So, where do I go from here?
July 9, 2008 10:56 AM   Subscribe

CareerChangeFilter: 30 yo software developer seeks a more meaningful career path.

Here's my deal.

I am a 30 yo male, working for a software development company in the SF Bay Area for about 5 years. I have a very cushy, stable job with good pay, great benefits and a very relaxed work environment. I am very lucky.

However, I often find myself extremely bored at work. I rarely get to interact with people. I feel like sitting in a cube, staring at a computer screen all day is sucking my soul, and that my job is pretty much meaningless in the grand scheme of life. Imagining myself in 10 years, sitting in a cube, talking to no one, staring at a computer screen fills me with dread.

I long to have a job where I can be of service to others, where I feel like I am actually helping people and making even a small difference in someone else's life. I consider myself an intelligent and compassionate individual and I feel that the majority of my interpersonal abilities are being wasted. Also, I envision that I will be moving away from CA sometime in the next 5 years, likely to a place where my skills in software development will not be as viable.

Basically, I am looking for ideas about potential career paths to consider. I'm willing to go back to school, but I'd like to be able to continue working, and I'm really not interested in programs that are more than 2 years or require additional undergraduate studies.

Right now I am considering a degree in nursing, b/c with my previous (liberal arts) Bachelor's degree there are accelerated programs I can complete in 12 months. My other recent thoughts have included pursuing careers in music therapy, music education or veterinary work.

So hive mind, please share your thoughts. Posting anonymously b/c my username provides an easy ID to anyone I work with.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I always tell people to become a pathology assistant. It is an awesome job and PAs are highly respected. Ours are worth their weight in gold and get treated like it (because they tend to hold our practice together). It's usually a 2 year masters program.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 11:06 AM on July 9, 2008

Consider volunteering for something. Like you, by day I am a cubicle dwelling developer keeping vigil on a monitor. But by night and weekend I am on a lifeboat crew plucking drowning souls from the waves at the very last moment (yeah - well, sometimes). Volunteering can be a good one stop solution to meet more people, make a difference to others that is more definitely life changing than a section of code and build up experience for a future career change. In the short term it lets your maintain your current income. I should imagine you will be able to find some openings that are relevant to your interests in nursing, music therapy or animal care for example.
posted by rongorongo at 11:19 AM on July 9, 2008

Wow, there should be a support group for burned out, 30something software developers. I posted a similar question a little while ago. Some people can thrive in this sort of job for a long time, but I think for many the lack of human interaction and boredom sets in after a couple of years. In business/web software development, there really isn't the element of challenge that you might have expected when you start.

I don't know that I have any answers, and I'm trying to figure out my own career trajectory, but all I know is that if where you think you're going to be 10 years from now fills you with dread, then you need to make a move soon because it will take some time to weave together a transition plan.

The nice thing about having some software development skills is that you could always come back to industry if your exit plan turned out to be a total disaster, and you could even support yourself somewhat in the meantime by light contract work.

Good luck!
posted by sherlockt at 11:20 AM on July 9, 2008

Have you looked at "professional services" or sales engineering?
These both pay pretty well and allow you to combine your technical skills with your desire to have more human interaction.

The downside (?) is likely more travel which can be good or bad depending on your circumstances.

I have friends that are nurses, their hours are worse than tech.

I found myself in your same situation and ended up doing a couple of things: I moved to a small startup where I ended up doing a bit of everything, moved out of direct coding to more PS/SE role, and spent a lot of time working with a small non-profit.

In 5 years I think you will be able to do software engineering from anywhere in the world.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:31 AM on July 9, 2008

I'm a SW engineer too, but I'm definitely not cooped up in my office all day (I'm in Norway; we all have offices) because I'm interacting with the systems people on requirements, the testing people about deliveries, the QA and CM people on their roles and so on. Maybe you're just in the wrong company?

That being said, someone I know was burned out on being a sign language interpreter, and moved into SW development. He leveraged his skills in Sign to help develop a translation application, and is having a great time. Maybe something smaller like that, where you really have the opportunity to get close to the end user, will be better for you?
posted by Harald74 at 11:42 AM on July 9, 2008

Find a friend with a business idea who needs a programmer and start a company. I'm doing that, at 42, and it means I am spending my summer between a cottage on Cape Cod, home in NYC, and our office in Portland Maine, a MacBook Air my only cubicle, playing with new technologies and hiring smart hackers in Florida and Tel Aviv. When you're an entrepreneur the people whose lives you change are the ones you hire and pay and insure and train and learn from and nurture and are proud of; it's like adopting grown-ups! And in a start-up everyone's communication skills and interpersonal flexibility and empathy get a workout every day.
posted by nicwolff at 11:49 AM on July 9, 2008

