Time to get a new job pt. 2
July 30, 2014 10:10 AM   Subscribe

I know exactly what I want out of work, and it is this: working on creative projects to make something useful (and also cool) as part of a team. And also money. Not tons, but enough to get by. I have a BA, but nearly all my work experience to date has been in low/no-skill labor. How do I bootstrap myself into a new career and what should I even be looking at?

Okay, so about a year ago, I submitted a question to Ask MeFi looking for help finding a full-time job, so I could save money. In the past year I have solved the full-time job/money issue...by transferring to a F/T position at my current job (retail/food svc), which I hate. So money is less of an issue now, and I've actually been able to save some. The downside is, of course, that I hate my work situation even more now than I did before. I've done a bit of reflection, and I feel like I know well now what I want out of work and what I *don't* want out of work. Now I have to figure out how to get there.

My ambitions are like this: In an ideal world, my full-time job is as a popular science writer. Writing about topics in science and philosophy for a general audience is something I like to do and something I think I'm good at. This is not an ideal world. Even if I manage to get paid doing freelance work, I'm still going to need a day job. My present day job depresses the hell out of me. Outside of writing, what I enjoy doing work-wise is working on creative problems to make something, whether it's less tangible (like an essay) or more tangible (like a batch of homebrewed beer). I also want to be working as part of a team of people with similar interests and ambitions. It often seems like my ideal working environment would be in tech. Problem: though I have an analytic mind, I have few technical skills, and what technical skills I've tried to teach myself haven't taken. I've tried to teach myself programming (in "easy" languages like Python) numerous times and hit a wall before getting very far every time. I've come to the conclusion that that particular skill just isn't up my alley. My skillset is more "soft;" I can write well, I enjoy research, and I've been told that I'm very good at spotting the flaws in plans.

I have a close friend who works in web development...he seems to be living in the kind of world that I want to live in. I'd like to work in that world but I have no idea where I'd fit in. I've done research on administrative jobs in tech but they all seem to be very managerially-focused. Like project and operations management. But I don't want to be a manager. I have enough trouble managing *myself*; I'd prefer just to be responsible for my own work. Within the tech world, I'm not sure where that leaves me.

Outside of tech, I'm sure there's opportunities for somebody like me, but I haven't got a clue what they are.

I'm looking for something that will suit my abilities and desires, where I will fit in, but ideally something that will enable me to get the hell out of retail ASAP. I feel like I really can not take it anymore.

If anyone has been in a situation like mine, I'd really like to hear how you got out. Anyone else with suggestions or advice, feel free to contribute.

posted by zchyrs to Work & Money (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
With your skill set, have you considered becoming a legal researcher? You can get a 2 year paralegal certification, and the jobs usually pay well. In the meantime, I would apply for office jobs to at least get you out of the retail/food service trap. I used to work for a publishing company doing research for one of their trade magazines. Dull, but it paid well, and left me enough time during the day to pursue other interests which eventually led me to start my own business.

You can also do your writing freelance on the side. Do you have good samples of your work on a blog or website? Maybe start applying to be a writer for blogs you enjoy reading?
posted by ananci at 10:24 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

My ambitions are like this: In an ideal world, my full-time job is as a popular science writer...Problem: though I have an analytic mind, I have few technical skills, and what technical skills I've tried to teach myself haven't taken.

Because general-interest journalism is a pretty awful bet for a career these days, being a technical writer could be another avenue to explore. It requires great clarity and concision of thought and expression but not any specific technical skills.

Another suggestion: don't give up on teaching yourself technical skills. It's going to take time and effort and it won't be easy, but that's exactly why skills like coding or proper data analysis are in demand!

You either have to develop professional skills and experience, e.g. learning how to do a specific kind of job, or you need to learn transferrable skills that lots of employers might value, I think. You're on your way!
posted by clockzero at 10:31 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about some sort of marketing/public relations/communications career? This field gets a bad rap, but it doesn't happen to be evil. I do online marketing for a nonprofit and my career ticks your boxes: I work with a great team, I create things that are highly useful, I get to engage both my creative and analytical sides. I also write a lot.

There are certainly lots of these jobs in the tech sector.
posted by lunasol at 10:35 AM on July 30, 2014

Tons of people are popular science writers. Why not you? It's actually great that you have a dream. So few of us do. Why don't you set yourself up to be an expert in some component of that world? You have time. Give yourself a leg up. Some science writers have a background in some kind of science, or even a degree in science writing, but lots have nothing, so you can beat people out. You do have to pick up the skills—including writing, analytical thinking, reporting, and working with others, though, and that means you should start small. It's a trade to learn. You'll have a lot of work to do.

If you can take the debt and the pain, there's always journalism school. The system often works. (Not always!) The Columbia j-school has a M.S. program, including a two-year part-time program. Their M.A. program has a science track too. Berkeley has the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:20 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

This may be rough to 'self-train', but "soft" analytical skills are incredibly important in geology. Making calls on fuzzy data, solving very visual problems, and clear/concise technical writing are incredibly important in this field. Most people graduate from a BSc/MSc/Engineering degree though, so YMMV.
posted by aggyface at 1:03 PM on July 30, 2014

I also came to suggest technical writing (which seems to come up a lot on AskMe these days, or maybe that's just my confirmation bias talking). Here are a few threads about it: 1, 2, 3, 4

what technical skills I've tried to teach myself haven't taken
I wouldn't worry too much about that. "Technical skills" is such a broad term that it's almost meaningless. Personally, I'm a crappy programmer, I can only do basic stuff in git, I can't get the hang of vim—but I'm the go-to person for Word/Excel issues, I can write and troubleshoot CSS, and I can set up source control, create templates, and troubleshoot problems in a handful of desktop publishing and CCMS tools. So don't worry too much about skills "not taking"—it might be that you just haven't tried the right skills yet.
posted by neushoorn at 2:03 AM on July 31, 2014

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