Yet another career advice question from a frustrated software developer
September 5, 2014 2:51 PM   Subscribe

For most of my career I've just floated downstream taking a position that seemed interesting enough, or at least an improvement - and then found myself unhappy when it wasn't a good fit. I want to be more intentional in my job search this time - I'm hoping the wise folks of green might have some ideas of industries and jobs I should be researching.

A bit about me for the technically inclined - I’m a software developer in my early forties. CS degree a while back ago. Most of my experience has been in internal web apps for large, large companies, i.e. workflow forms, compliance reports, hooking up one giant document management system to another, things like that. Language wise, most recently a lot of JS and Rails, before that PHP and Java. Very much jack of all trades, master of none, small teams so most everyone was full stack. I’ve never worked at a large corporation, usually small companies of 3-10 people or on a small dev team w/out a lot of interaction with the rest of the company, which I’m starting to think might be part of the problem, no obvious career path or development, no mentors, etc.

When I've been unhappy I’ve tried all the tricks to stay positive, look for different things to work on to be have some passion, make sure I'm proud of my work, etc. Or I've tried to put it in perspective of it's work, it could be worse. But I want more than that out of my career when all is said and done. And in the end I am someone who needs to be motivated by the application as much as the technology to stay interested in the long term. It doesn’t have to be ‘changing the world’ but it has to be something I find worthwhile.

I would really thrive if I was interacting with people, in most of my jobs I’ve been silo-ed, just me and the code with the occasional huddle. I’ve done a bit of project management and I’m not sure that that’s my cup of tea, but maybe. I like talking to users, understanding how they use the application, what they need. Sales engineer and trainer are intriguing ideas to me, but it seems like there is a lot of travel and I’m not sure I could swing it (I have 2 toddlers, and don't want to be gone more than a couple days a month right now). I do love learning new languages, technologies, I’m not sure I want to give that up just yet. But I think about it given how unhappy I've been in most of my jobs....and I could see transitioning out of being a developer in another couple years or so.

One last constraint is that I live in a small town with a somewhat limited tech scene, and my husband runs an agricultural family business. We can’t move right now, although maybe in a few years. We’re about 3 hours from the Bay Area so it’s not inconceivable I could get there a couple times a month, but right now I think my best bet is remote work, maybe something local.

With all that:

Can you suggest industries to research that are doing interesting things, need software developers and might have telecommuting possibilities? I’ve always liked the idea of a software job supporting scientific research (medical, environmental, societal, etc.), but I’m just a developer not a scientist. And these are hot topics I know that lots of people want to work on. But maybe there’s some niche not on my radar that’s particularly cool you can suggest? Specific company or org names would be great as well as a general direction to steer towards.

Can you suggest job types that might work for me beyond what I listed above? I’m sure there are jobs out there I’ve never heard of that I should consider.

Any specific languages/technologies/training I should be doing that would make me a better candidate?

Anything else you can suggest to help me narrow the field and find a focus? I know that sounds really vague and I sound kind of directionless, I suppose it’s because there are a lot of things that interest me and it’s hard for me to just choose one. I’ve done a fair amount of self reflection, worked through exercises about my dream job, etc. But now I feel like I need to get out of my head and really learn about what there is out there.

posted by snowymorninblues to Work & Money (3 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Data analyst? The HITECH act is changing that industry quite a bit right now.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:11 PM on September 5, 2014

I'm your photo opposite, I'm a people person with an aptitude for systems.

I'm a Business Analyst. It's a great gig! The Business (people in the company who use the program I'm expert in,) contacts me when they want enhancements, or if there are bugs in the code or if they get stuck in the bathroom with no paper. I can dumb it down for people who don't care about the details, and I can give information and ideas to the Developers. I sit in meetings with different departments to get an idea of how they use technology, and then I make improvements to my system to help them do what they do.

It pays well, and BAs exist in all different kinds of companies.

It's good stuff!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:13 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yep, I agree that a small team may be part of the problem. IME, it's easier to get silo-ed on a small team vs a larger one because there are fewer people around to bounce ideas off of, go to for help, talk about industry stuff, etc. So if an opportunity presents itself, a change of venue to a larger team may make a big difference. I've also dealt with the silo-ed thing by going to local tech meetups. That will definitely give you more opportunities for interaction while also introducing you to new career path ideas (as well as networking opportunities, which is always good).

You might also want to consider technical writing. That would involve interacting with different groups of people and give you a much larger view of the project. That also helps you to get out of the silo in the sense that you are no longer working on your own little corner of code. You are getting the birds eye view of how the whole system fits together, which may lead you to working with a different aspect of it that you find more interesting. Most of the technical writers I know of also do some type of coding (generally front end and/or testing), so you don't have to be entirely removed from the "hands on" aspect of it. Also, it's something that can be done (at least part time) via telecommuting more easily than something like a sales engineer, which typically involves a lot more face time.
posted by jazzbaby at 4:14 PM on September 5, 2014

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