What's my career
November 13, 2013 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a new career where I don't have to take my job home with me.

I am in my second year of teaching 9th grade physics. There are a lot of things I like about teaching, but I'm starting to realize that I am a person who does not want to bring work home with me; I want to have a job that is confined to specific hours.

I do realize that the first few years of teaching are harder than the rest of them, and my workload will decrease, but I think I will always be taking more of my job home than I want to. I've been told, for example, that it's is the norm for federal government jobs to exist strictly within work hours - if someone could comment on that, I'd appreciate the info.

So, if I am going to leave teaching in the next 3-5 years, what the heck should I do with the rest my life? I'm a 27 year old man, in case that matters.

- B.S. in physics from top tier engineering school with a good GPA
- 1.5 years of of Ph.D. program in physics from the same school, decided to leave without a degree.
- Masters of education, licensed teacher in Massachusetts
- Native US citizen, first-language English speaker

- I love programming; It's one of my biggest hobbies. I am pretty fluent in python (I know enough to create complex GUIs for scientific & image processing tasks, and have played with Django a bit), and have varying levels of proficiency in Java, Matlab, IDL, bash, javascript, and a few others.
- I am a total space exploration nut - I love NASA to death.
- I love sailing small boats
- I play the violin, and the guitar to some extent
- I enjoy creative writing, esp. science fiction.

- The job must allow me to leave my work at work (I'm not totally inflexible about this, but it should mainly be a clock in / clock out affair).
- We can't afford for me to make much less than $40k initially, and we'd want a salary of $60k pretty soon afterward.
- My wife will probably be doing a postdoc in biological research in the timeframe that I want to move to another career, so location near centers of research is a consideration.
- We will have a small child in this timeframe, and it's important that my job allows the flexibility required for being an equal, involved parent.
posted by Salvor Hardin to Work & Money (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Programmer for the defense industry (government or a government contractor). You are literally not allowed to take your work home with you.
posted by deanc at 4:20 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Actually, deanc's answer made me remember I wanted to ask specifically about software engineering:

As I am interested in programming, I've considered software engineering as a post-teaching job. I would like to know how marketable I am as a software engineer. I've taken some college level CS courses, but I don't have a CS degree. As I said, I've done a lot of programming, including 5000+ line GUIs for scientific applications, but I'm still a self-taught amateur, and I've never worked on a large-scale project with a team and a revision control system.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:35 PM on November 13, 2013

I'd start dropping resumes on potential programming jobs. If you've got some good scientific GUI stuff you can point to as a "I've done this", formal education shouldn't matter much.

In fact, saints preserve me from more coders with formal training. I've done way too much digging systems out from underneath them in my career.
posted by straw at 4:44 PM on November 13, 2013

When you say you don't want to "take my job home with me", do you mean you:
1) literally don't want to be working on work stuff at home, or
2) that you don't want to be emotionally tied to your job and stress out about work at home, or
3) you want shorter work weeks, say 40hrs/week

Programming can probably accomplish 1), but I'm not so sure about the others. From where I'm sitting you're probably reasonably marketable, but on my team you would be expected to put in extra hours at the beginning to familiarize yourself with your employer's codebase, and practice until your skills are up to snuff. That said, you could expect to gain 2) & 3) in a year or two, once your skills are more advanced.

There's such a shortage in supply, that getting a job in CS without a degree is not that big a deal.
posted by tinymegalo at 4:44 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest working in software engineering with one of the big companies, where product secrecy is a factor. That way, you will absolutely not be bringing work home. However: you may be at work some times that you'd rather be at home.
posted by destructive cactus at 4:45 PM on November 13, 2013

Best answer: I think I can speak to the software engineering bit somewhat. I was a research assistant or research tech of one kind or another for a few years, mostly applying my relatively modest, self-taught programming and statistics knowledge. I'm pretty conversant in Matlab and know Java, R, C, and SPSS to various extents. Amazingly, that put me well ahead of most grad students in most labs where I've worked.

