door number one? door number two??
April 30, 2016 8:16 PM   Subscribe

I was all set to attend a coding bootcamp, but my employer is pulling out all the stops to keep me from leaving. I have to give them an answer by Monday and I don’t know what I’m going to do. Help me?

I freelance at a publishing firm as an editor, and up until last week, we had an agreement that I’d be leaving for a coding bootcamp in a month. I like the company—my coworkers are nice, the work is in the very specialized area that I majored in in college, and despite it being a publishing firm the company’s financials are extremely good and will be so indefinitely (because of its extreme specialization).

This week, I was called into a meeting and offered a full-time position, and they were blunt about the fact that they didn’t want me to leave. The pay is $50K (nonnegotiable), which is not much at all in the large East Coast city I live in, but is more than my coworkers are getting paid. It was suggested that I would be on a managerial track and that if I were to stick with the company there would be a clear path upward. They're supportive of my wanting to learn how to program, but only on a part-time basis.

I like the work—it’s right up my alley and I find it meaningful. There’s no overtime. On the other hand, the company’s high turnover gives me pause, and there is some discontent. The company is extremely specialized and I’m not sure the work experience is going to translate to another publishing firm, let alone another kind of company. I would potentially be stuck in the large East Coast city I live in, in which I have plenty of family but as a place to live is expensive, cold, and kind of mean-faced. On $50K, I would also have to continue living with my mom.

My coding bootcamp is well regarded, and I’m doing pretty well with the coursework. They’re throwing out salaries like $70K for the first year, $100K after the first year, which I am taking as marketing—but coders really are in demand and they seem to receive realistic salaries that reflect local living costs rather than the sad state of the publishing industry. My original plan was to work for a year and save money, then move to a company in a place that I would actually enjoy living in. That said, though, I’m not a secret coding genius and I’m never going to be calling the shots as a coder. My bootcamp had an info session where one of the participants was really enthusiastic that after hours, the place where she worked offered two-hour-long training courses in a different programming language. That’s not me—after work is for me to daydream, read, work on projects, go hiking, etc. so that I can come in the next day and work again. It’s not the time for further professional improvement. I’m not sure how seriously to take the pronouncements you see all over the Internet that it’s only a matter of time for coders to be outsourced/made obsolete and that computer languages are swiftly replaced such that constant training is an inevitability. It's a full-time program and I wouldn't be able to continue working if I enrolled. I'm okay with losing the deposit/extra charges. I’m also okay with a part-time course, but if I’m going to end up switching careers anyway, I’d probably prefer to do it now rather than prolong the discomfort of living in the place where I grew up.

I’m fortunate enough to be presented with two great choices, and I wouldn’t have a problem doing either if it was my only choice. I feel like for the first time, I’m having to actually make a choice about what my life is going to look like instead of having it decided for me, and I am having so much trouble. Please help me.
posted by naturalnumbers to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get paid - bootcamps will always be there waiting for you to spend money on them later on in life.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:38 PM on April 30, 2016 [10 favorites]

is it true that you won't make enough at the full time job to live independently?
If you stay at the full time job can you negotiate a reimbursement for the cancellation fee and other lost funds?
posted by calgirl at 8:43 PM on April 30, 2016

I've never been a coder, but I've been an editor and writer for most of my professional career. If you're that good of an editor (and it sounds like you are), this will not be the only full-time editing job you'll ever be offered. This is not the point of no return you think it is. I say do the boot camp and embrace the experience. I have some coder friends who do quite well financially while maintaining a work/life balance.

For what it's worth, editing experience is genuinely helpful in lots of professional areas. It was immensely useful to me as a project manager and relationship manager, in proposal work, in research and development. Those skills are hella transferable -- attention to detail, focus on quality, understanding of the big picture, the insight in how big projects come together. You just have to remind yourself to present them as transferable to get the most out of it.
posted by mochapickle at 8:52 PM on April 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

If you don't enjoy coding "for fun" in your spare time, I don't think becoming a programmer is the job for you. The best jobs are the ones that involve things that you love and are passionate about. And coding is definitely a job where you have to frequently brush up your skills in your spare time to stay on top of the new languages and frameworks and technologies so if you're not passionate about it and yet have to do it frequently i see trouble ahead. Finally, it's difficult to find work as a programmer that pays well AND sticks to a 40hr workweek or less just in terms of the regular work output much less professional skills upkeep. Sometimes you gotta pass on that fork in the road that leads to more money as money isn't everything. Sounds like you love editing and are great at it. Stick with it.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 9:14 PM on April 30, 2016 [11 favorites]

It sounds like you have a good sense of what your future would be like in publishing, and it doesn't sound like a future that you're very excited about: you don't see the broader industry as having a rosy future, you don't like the city, and it will be a long time before you make enough money to not "have" to live with your mother. And it sounds like the coding path potentially has much more of what you want.

