Starting career late after years of depression, unemeployment?
May 21, 2018 4:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm finally(!) recovering and feeling 'normal' after years of suffering from crippling depression, failing my college courses, and being unemployed, but now starting my career late seems next to impossible. (Specifically in computer/web security?)

I'm 29 and just recently finished the remaining credits for my undergrad degree, a BA in geography - but I'm both uninterested in and unqualified for any jobs like GIS, urban planning... (I barely passed all those classes years ago in a haze). I haven't held a part-time job in about five years and I've never had a full-time job. I've been interested in and at least 'dangerous with' programming, hacking, etc. since I was a kid - the most recent part time job was basically making forms in HTML and managing a dead-simple Drupal site, and I would love to work in cybersecurity, but I have zero professional experience, never read someone's code for a job, and I have no portfolio, no GitHub, nothing. (I'm not totally useless: I read HN for fun, can install *unix on machines with no issues, can solder, prefer a terminal to GUI, FizzBuzz is super easy yet also about as complex as my work has even gotten!) I of course am willing and would love to learn on the job. How can I get started back in the working world after so long and with hardly anything to show?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You could try to find a non-profit that needs a volunteer, although if you're USian and receive disability payments you might have to be wary of letting on that you're working even in a volunteer capacity. I honestly don't know how that works.

How attached are you to the notion of a conventional career? I ask because you'll be entering a world that revolves around ableism: sysadmin work in particular tends to require on-call hours that are often brutal. You're in an ideal position (and are young enough) to look into working and living in intentional community: check out for ideas. Depression struggles aren't a bar to that... Just be candid about it.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:08 AM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a note to say that 29 isn't very late at all to begin a career. I regularly see people finishing their degrees/internships/etc. at not a whole lot younger. Let go of that one.

If I were you, I would try to find people in companies you like for an informational interview, and I would ask them where to start. "Hi, I'm Josiah. I find myself at 29 with an urban planning qualification and no desire to do anything with urban planning. I've basically woken up at 29 and realised I am fascinated by cybersecurity, but I'm completely self taught in this space and have no idea where to start. Where would you advise me to start?"
posted by frumiousb at 6:25 AM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are there any tech related meetups near you? Do any of those tech related meetups interest you?

If yes to #2, attend those. If yes to #1 but not #2, find a way to get interested in something about the tech meetups available to you. Be a regular, volunteer, and demonstrate your enthusiasm to everyone you cross paths with.

The first job you get will probably not be glamorous or even interesting, and it may not be quick to land. But keep every business card you can get your hands on, ask them a thoughtful question about their job/presentation/something professional. Ask permission to add people on linkedIn, and then send everyone a brief note when you add them. Thank them for chatting with you, and then ask a followup question that shows you did a little digging on the conversation you had. Try to keep as many of these conversations going as you can, because these will be the people who help you find a job.

I realize this sounds very involved. For now, just start with showing up at the meetups and talking to people.

By the way, there are also loads of people without a degree who have fulfilling and lucrative careers. Don't let your time completing it discourage you. Instead, try to think of it as a mark of your ability to persevere and your privilege. Those will serve you well as you move forward.
posted by bilabial at 6:34 AM on May 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

A lot of workplaces will cut a lot of slack on work history as long as you have the right skills under your belt, and it sounds like you've got at least the makings of the skills to try to break into (heh) the cybersecurity field. A lot of folks end up there from non-traditional career paths.

I think a big help will be making sure your resume is emphasizing the right things. I'd definitely lean more towards a "skills" resume template than a work experience resume--that way you can just focus on your "relevant work experience" and spend more of your time highlighting your tech skills.

I love frumiousb's script not just for informational interviews (which are a good idea if you can get one) but also as a potential answer for any hiring manager if they ask about your educational background. I think some hiring managers might see "geography degree" and not immediately make the GIS/tech connection, so that's a good thing to play up both on the resume and in person.

