Let's just say that I wanted to change careers...
October 28, 2007 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Career change, midstream, to the technology field - can I have your suggestions?

I have a job that I love - I also teach this job in college, on a tenure-tracked position. It's a great job, and I have had a pretty good career so far. I'm rounding into my thirties, and my chosen career in the capacity I have it now isn't going to make me much money. I hate that the reality has to come down, but it's a reality for me. I need to have a career that I can do anywhere, and that will make me a bit more than I'm making now (I'm sitting at around 40K, probably not going to make more than 50K in my career). I'm not a materialistic weasel - but I am interested in using the brain that I have worked hard to hone to secure some kind of future for my wonderful wife and family.

My other passion is for networking and computers. Weird? Probably. Something I find completely awesome? Absolutely. I enjoy the network administration side of computing very much, and I'm feeling out any possibilities of getting educated in the field. I'm not an idiot when it comes to computers and networking (self taught, started using computers in the mid-80's) but I'm not familiar with Linux, or much command line stuff at all. I know some, but not much. I'd like to get re-educated, per se, and make more money to support my family.

I suppose my question is twofold - what kind of jobs are out there for people interested in Network Administration or a related field (I am thoroughly versed in Windows, would like to learn server administration and using/installing/maintaining the gear), and what kind of salary would one expect to earn out there? Is there something I don't know about that you think sounds like it might suit this kind of interest? Is there a way to go about the education? Is there a certain place I could study that would prepare me better than others? I'd like to get the certifications (CCNA, MCSA) and work either from a home based office or as a network administrator somewhere beautiful. How should I try to accomplish this? What, if anything, are the chances for an early-thirty-something to succeed at this? Am I dreaming? I'm great with people (one would say my people skills are excellent, and I have never had a problem with them), I've never had a hard time making friends, and I can totally see myself as the friendly network administrator that I've never heard of or seen exist - most of the time I've met miserable, unfriendly IT folk who have shit for attitude. I know people are stupid, and I know most user problems are due to this stupidity. I try hard not to talk down to people, and I'm an educator - I have patience.

Don't get me wrong - I love my chosen career, and I have busted my ass and sacrificed life to get here. I have a masters' degree in the profession, and have done a lot of high-falootin' gigs in that career (I'm an entertainment lighting designer/programmer). I could probably get tenure somewhere at a University, and do *alright* for my family. I have higher expectations for myself at this point, and my salary point isn't cutting MY mustard. I'm not ungrateful for having a job, nor am I greedy. But living costs a lot of money, even for two relatively frugal people. I want to contribute more to my wife and my family. I want to be a good husband. I can still perform my chosen career in a freelance capacity and do shows when the time warrants. I'm a geek at heart, and I could dedicate my life to educating myself on this.

Any suggestions would be fantastic. I thank you in advance.
Wanna email? Try midlifecareerchange{AT}gmail{DOT}com.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My totally generic advice for people who want to switch to a tech career: become an Oracle DBA. You won't go hungry, there's a lot of money to be made if you're good, and the lack of a technical degree won't hold you back.

That being said, I'd stick with the career you love and find some way to make more money out of it, perhaps by leveraging your geek skills.
posted by backupjesus at 4:47 PM on October 28, 2007

This is funny. As someone who has spent 10 years in the technology field and is now trying to get out of it, my tip would be to run away.

Before I worked in computers, I really really liked it. Now that I've been working in them for 10 years, I'm often a bit burnt out.

What I would recommend is seeing if you can lessen your workload but stay in your career, and do part time/consulting work in computers rather than full time. A full time career in networking might be a bit draining.

But then again, it may not.

Just keep in mind that people often tend to spend the money they make, so if the point is to have more money left over at the end of the month, a change in salary has to be met with controlled spending.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:10 PM on October 28, 2007

Oh, and:

most of the time I've met miserable, unfriendly IT folk who have shit for attitude

Did it ever occur to you that there might be a reason for this? The truth is, dabbling in computers is like baking chocolate cookies once in a while. It's really fun, the output is always satisfying, and it happen infrequently enough that baking cookies is a novel activity. Having a full time job is like baking cookies every day: you get sick of the taste and smell and you just start going through the motions.

