Landing somewhere between programming and therapy?
June 16, 2015 1:00 AM   Subscribe

What are some careers in the sweet spots between people and technology? What is your day-to-day life like, if you work in a capacity that blends these two? I know a bit about UX research and I've taught computer classes, but I'm looking for some more specific guidance.

Over the last first four years of working post-college, I have learned a few things about myself:

- A harmonious work environment with good boundaries and pleasant coworkers is probably the most important thing to me. I don't do well on teams with overly analytical people (my #1 fear about programming) and I also don't do well in heightened negative environments (my #1 fear about being a therapist).
- I enjoy and do well in both immersive technical tasks (like writing a script) and immersive interpersonal tasks (like tutoring an adult learner).
- I appreciate the more creative elements of things like math and logic a ton. And I'm actually not averse to rote repetitive work, as long as I can get into a flow/have a sense of immersion in patterns. And I've specifically done some programming on my own and generally really liked it -- except I get really frustrated with setting up my environment, wrapping my head around git, and some of those other heavily procedural concepts. I think OOP is beautiful.
- Ideally, I would work at the intersection of people and technology, whatever that means exactly.
- As I get older, I have more appreciation for a good job than the PERFECT CAREER. I would like to make enough to have a dog and eventually adopt a kid, but I don't care about owning property or having flashy things. And again, if I found a tech job that was not dominated by business/startup ethos or emotionally uncommunicative dudes, I would be very happy with coding!
- On the flip side, some part of me has always loved the idea of working as a therapist. I find direct one-on-one work to be incredibly gratifying, and am generally patient with others and love seeing people develop inner resilience and self-knowledge. That being said, I can be very emotionally reactive to others, and I am genuinely unsure how I would handle the boundaries and emotional fatigue of seeing people in crisis day in and day out -- especially when I had to somehow "perform" or give an appropriate response. This makes me think it might be nice to have more structure if I pursued this route -- say, as a counselor in a college/university setting. But I'm not sure if I need to do this professionally, or if I could satisfy this part of myself as a volunteer.

So given some of those insights, I'm right now trying to find more positions that blend technology and the helping professions. I've looked a bit into UX research, MLIS programs, research that has a computational component, etc. -- what might be a good entry level job or first step in this direction? I had considered a bootcamp last year but ultimately didn't love the idea of going into debt for an unregulated certificate. I'm looking into online CS bachelor's programs, especially Oregon State's, and I think that may be a good fit. Any other thoughts?

Thank you!
posted by elephantsvanish to Work & Money (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered instructional design and training? Consulting firms and software companies often have in-house trainers who need technical savvy to learn products, develop courses, and manage training materials, but who also need the patience and people skills required to teach. This type of role can mean much more than making PowerPoint presentations; where I work, the people who train our customers create virtual images and sample applications, write Python scripts, and style HTML5-based presentations. The average salary for instructional designers in the U.S. is around $60k.
posted by neushoorn at 1:28 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

An old classmate of mine made a career out of developing software for different assisted living tools and products. What little I know of his job matches up with some of the things you're looking for.
posted by Harald74 at 1:37 AM on June 16, 2015

Ergonomics, perhaps?
posted by kschang at 3:21 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you would like a role in helping disabled people find the best technology to help them cope.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:29 AM on June 16, 2015

IAMA licensed clinical social worker who started in comp sci. Currently I do not work as a therapist. There are some pretty cool opportunities in data analytics and database administration around a bunch of therapists who by definition are much more relational than a bunch of programmers. We are also 90 percent female.

You also have alot of job flexibility. There is no need to work worth people in crisis all day and be a therapist. There are plenty of very functional people struggling with fairly normal problems that just need an ear and permission to take care of themselves!

Something to coincider is becoming a therapist takes a master's degree, internships and supervised hours. It took my 5 years from the time I stated my Masters to get my license and I currently don't work as a therapist. I am coveted for my tech skills as social workers tend to lag in that area! I do miss the geeky talk though.

Anyway if you have any specific questions for me go ahead and memail me.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:30 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's a growing field of developing health-related mobile apps, that are based in solid research about behavior change.
posted by entropone at 6:39 AM on June 16, 2015

I work at a university library in the same office as the circulation and reference staff, and I field most of the technology questions at the service desk.

I mostly function as an advanced user with admin rights on our computers. and also support some of the institutional applications. I can answer most questions about using them, can fix some issues or reimage computers that are messed up, help clients interacting with other support techs, and keep an eye out for bigger issues that occasionally crop up.

Senior support people focus on keeping their clients happy as much as keeping things running. That goes for systems support, but also for development.

I started as an evening receptionist at a computer lab, learned a lot because I was the one out front that everyone came to when they couldn't get the computers to do what they needed to, and now I act as a liaison between the people using our systems and the people running them. It can be stressful, but people like having their problems fixed, so it's also very satisfying.
posted by Wilbefort at 12:26 PM on June 16, 2015

Ideally, I would work at the intersection of people and technology, whatever that means exactly.

You should look into Business Analyst. These are the people who talk to the customers to find out what they want, and then talk to the Technology folks to make it happen. This takes place in all kinds of industries (telecommunications, transportation, manufacturing, etc) and if you get a good group of people to work with, it can be very rewarding.

Or you can up your game on rewards and look specifically for companies that provide technology to causes you believe in - mental or physical health, schools, non-profits, etc. But the role is still the same - talk to the people, then translate it into tech-speak and back.
posted by CathyG at 12:45 PM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a little bit off the direction you were originally going, but if you are comfortable with the idea of further schooling, I would encourage you to look at Occupational Therapy. You often work one on one with people in a way that significantly impacts their life, but has structure. There can be some (increasingly more) technology and lots of creative problem solving. It's usually a good, stable job with decent work/life balance.
posted by mjcon at 1:51 PM on June 16, 2015

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