Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How to Switch Careers Without Going Back to School

Bored at work?  Not as passionate about your field as you thought you would be at university?  Then you've probably thought about switching career tracks.  Oftentimes, this means needing more formal training or schooling.  But sometimes, you can get away with switching fields, doubling your salary, and doing it all by teaching yourself.

That's exactly what Mr. Stapler did.  Once bored in his career in the field of law, he now works as a programmer, making double what he did in the legal field.  The best part?  He gained all of his skills through self-education in his downtime.

Today we have an exclusive interview with him, including some tips and tricks to turn your side hustle into a lucrative career that you are passionate about.  Bonus for all the wanna-be programmers out there: he provides some great resources for you!

Tell us a bit about your career change.  What sector were you working in before, and where are you now?

Unfortunately, it took me three years of training, a bar exam, and two years working as a lawyer before I discovered that I didn't enjoy being a lawyer and that my passion was in software programming.

Why did you make the switch?

I took a full-time programming job because I was sick of my current legal job and saw no future for me there. Programming was so much more exciting and rewarding because there is a finished product. The legal work I had been doing was ongoing and pretty boring.

How did you initially get into programming?  What sparked your interest?

Honestly, I had a job with a lot of wasted time. We were "on call" at our desks for hours on end, with nothing to do. Some co-workers watched movies; some co-workers took naps. I taught myself how to program.

How did you build the skills you needed to be successful in programming?  What resources did you use?

Coding is a great skill to learn on your own because there are so many free resources and it's a very hands-on learning experience. You learn by thinking of problems and figuring out how to solve them. In the process, if there's something you don't know how to do, you can look it up online and usually find that other people have tackled that problem before. I read a lot of handbooks and "cookbooks," read through some of the open courses at MIT, and asked and answered questions on Stack Overflow. Code Academy is another great way to learn how to program.

How did you build the network you needed to be successful in programming?  What resources did you use to build relationships and find new clients?

At first, I found side projects on Elance. I also contributed to some open source coding projects. Once I started working full time as a programmer, the opportunities to meet new clients and learn about possible projects were hard to miss. I also joined a local Meetup group for my programming language and heard about opportunities that way.

Do you think this is something someone without a college degree could do, or do you find that your degree still gets you in the door even though it's not in your sector?

If you can learn how to program, you can develop a portfolio of sorts that demonstrates what you can do. Many interviews involve answering technical questions or even programming a solution to a specific problem. That said, a degree will get your foot in the door and get you the opportunity to prove yourself with your portfolio. If you don't have a degree, you can get your foot in the door by networking at Meetups, participating in open source projects, and creating a repository on GitHub.

What do you recommend to those looking to make the transition from side hustle to career?

I have contemplated going from full time to fully self-employed many times, but I would never make that leap unless I had a contract for a "side" gig or two that would replace my current income in eight months or less. That would give me room to get a raise and put it in the bank in case I had a slow period.

At some point in a side hustle, you just don't have enough hours in the day to do all the work that you want to do. That's when I think that it makes sense to take a leap into a full time job: when your day job isn't nearly as exciting as your "other" job.

Thank you, Mr. Stapler!  Readers, have any of you made a dramatic career change?  Did it require more formal education, or were you able to learn the skills you needed on your own?

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