In my experience (all of this is second hand but over the course of many years), a fair number of network admins are not really that skilled (relatively speaking) but get paid a lot. My conclusion is that this is because it's an unpleasant job.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:19 PM on October 28, 2007

What about becoming a consultant for what you do now? Entertainment lighting designer...I am not sure what that is, suddenly Ice Capades springs to mind, but even on that end of the spectrum setting up a few independent contractor gigs with your local venues might pay you more than what teaching does. Teaching has it's own rewards and unfortunately money isn't one of them usually. If your wife works and has access to family medical benefits, now might be the time to design your own career path that doesn't rely on one steady employer.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:36 PM on October 28, 2007

There are many great things about working in technology. Just remember, there's much more to it than tech.

Folks who work "in computers" or even "in networking" often find themselves in a burn out similar to that experienced by folks in other so-called helping professions. Even if your overall capacity To Care is very, very large, you must realize it is limited. This is human. When it hits you, it may shock and confound you.

Another thing to consider is that people may occasionally abuse you. I talk to dozens of people a day in a network support position. 95% of them are wonderful people with the patience of saints. Every few weeks, though, someone will blame me (and me alone) for the destruction of their business, their livelihoods, their marriages, and more. One has to be emotionally mature to be able not react inappropriately in the moment or take it on so much they're ready to jump off the Tobin Bridge.

These among other things lead to the "shit for attitude" you find. A lot of folks can't handle it and do go elsewhere. Some folks literally ruin themselves and are forced to leave. And yet other remain jerks, but are so good they get promoted to less customer-facing positions. (This is why some folks find the Bastard Operator from Hell Series so funny.)

And, yes, many adapt and thrive.

There are many highs in this work, especially when you solve a vexing problem or are thanked profusely by a gracious user. There are many lows, too. Most people aren't prepared for the lows. Are you?
posted by tcv at 6:58 PM on October 28, 2007

Do you really want to be awakened at 2 am because some server went down? Do you want to have to leave your kid's birthday party because you're on call? I don't know, maybe your current job is already like this, but being engaged to an IT professional definitely stretches my patience, and it makes me think twice about having kids with someone in the IT field. Your "wonderful wife" may not be so thrilled with your jump in salary once she realizes how much extra time and stress it involves.
posted by desjardins at 7:31 PM on October 28, 2007

Network administration and IT is one of those areas of life that can be fun if you're doing it part time on for your own benefit, but are NOT FUN and in fact quite tedious if you are doing it full time in a cubicle on a company's behalf.

I imagine entertainment lighting design is much more creative and rewarding than this. Network administration is not a high level, creative subfield of computing, or is it intellectually engaging, the way, say, software design can be. It involves reading a lot of books about arcane commands and settings you need to know to set or manage a network, and being constantly on call to invoke these incantations as problems arise.

Why don't you combine your love of computers and entertainment lighting with something more entrepreneurial -- say, creating software that runs theater lighting or syncs it with computers? Create and sell new types of lights? Creating a consulting company that light buildings and spaces and work with architects or theaters? Or leverage your ability to educate and communicate in some way (this skill is VERY helpful when dealing with clients or non-technical folks!)
posted by lsemel at 9:59 PM on October 28, 2007

Maybe you could go to work here and make more money in your current field. You'd also get to live in Madison, which is pretty kickass (despite the fact that the inevitable winter will be here before too long).
posted by altcountryman at 7:23 PM on October 29, 2007

forgot the disclaimer: I have no affiliation to the company I linked above, I'm just aware of them through living here.
posted by altcountryman at 7:24 PM on October 29, 2007

You have a tenure-track position at a college. Correct me if I'm wrong, but to me that sounds like low-stress, predictable hours, good benefits and lots of vacation or down-time. So you aren't pulling in 110k. You do have plenty of time to spend with your family, think about other things, take some techy classes (tuition free?) or work on other projects that (like Isemel suggests) might turn into a lucrative side-business.

Going for the money (which isn't exactly guaranteed in the scenario you've laid out, btw) might get you an extra 20k/year, but is it going to make you happy?
posted by kamelhoecker at 4:52 PM on October 30, 2007

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