In the last year I was lucky enough to get an offer to come out to the West Coast and work at a midsized, industry-leading software company, but not as a developer. And I've discovered that even so, my ability to write a 5000-line program for munging data in Matlab is just barely scratching the surface.

Software engineering is an enormous skill set. Only a part of it is classroom knowledge: there is a large set of stuff that only comes from actually working on this stuff. CS students generally look for lots of internships and arrive to the workplace with the equivalent of 1-2 years of work experience.

From the classroom side, I would suggest hitting the algorithms and data structures curriculum, hard. Be conversant in the terminology of this CS branch and also the specific implementation in the languages you want to work with. This stuff is the basic component of technical interviews. Be knowledgeable about distributed systems and concurrency. As someone who comes from, basically, academic numerical computation, a lot of this stuff is essentially new to me, and second nature to most people around me.

On the practical side, you will be expected to be conversant with a large array of middleware. As a code base grows to tens and hundreds of thousands of line of code, its complexity grows exponentially. There is a sizable set of popular tools that make it possible for many people to work efficiently with this code: things like continuous integration systems, systems for tracking project dependencies, rich and rigorous version tracking, systems for keeping track of build configurations, and so on. Almost all of this stuff was new to me, and it's a bit like drinking from the firehose.

To sum up, the experience of writing modest programs by yourself, compiling, and running them locally is pretty far removed from the experience of a developer at a software company. You are much better equipped to succeed in that environment than a lot of other candidates, but I think it's kind of a stretch goal without lots of additional learning and experience.
posted by Nomyte at 4:58 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: State, Local and Federal government jobs generally work 40 hour weeks. Public University jobs can be similar. On the rare occasion you work more hours, you're generally paid overtime. Pace of change is slow and you'll spend a lot of your time working on legacy systems. Jobs in government where you get to build something new are rare. You'll also be paid 20% to 40% less than your private sector counterparts. However, the pay isn't bad and will meet your qualifications in most instances, and you would rarely (and maybe never) take work home with you.

As far as getting a job programming, my guess is that you're either going to need some sort of portfolio (stuff that you've coded that the interviewers can see), to be able to pass an in-interview test or both. However, this isn't an area where I have a ton of expertise.
posted by cnc at 5:00 PM on November 13, 2013

Best answer: Federal and state government jobs are definitely 40-hour-per-week affairs, but can be hard to get, with notoriously long interview processes--plus, landing those jobs usually requires having the "correct" degree or experience, so it's not necessarily a slam-dunk to move laterally. Government contracting, however, will give you the same 40-hour-per-week schedule--federal contracting rules prohibit contractors from charging more than 40 hours per week so there's literally no incentive to have you expand beyond those hours. My partner did was a programmer (mostly Java) at a huge federal contractor in DC for a number of years and while there are pluses and minuses to that sort of job, it definitely pays EXTREMELY well and gives you the sort of family-friendly job flexibility you're looking for. He had an CS undergrad degree but taught in D.C. public schools for two years before moving into a programming job, FWIW.

You don't mention statistical software (SAS, Stata, R), but that's another path that you could potentially pursue that could definitely land you a well-paying job at the types of private research firms that tend to cluster around research centers (e.g., Boston, research triangle area, etc). Your physics degree and teaching background would definitely not be a hindrance in terms of background for that sort of job, since many of those places are academically-oriented and any sort of math-ish degree is prized, but you'd probably need to show that you could actually program in a statistical language. If you can navigate around Matlab, though, I can't imagine it would be even a little bit difficult to pick up SAS or Stata.
posted by iminurmefi at 5:04 PM on November 13, 2013

Although there are no entry level programming or testing positions posted right now, you could do well to try here. Hours are fixed by contract, and of course oh yes to your astro fix.