I know you just finished with school, but if you come to find out there are some skills or technical certifications that could be knocked out quickly and might make you more competitive for cybersecurity jobs, you may want to investigate your local community college's offerings. Even if they don't expressly have a cybersecurity program (although some do) you might be able to get a CompTIA certification or something that you can pop on a resume that says "look, I computer good" to help catch more hiring managers' eyes.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:48 AM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Does the school your attending offer job placement / assistants? Sounds to me like you may be interested in systems administration. A good place to start would be on a IT help desk and work your way up.
posted by tman99 at 6:52 AM on May 21, 2018

Perhaps take a few MOOCs or online courses on cybersecurity? Coursera offers a specialization specifically in Cybersecurity from the University of Maryland. These are typically $50 a month, so way more affordable than a college course. If you're savvy, you may be able to work your way into a bootcamp or an apprenticeship, or even a grad certificate program.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:55 AM on May 21, 2018

Congratulations on getting here!

Turn up at meetups if you possibly can - it tends to be cheap/free and once your face is known, you can ask around about available jobs. I've noticed a great trend for meetups to start or end with a "anyone hiring?" session. You might find it worthwhile to go to a Drupal meetup, but mention an interest in infosec while you're there.

Coursera has been very good for me - particularly in terms of having projects on GitHub which I could talk through in interview.

Also, writing: blogging, Medium,, and other places. My brother got noticed for a nice dev role despite a lack of qualifications and relevant experience because he took the time to write a really definitive post on an aspect of technology. Documenting something shows your own understanding, your ability to communicate, and your dedication to figuring something out.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 7:12 AM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have any advice for your specific career path but a more general "it's never too late" encouragement. I didn't graduate with degree until I was 33, which is when I would say I also started my first real "career" in detector engineering. I'll turn 37 a few months after I get my first master's degree. I also failed out of my first go at college, and I also struggle with crippling major depression. I still get a little depressed when I think about the fact that I might be an old man before contributing anything major to a space mission, but then I remember that I get to contribute anything at all and I smile.

Actually, I thought of some useful advice... apply for everything and anything you might want to do and don't worry about being either being too old, or too inexperienced for it to work. It's about getting your foot in the door and then showing people that you can learn and do the job.
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:27 AM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I changed careers at around 29, also with little non-school-related work experience to my name. I’ve been happily employed in NewField for going on 9 years now. It can be done!

I started by brainstorming other things I’d like to do (you’ve made headway there), applying for every related job I thought I could make a “transferable skills” case for, and taking the first reasonable offer that came my way (which, btw, was a job that I had thought was a bit of a reach at the time). I used that first job to learn the new field and figure out what skills I would need to stay employed. I think that’s a good spot to focus on now - finding a next step that will move you in a good direction and will provide skills & experiences that you can sell. Job #1 may take some time to get. That’s normal. Job #2 will likely be a little easier. Good luck!
posted by eirias at 10:23 AM on May 21, 2018

One quick thought - if you're worried about employers wondering why you're 29 with no work experience, then the fact that you're just now finishing your Bachelor's is actually a gift. There's no reason you have to make it clear on your applications that you're older. You may not pass for 22 exactly, but the fact that you're a recent college grad gives you a bit of a reset opportunity. It's exactly the right time for you to be starting your career!

I agree with the advice to use your school's career office, specifically in two ways. 1. If there are firms that recruit on your campus for anything close to what you're interested in, see if you can set up an interview. Best case scenario, you get a job, or at least an internship. Worst case scenario, you get more information about what you need to do to build your resume. 2. Ask to be connected with any alums doing the kind of work you're interested in. Ask them if you can buy them a cup of coffee and get some advice about how to build your resume (do not ask them for a job, but it's ok to ask them to let you know if something comes available that you'd be qualified). Lots of people love helping out in this way.

I realize it may feel like you're "behind," but so many people change careers in their early thirties (and later) and SO MANY people don't really start their careers until they're around your age. It's not a huge issue.
posted by lunasol at 10:57 AM on May 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I can't speak specifically to IT, but I started my whole career over again at 29! It's by no means too late!
posted by praemunire at 12:48 PM on May 21, 2018

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