How about Massage Therapy? But keep your day job while you attend school and until you establish a clientele. It's very very rewarding, but it takes a while to find your niche and the money flows very gradually at first. I don't think CA has state licensing, maybe by county though. Find a good school and give it all you've got! :-)
posted by pinkbungalow at 11:54 AM on July 9, 2008

I am with you on this. Although I do have something else I'm pursuing, I feel like to some extent I've trapped myself in my web dev. gig- I've gotten used to the relatively high salary and benefits and I don't want to give up my apt. or some other nice things I have.

One thing I've been considering (and that you might like), is international consulting. I would love to work for a few months at a time in another country, still make decent money and be able to see/write about the sites in my spare time. Maybe frequent changes of scenery would alleviate your boredom?

In fact, I've been thinking of posting a q about how to do this and what agencies to sign up with.

posted by drjimmy11 at 12:06 PM on July 9, 2008

How about finding a coding job with a non-profit? There are plenty of non-profits that need tech help where you could contribute to something useful or important. Or, you could keep your nice stable job and freelance for worthy orgs. Or you could start a small company doing useful for others as a side gig and maybe someday it grows into a full time thing. There are a lot of ways to scratch the "desire to serve" itch without starting over.
posted by COD at 12:07 PM on July 9, 2008

i_am_a_jedi: I always tell people to become a pathology assistant.

Holy hell, what is that? Why do internal organs always have to look like Olive Garden entrees?
posted by sportbucket at 12:17 PM on July 9, 2008

LabTechHeadsetNewColonScalpelHands.jpg is pretty much what it is. The organ is a segment of bowel with a large fungating tumor.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 2:45 PM on July 9, 2008

I'm a 28-year-old software developer doing what most people would probably consider to be grotendous contract work. To me, the sentence in your post that speaks of brokenness is I rarely get to interact with people. I interact with people so much that I have to be very deliberate about taking time to zone out and code. It's awesome. I didn't realize how much interacting with people un-zombifies a job until I had a gig for a year working by myself for uncommunicative, bitchy clients in a windowless closet in a university basement. It was horrid and I'll never fly solo like that again.

The data bus for my human interaction is agile software development. We have a pretty large team/metateam and we're adopting agile practices as we go, so we throw off a lot of perceptible waste heat as we rejigger everything from Java classes to customer relationships. It's freaking fun! While I do recommend agile methodology per se, I mention it not as an endorsement but as an example of a software culture that rejects sitting alone in a closed-door office and feeling -_- all day. Agile recognizes and addresses the fact that the majority of engineering problems have social solutions.

Additionally, software development itself is only half of software development. The other half is expertise with the specific problem domain. You didn't mention your problem domain but maybe it is booooooriiiing.

So. My advice would be to think hard about whether you want to chuck software development in general (maybe you totally do — I seem to remember reading in What Color Is Your Parachute that people change careers three times in their life on average) but maybe you want to find at minimum a more engaging bunch of people to work with (either due to their team's methodologies or due to their just being cool people) and maybe switch problem domains/industries. You can totally change career paths and still be a code monkey.
posted by mindsound at 6:22 PM on July 9, 2008

Think about doing IT related stuff for the Peace Corps.

Before you switch or do anything, make sure you take your time, research the career, shadow, do informational interviews, and think about your own interests, what kind of jobs do you like doing. I tried the same switch, and decided within a couple months that my skillset, interests, and intangible parts about work (who you work with, where you work, variety of work) fit my old career (IT consulting, which is alot more people oriented than you describe) then my intended career.

I'm probably going to go back... probably not forever, however.
posted by sandmanwv at 7:18 PM on July 9, 2008

It's slightly more than a 2-year program, but consider becoming a physician assistant. I think the programs are about 30 months, and when you graduate you perform all the duties of a normal MD (technically you must be "supervised" by a MD, but in practice PAs are very independent). PAs are very well compensated and job satisfaction is high.
posted by btkuhn at 9:50 PM on July 9, 2008

Since you're considering nursing, may I suggest emergency medical service? You can start with an EMT I, and if you like it, proceed through EMT II and Paramedic or just stay at Basic. They're needed everywhere, you'd be providing a great service, get paid decent money, and have lots and LOTS of personal interaction.
posted by kattyann at 10:10 PM on July 9, 2008

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