I was at a similar point once, considering changing careers, and nervous about how I would like it and whether I would be any good at it. It was helpful to me to consider the worst case: what would I do if I tried it and I didn't like it?

In my case, it was go back to doing what I did before. Which I liked! So suddenly, taking the leap seemed much less scary.
posted by squasher at 9:25 PM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Want to add: I could not disagree more strongly with TestamentToGrace! I know lots and lots of very successful programmers, data scientists, designers, etc. who do not do work during their off hours. It is totally possible to be a successful professional coder without any desire to play with code on the weekends.

This is a harmful falsehood to spread, and contributes to keeping underrepresented people out of tech.
posted by squasher at 9:29 PM on April 30, 2016 [27 favorites]

There is tons of variety both in the kinds of code work someone does from really theoretically intensive algorithms work to more operations-y stitching together of building blocks to detail-oriented interface work. There are also lots of software-adjacent jobs that you might enjoy even if writing code is not your life's passion. Technical program managers, QA managers, technical writers, analysts, and many other roles benefit from software knowledge and a bootcamp plus some hands on experience combined with your editing skills might make unlock some really satisfying and well compensated jobs for you.

Also, per squasher, strongly disagree with TestamentToGrace. These are jobs you can leave at work if you want to. Bigger tech companies are famous for absorbing those sorts of people and paying them very well to work on problems that might not be super glamorous but that are important.
posted by heresiarch at 9:35 PM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well I've been coding for 40 years, though granted in COBOL (dinosaur language). But when I see people taking on new challenges at work and learning new things (data analysis, performance optimization, numerical analysis, debugging tools, different operating systems, etc.) it seems to be more of a concentrated project, a push into new territory to deal with new concepts with possible ambitious deadlines. Since most programmers are salaried (IME) that may mean leaving late to finish research and digesting its relevance to your project, or staying late to get past some hold up in a proof of concept phase, or maybe logging-in from home to make sure a long running process finished successfully. But I don't know of a situation where someone was told to switch from one language to another and not given time at work or support to accomplish that. YMMV.
posted by forthright at 9:39 PM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Programmers are going to be automated away several years after the publishing industry as a whole disappears, IMO. I also think you can successfully get a programming job working 40 hours a week.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:45 PM on April 30, 2016

$50,000 and some vague promises isn't much to build a future on.

Learning to code is not likely to make your other skills any less valuable, so it seems like a good idea if it's something that interests you. I'm going to stake a middle ground on the professional development thing -- most developers I know, myself included, do spend some time on it outside of work hours, but certainly not on a daily basis. I also enjoy reading, daydreaming, and hiking, and spend a lot of my free time on them, definitely more than I spend on my own coding projects, but I definitely do spend at least some time keeping up in the field and teaching myself new stuff outside of work, but only because I am interested in it.

I would suggest you not make any decisions on that basis until you start getting your hands dirty, anyway, because you don't really have any way to know whether or not you'll be interested in pursuing it on your own outside of work.

To my mind, if this is a direction you're interested in pursuing, and it sounds like it is, it would be nuts to give it up without a much better offer than what you've described. If you discover it's not your thing, a boot camp isn't all that much of your life.
posted by mister pointy at 9:47 PM on April 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm not an editor, and I don't know what editors do day-to-day. But I am a programmer. The software industry is huge, and growing, and not going to be automated away in the foreseeable future.

But the human side of software is so vastly underrepresented. There are many job roles around software that aren't programming: product management, program management, people management, process oversight, technical writing, marketing, sales, and on and on. Most people do these jobs without knowing anything about coding, and it's good enough. But the people who know how programming works, who can speak the same language (I mean this generally, not as in "Javascript"), who can interface with the coders when it's needed, who can translate between the technical and nontechnical realms... THOSE are the people who are the most valuable.

Software is in every industry now. No matter what you want to do for a job, I guarantee you there are some people, somewhere, who are doing that job around programmers, and you'd have a giant step on any of them if you knew how both sides worked. So go to the bootcamp. Learn everything, but don't feel pigeonholed. Maybe you'll learn how to be a capital-P Programmer, but if you don't, you're still being set up for success in a huge number of other roles.
posted by Dilligas at 10:54 PM on April 30, 2016 [14 favorites]

I work in tech publishing, at the overlap of coding and editorial. It's a growing niche, and those editing jobs pay very, very well. Someone with bootcamp experience and maybe a few years of full-time dev work can transition back into editing very easily (I have a very hard time finding candidates with both of those skills). Not only that, but there are more and more mon-dev roles out there where coding experience is an asset (product management, marketing, etc). Go learn, don't expect to become a Silicon Valley darling on 40h a week (it doesn't sound like that's your ambition), and use those skills, whether it's in a coding job or elsewhere.
posted by third word on a random page at 11:55 PM on April 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Why are you treating this as an either/or? Ask your boss is they'll hire you, but give you a period of leave to attend the boot camp before starting back fulltime.

