Mid-career technical retraining for an introvert
December 21, 2018 4:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm an introvert in my mid-30's and looking for a career change which will be a better fit. I'm considering retraining, either through a boot-camp or self-study, as a web developer. Would this be a good fit? If not do you have any other suggestions for technical retraining?

I've somehow managed to move into doing inside-sales for the past 3 years. This is a bad fit for me as I'm very introverted and have moderate to sometimes severe social-anxiety. The only career path from my current position is into outside sales, which would be an even worse fit.

I've decided I need to transition into a career that focuses more on technical skills, and less on soft skills.

I've done some entry level coursework in web development, and have built some basic sites. I think I would enjoy the technical side of the work. I'm also interested in the opportunity for remote work. Do opportunities exist for the type of position I'm imagining? Before I invest significant time and money in retraining, I'd like to have a realistic picture of the day-to-day roles of most developers. I know I would not thrive in a highly collaborative environment with lots of face-to-face meetings. I am OK with working on teams, as long as the collaboration is not face-to-face.

Another option I'm looking into is as an electrical engineering technician, or the electrical trade.

Background: I have a bachelors degree biology, and work experience mainly in agriculture and industrial construction.

Thanks for any input and advice!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Mid-30s introvert web-developer here. If you enjoy the problem solving side of programming, it would likely be a good fit. But depending on the company, the level of interaction may be more than you are expecting. Especially in Agile environments, there needs to be a lot of communication with the client and internally on the team. On the plus side, remote work is fairly common in this field, so it isn't always face to face - especially with the clients.

One distinction to make now: do you prefer the more technical back-end development (doing the things that get the data ready to present like database queries, working with APIs, configuring servers, etc.) or the front-end development (doing the things to present the data like determining the HTML output, CSS styling, using JS to make it interactive, etc.). The third leg of the tripod is designing it (what looks nice, has a good user experience, good interaction design, etc.). Each requires a different skillset, but depending on the company, there may be different people in each role or the same person may be expected to do 2 or even all 3 aspects. You may see the term "Full stack" developers to describe doing both back- and front-end. More often, front-end and design get lumped together.

I would think a boot camp or other formal education (online course, community college, etc.) would be preferable. There's a lot to learn, and on the back-end at least, you may be able to get certifications. I'm self-taught, and speaking from experience on both sides of the hiring process, having no relevant education doesn't look great.

One other thing to look for - apprenticeship programs. Once you have some basic knowledge, you might be able to find a company offering an apprenticeship that would really ramp you up and potentially turn into a full time job afterwards.

Feel free to MeMail for more info. Good luck!
posted by hankscorpio83 at 5:36 AM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Just to set your expectations a bit. I work in multi-disciplinary agile teams as a designer, often working closely with web developers.

Soft skills are important, even in dev roles. Communication with less technical colleagues is crucial to your success. Daily standups, sprint planning and other agile ceremonies require a great deal of interpersonal communication. This can be remote, but not always.

This isn't to put you off. But even in many web development roles, these are the sort of skills that employers will be looking for. No doubt you'll find roles with different working practices where this will be less of a requirement – but it will limit your options and hold you back.
posted by Ted Maul at 7:37 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I agree with the commenters above that development includes a lot of interacting with others, especially in an Agile environment. (I have about 15 years experience on IT teams in various roles, none as a developer though.)

In my experience, many introverts are drawn to technical fields and on every team I've been on, people are familiar with introversion and what kind of environment supports them. The company is not always set up to support introversion, but if you have a good PM or scrummaster they should be watching out for what helps you be the best at your job. Many Agile teams have their own "cultures" within a company so even if the company is open floor plan and shooting tshirts from a cannon at lunch, the individual team can be different.

I recommend identifying several company you are interested in working for and seeing if you can set up an informational interview. Or if the company you currently works for has an IT department, see if you can take someone out to lunch and just chat with them about their job.
posted by CMcG at 7:48 AM on December 21, 2018

"... if you have a good PM or scrummaster they should be watching out for what helps you be the best at your job."

So crucial. You have experience with doing extrovert roles and you are technical, perhaps a technical PM or Agile/scrummaster role would be a good fit?
posted by bz at 9:49 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Web Development, in my experience, will be particularly heavy on soft skills among development jobs, and tend to attract other people with (relatively) strong soft skills.

I concur with CMcG, look for fields that are sort of known for attracting people with less great soft skills, where people tend to expect a bit of social ineptness, so there's usually some accommodation there. I benefit form this and appreciate it.

I think I have a job you'd like; I am a programmer / data person working remotely. I am largely sheltered from the occasional demi-sociopathic executive by my leadership team, and mostly interact with my team via IM or voice chat. Everyone is either a bit soft-skills deficient or used to working with such people. It's really nice. Good luck!
posted by ZeroDivides at 9:52 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Guys, come on. Yes, there are some soft skills required in web development, especially the front end side and especially if it's customer facing. But we're comparing this to *sales*

Compared to sales most web development jobs are monastic.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:57 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is basically what I hire for. I work with a team of backend developers —we do database development and API services and solving banal-yet-inexplicably baroque scenarios involving automated emails sent in the wrong language and little programs you run from your desktop that have the power to take down ENTIRE WEBSITES because of the abscence of a semicolon...

It can be mightily stressful sometimes but in my experience the introverts really thrive in this space. Because, let’s face it, nobody from sales wants to talk to you about how you’re going to execute a batch refund of 2million dollars over the course of an hour—they just want to know when it’s done so they can unclench and get on with their golf game.

But my team sits right next to the web team. Actually the web team has one or two introverts but if you’re a web developer you end up having more face time with project managers, business analysts, sales people, and more annoyingly they want to TALK to you about what you’re doing because a website is visual, and they can have opinions about it. Often it’s their job to have opinions about your work if you work on the front end.

Database admin or dev could be a good fit, but it’s harder to find boot camps that focus on just that kind of skill set. Taking some certification courses could help in that regard.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:04 AM on December 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh and while I’m the manager of a team of introverts, I’m also a closet introvert. I’m very good at the soft skills, like, actually really good at them, but I would also be 100% fine working entire days in silence.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:24 AM on December 22, 2018

Software testing (QA Analyst) or Software developer might be a good fit. A lot of introverts in the department i work for.
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