STScI employment ("Browse jobs")
posted by spbmp at 5:06 PM on November 13, 2013

I'm an author of fiction & I'll tell you, it is the last career you should seek if you want to leave work in working hours. don't get me wrong, it's (mostly) fantastic. but your stories, they follow you absolutely everywhere. and tbh, sometimes I really miss the olden days before the incessant guilt-tinged mental refrain of you really should be writing that plays during TV, cleaning, dinner, EVERYTHING
posted by changeling at 5:25 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

A government job sounds right up your alley. You could do something in policy for the federal or a state government. Or maybe working at a university doing research would be a good fit. I think universities tend to offer strict 40-hour work weeks and you'll be surrounded by other academic nerdy types (no offense, haha).
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:40 PM on November 13, 2013

Former fed, current state employee chiming in here just to add anecdotally that I regularly work more than 40 per week, but I'm an attorney so that probably goes with the territory.
posted by snarfles at 5:46 PM on November 13, 2013

Best answer: It's been a while, but I remember a fair number of programmers I encountered at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center had non-CS backgrounds such as physics or some kind of engineering. As iminurmefi points out above, you can try to get hired by the federal government or as a contractor (Raytheon seems to be the current contractor for GSFC these days from a quick web search). Depending on the particular area of research your wife does, the DC area could have job opportunities for the both of you - e.g. both Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and GSFC are in Prince George's County, Maryland. There's also the NIH and NIST, located in Montgomery County, Maryland.
posted by needled at 5:47 PM on November 13, 2013

Best answer: Any science museums near you?
I used to work at a museum and I miss the fulfilling work, the fun people, the strange things that would happen every day, and being DONE when I got off work.

(I don't miss being on a city contract that evaporated.)

How much it would pay and so on may not work for you, and there may be too much competition in your area, but it's worth checking into.
posted by wintersweet at 5:57 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Working at a university would likely be a good fit for you. You could probably find a programming job (my former university employer had a hard time recruiting programmers because they couldn't pay as much, but it was still higher than your target and they had good work-life balance). Also look into science outreach coordinator positions, research administration, or research development.
posted by wsquared at 6:20 PM on November 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for all the responses so far! They're all very helpful. I appreciate the insights about gov't and gov't contracting jobs, and about what sorts of programming jobs might be available to me that meet my requirements.

When you say you don't want to "take my job home with me", do you mean you:
1) literally don't want to be working on work stuff at home, or
2) that you don't want to be emotionally tied to your job and stress out about work at home, or
3) you want shorter work weeks, say 40hrs/week

Mostly 1), effectively 2) also. As for 3), I would be willing to work 50 hrs/week if I could have a clean break from work when I clock out.

Any science museums near you?

I'm currently in Boston, so definitely, although that could change depending on my wife's career. Working at a science museum sounds great in theory, although I'm not sure what sort of job I could get there.

More answers are very welcome.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:29 PM on November 13, 2013

If you're considering the defense industry, don't count on this: Programmer for the defense industry (government or a government contractor). You are literally not allowed to take your work home with you.

Mr jshort and I have each been in the defense industry over a decade... We definitely take our work home with us, literally and figuratively. If it's classified work, it just means you have to be at the office long hours. There are very few people we work with, in any role, that just work 40 hour weeks and go home stress-free.
posted by jshort at 6:35 PM on November 13, 2013

My suggestion would be to get into a support role in the federal government. A few close friends work in HR and they do not work more than 40 hours. If they do, they get those hours added to their accrued leave. They do not get called during off hours or have any pressure to work weekends/holidays. The pay is only slightly lower than industry standard, but I would be willing to bet that the generous vacation time and other benefits make up for most of that difference. If you happen to have federal student loans, the forgiveness program is more than worth it.

Another option is to get into factory work. I suggest the food industry. You could easily hit your salary numbers at the right company. The hours may not be 9 to 5 and you may have to work more than 40 hours from time to time, but you will never have to bring your work home with you, physically or mentally. Don't get into management in such an environment though, it is exactly the opposite of what you are looking for.

In both cases, you will have to really hunt for the job and put in lots of applications, but both are out there.
posted by Talk To Me Goose at 7:30 PM on November 13, 2013

State, Local and Federal government jobs generally work 40 hour weeks.