For what it's worth, I work for a very successful niche publisher on the East Coast, and we're starting to hire a lot of editors who have coding experience or skills, simply because so much of what we do these days is digital. The two skills are a great combination, not divergent paths.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:39 AM on May 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

I used to be a developer/programmer, and now I work in communications at a tech company. I just want to echo what Dilligas said - there are a lot of people who work around developers in great jobs, and the more technical you are, the easier it is to get those jobs and do well in them. It's definitely been a huge advantage for me that I can "speak the language" on both sides - in fact, my career isn't too far from what you could do. I had a strong writing background so I ended up in content marketing - I'm basically the editor in a tech company, and we just published our own in-house book for web developers as part of a campaign to help them with their finances. I agree that having that technical know-how opens a lot of doors - I vote go for the bootcamp and start looking at what opportunities that gives you to take advantage of all your skills.
posted by ukdanae at 4:49 AM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Don't stay. If the salary they're offering isn't enough to live on in your area, it's not a sustainable living. It sucks, but there it is. If they really valued your work, and wanted to entice you to stay, they would be offering a livable wage.

This offer is pretty terrible all things considered. The company is so specialized that if you wanted to change companies, the experience may not be transferrable. There is high turnover. They only ponied up with an offer after you told them you were leaving. The money is dreadful. I'm not sure why you think it's good, except that it came to you. If you want to stay in publishing, could you go out on the market and command better money elsewhere? Or is this the one and only place that will hire you for that skill set? If you take it, that's only one egg in your basket, and if the basket turns out to be a toxic're screwed.

I work in tech and I do everything but code. I know enough to talk to customers about what they want and to put it into language developers understand. I'm going to have to learn the coding platform at some point, but I've been doing this for 7 years without it.

Developers and coders don't always get obsessed to the point of working on it in their off hours. In fact, I don't know any that do. They enjoy writing elegant code that gets the job done. They enjoy going home at the end of the day to their families and their leisure.

I'm voting boot camp. If you want to keep a connection, do part-time, freelance work as an editor when it suits you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:51 AM on May 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

but is more than my coworkers are getting paid
This is the biggest lie that managers tell their employees. There is a very good chance that this isn't true.

I'm a programmer. I don't make a fantastical salary (and certainly didn't coming out of school), but it's been a reasonably good living for the past several years. I don't subscribe to the belief that everybody should learn to code, but it really does sound like you're ready for a career change.

Put your foot down and demand a living wage, or stay on as a part-time freelancer. This company is doing the absolute bare minimum to keep you on board.
posted by schmod at 8:37 AM on May 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Thanks to everyone who responded. I’m carefully reading all of these responses, and man, they’re great. I’m not marking any as “right” to avoid biasing anyone who comes to this page in the future looking for answers—everyone has really great points, and I’m especially thankful to those who shared answers based on their own experience. I’m leaning towards going to the bootcamp after all, and the reasons are pretty clear to me—in the words of Ruthless Bunny, taking this job would mean a one-egg basket (having been in this situation in the past, this really hit it home for me). For the record, I surveyed family and friends and they veered in the exact opposite direction (go for what you know/majored in), and if I hadn’t come here, I probably would have been leaning towards that as well. Thanks, everyone.
posted by naturalnumbers at 11:21 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Have fun, and good luck!
posted by oceanjesse at 3:03 PM on May 1, 2016

I was thinking about your question more -- even if you do decide to go back to editing after the bootcamp, you will have more options available to you. Technical writers and editors who have an understanding of coding and software protocols can instantly command larger salaries in general. (Seriously, taking a basic HTML 101 and chatting with a database expert for an hour made my writing life so much easier. I can imagine that this bootcamp would yield even better results.)
posted by mochapickle at 4:05 PM on May 1, 2016

I'd also like to point out the interesting combination of

* they don't want you to leave
* pretty high turnover

Even if you have to leave to complete the boot camp and the publisher gives you all kinds of static ... they may want you back a few months down the road anyway. They know you, they like you, and they may want you back on board in the future, possibly even at higher pay.
posted by kristi at 10:24 AM on May 3, 2016

While bootcamps aren't the strongest resume builder, if you're able to parlay that into paid work, you're in a fine position, something like 800 postings on HackerNews's May hiring thread alone.
posted by pwnguin at 12:29 AM on May 9, 2016

« Older Current closet organization apps for Android?   |   Help me identify this jazz tune. Difficulty level:... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.