Life after coding
November 13, 2013 8:19 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to hear about people who have left the computer programming/software development field, particularly for jobs that don't involve sitting in an office all day. If you've done this, how did you manage it? How old were you, and how long had you been in the software industry? What kind of job did you end up in? Do you like your new job?

I like my programming job most of the time but I worry about the future; I don't know if I'm really cut out for the developer-to-project-manager career path, and there seems to be an up-or-out dynamic in this industry when you hit a certain age. I also get frustrated working in the same environment every day and I wonder if I'd be happier with a job where I could be out and about and meeting different people, so I'm thinking about what other paths might be open to me down the road.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I think you have two separate concerns here: job security and social boredom. I'd like to address both, through a couple personal experiences.

Job security: For roughly 10 years, I did freelance programming (NYC). Like you, I've worried about the future, in the sense that you just don't see a lot of older developers around. I have since moved (Midwest) and started working full time (engineering firm) and there are a lot of older (literally gray-haired) developers. So there are environments out there where you can continue programming as you get older.

Boredom: About 10 years back, I lived the start-up life for several years where I interacted almost daily with actor, model and other film/fashion/entertainment industry types. Endless parties, film projects, some celebs even. It was overrated. Coming back to making lots of money and dealing with the more rational corporate types was a relief.

So my opinion is, don't get caught up in the "grass is greener". We programmers tend to forget how good we have it. It would be one thing if you had a passion for something specific - since you don't, a career "down" shift just doesn't make sense IMO.

Focus on taking your career into the next stage instead (and no, I don't mean project management, which personally.... blech). Find a place where you can stay long term, perhaps in a different industry than you are now. Take all that money they pay you and buy a social life. There are so many things you can do when you have disposable income... trips, classes, interest groups, clubs, volunteering. These things are so much better than hanging out with co-workers or clients.
posted by rada at 9:18 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

A co-worker of mine recently quit his job as "senior principal software engineer" and moved to central america to teach scuba diving. He was in his mid 50's. he owned a paid-off house in Silicon Valley, which he now rents out for income. His children had all gone off to college.

He seems to like it well enough, but you could argue that what he's doing is just early retirement, he had all his financial affairs in order before he left, and he can always come back to his house in the US if he likes.

He could afford this all because he's been living on a senior engineer's salary for decades.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:55 AM on November 13, 2013

I moved from software development to nursing, after 6 years in the industry; I was in my late 20s when I started the shift.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if there was something I was more excited about than programming. I had initially really enjoyed that work, but became bored with it and realized that I didn't have the necessary enthusiasm for keeping up-to-date with new technologies and languages. I didn't want to waste years and tons of money on changing careers to something that would be equally unsatisfying. So the first step was to find something I was passionate about. Jumping ship from a lucrative career that you "like most of the time" without a strong sense of something you would love instead would be reckless.

I don't know if I'm really cut out for the developer-to-project-manager career path, and there seems to be an up-or-out dynamic in this industry when you hit a certain age. I also get frustrated working in the same environment every day

As to your particular concerns, I agree with rada that there are many employers that recognize that programming and management-of-programmers are very different skill sets, where you can advance your career without having to go into management. There are also programming careers with more variety in location and people; consulting or working for a company that does contract work for outside clients might be more interesting than working in a corporation to support their internal business.

Do you like your new job?

I love it. It has tons of headaches, but it fits me nonetheless. I love reading nursing journals and keeping up with healthcare news, whereas the same kind of info about software development bored me to tears. I actually like going to work, even though I get up earlier, make less money, and work way harder than I did as a developer. The key to changing careers is to avoid doing it to get away from something you dislike. If you decide to make a change, make it about moving into something you do like.
posted by vytae at 12:42 PM on November 13, 2013

My favorite teacher in high school was a former software development type. He got tired of programming when he hit a certain age, and he eventually became a high school computer science teacher (my state has a non-traditional teacher preparation program for people who want to become certified teachers). He loved teaching, and we all thought he rocked, because he actually knew what he was doing and how it was relevant to the real world. And he encouraged girls to program - there wasn't any sexist bullshit in that class. Also there were NXT robot battles.

You would be working in the same environment every day, but you would get to do different things every day, and you would meet a lot of new people every year as kids graduate and matriculate. And you would get to really make a difference in some people's lives (that class totally changed my life).

I thought every computer science class would be as welcoming and fun as that one up until I took my very first college-level computer science class, which had one other girl in it. Fun times.
posted by topoisomerase at 10:49 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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