I'm a government employee and it is rare that I work a 40 hour week - for the most part my extra hours are compensated, but a good number of them are uncompensated. We even have a code for uncompensated overtime on our time cards "Free Time". Now - I work in emergency management and there are absolutely areas of my agency which employee people who never work anything other than 40 hours a week, but just be sure whatever you go for you go with eyes open, there are plenty of government jobs that involve a great deal of overtime.
posted by arnicae at 7:52 PM on November 13, 2013

I live in Portland, Oregon, where we have a handful of tech start-ups that are having a hard time finding enough folks to keep up with their growth. A handful of them got together and made a recruiting video. Puppet Labs, one of the companies who participated, has a bunch of jobs posted, and so it might be worth browsing those jobs and the qualifications to see if you meet any of them. The other companies in the video also have a bunch of jobs posted as well.

And, with Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, it might work well here for your wife.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:20 PM on November 13, 2013

It might be a good idea to go to some of these museums and talk to people. Ours has many different kinds of positions, from office admin work to curating to an entire education department with a variety of roles. Anyway, good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 8:39 PM on November 13, 2013

I would think with all the various types of new-fangled computer chips that are being developed, there would be jobs for physicists among some of the companies doing that kind of development and eventual production. You could Google "new computer chip technology physics" or something like that to get an idea of some of the leading edge stuff going on.
posted by Dansaman at 9:08 PM on November 13, 2013

As a federal government worker, I will chime in to say that it's not all 40-hour workweeks here. Some (such as myself), unfortunately work much more at times. There are parts of the federal government that are basically "exempt" from those rules about 40 hours and overtime (much of the State Department and White House is like this, depending on the job). I am salaried and often work well in excess of 40 hours per week. There are people in the IT community in the federal government who also experience this. Check carefully before applying (it's usually easy to figure out because fed job announcements usually categorize the jobs as "exempt" or "non-exempt." These words can make a huge difference in your expected workload.)
posted by Creamroller at 7:49 AM on November 14, 2013

If you're interested in working in programming, how plugged-in are you to the Boston Python community? I've been to a few of their meetups and if you haven't been to one I'd really recommend it. It seems like that would be a great place to meet some people who could help you assess your chances for becoming a developer and help you figure out what you need to work on. And the people who attend seem to be from all sorts of organizations, from crazy-hours startups to more work-life-balanced kinds of places.
posted by mskyle at 12:50 PM on November 14, 2013

Shift work is something you might consider too.
posted by auntie maim at 4:48 PM on November 14, 2013

More about Science Museums: With your background, you could potentially work in an education department developing science content. A lot of museums have adopted demonstrations and other interactive activities that engage people more than reading and looking at an exhibit. They value teaching experience greatly, especially the ability to distill a concept to different audiences (adults vs children).

I interned at one and have stayed in touch with people who are still there. One of which came from teaching high school physics and has been promoted up several times and now pretty much oversees the entire museum demonstration program. Some added perks may include a corporate discount in the museum cafeteria, meeting important/famous people when nationally rotating exhibits come to down (Mythbusters, Star Wars, etc), and generally unless something special is going on, your work is limited to museum operating hours.

As for Software Engineering, you could take a look at the book, "Cracking the Coding Interview" if you're concerned about the type of questions that would come up in an interview. Experience with scientific and image processing in Python as well as working with Matlab is pretty relevant. (I'm a software engineer).
posted by joydivasian at 8:26 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh another thing about science museums: you will almost certainly have to work weekends. I used to work (part-time) at the MOS in Boston and almost everyone works either Saturday or Sunday. Memail me if you want to know more.
posted by mskyle at 8:45 AM on November 17, 2013

Just checked back in to say that neither local or state government is necessarily stable any more. Local government in California have been cutting off all the limbs to save the body over the last five years. I wouldn't necessarily let that stop me, but be aware. On balance, if you land in the right place, a government job is probably going to suit your needs precisely.
posted by cnc at 3:57 PM on November 18, 2013

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