finance looking to make a career change. Admission is selective though, and there's no guarantee that I'd even be accepted, let alone have traction with the job hunt that follows.

I feel very lost. I've been referred to a career psychologist (seriously.) by someone I trust and respect, so we'll see how that goes.

Going back to school is always an option, I suppose, but I don't know what I would study. I am skeptical of the value of getting something like an MS in Comp Sci as degrees such as these generally are more scholastic-focused rather than career-focused. Not to mention that I lack the prerequisites on paper. There's also the possibility of getting an MBA but I'm really against this due both to the cost but also the fact that I feel burnt out from business and don't feel like I would be interested in the types of jobs this degree might offer me.

And so I turn to you, hivemind. Please, help me.
posted by prunes to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am skeptical of the value of getting something like an MS in Comp Sci as degrees such as these generally are more scholastic-focused rather than career-focused.

It seems like your interests – machine learning, Knuth – are not exactly is what is commonly understood as "technical" in the software industry. The stuff you've cited lives at the algorithm level, rather than the coding level, which is often what the industry usually thinks of as "research." Most tech jobs are about implementation.

I don't know if the cost side of it would work out for you, but I think you might have a good time going back to school and maybe working in academia for a while before moving to a position in research-focused company. While "regular" programming positions can usually be obtained by showing a few open source projects that demonstrate you can do X or Y, people that work in research positions seem to always have advanced degrees. That said, research is not my world, so hopefully one of those guys will chime in.
posted by ignignokt at 10:09 AM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Actually, in CS MS degrees are usually career-focused. I've been doing research on CS grad schools recently. As far as I can tell, most places that have a separate MS program assume that it will be mostly people from industry who want to return to industry with a credential and some new skills.

The PhD programs are the ones focused on research and teaching -- and while they sometimes will let you bow out with an MS, the two degrees are much more separate than in many other fields. I think an MS might be what you want: learning about this material that interests you without the assumption that you're going to need to come up with revolutionary new ideas or write papers for a career. Of course, I might be wrong about the nature of MS programs, but it's a strong impression I get from talking to people in academia.

I have no idea about the issue of prerequisites, or if you even know the material that would be in the prerequisites, and MS programs usually aren't funded, but it's worth at least looking into.
posted by vogon_poet at 10:23 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

but I don't know what I would study.

The best way to build a career is from strength to strength.

With a background in finance and an interest in mathematics I would study maths. Non-linear mathematics, probability, and statistics are all key to finance and massively interesting in their own right.
posted by three blind mice at 11:54 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would look at something like analytics, financial analysis or data science. There's quite a few Master's programs out there. (my institution has several - memail me if you're interested.)
There's some fun technical math, including a lot of stats and linear algebra, a decent chuck of machine learning, especially Bayesian inference and time-series stuff, and a bit of programming, but higher up "off the metal" than you'd get in a CS program.

I'm skeptical about the General Assembly programs, as well as some of the other "boot camps" out there that purport to teach you all this awesome stuff in a short time. I'm sure you'll get exposure to all these things, and the satisfaction of doing a cool project, but it's hard to see how you can really grasp all these topics in such a short time.

I'd agree that an MBA is not that helpful for you - it doesn't fit your interests, and it's not as valuable in the job marketplace as it once was.
posted by chbrooks at 1:13 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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