Leaving Finance for Tech

I had a good job. The kind of job that is not easy to obtain. Most need a four year degree. I knew a few peers who even had an MBA. I have neither. But what I do have is a strong work ethic, willingness to prove myself, and a very strong drive to achieve my goals. So I started as a teller at a Credit Union and four years later was a financial advisor with series 7 and 66 licenses. I finally achieved my goal of becoming an advisor and my career was rolling along wonderfully. There was just one problem; I wasn’t happy.

Which was a bummer because everything else in my life was and continues to be great. I am engaged to the most amazing and beautiful woman I’ve ever met and I live in an awesome city. St Petersburg, FL offers a fun vibe with tons of things for my fiancée and me to do. I just wasn’t happy with my job and career direction. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I loved about my role as an advisor. Sometimes I got to really help someone get their financial life in order or get set for retirement. It felt great helping those clients. But those moments were much too infrequent. Far too often the person sitting across the desk from me was just waiting for me to try and sell them something. Any real conversation I would start in an attempt to understand their finances quickly got shut down because they didn’t want to be sold anything. I can’t blame them for that. Unfortunately, not all advisors are great. But I was. I got to be an advisor because I worked really hard to get there; in my free time away from work I spent hours reading and listening to podcasts about the economy, financial markets and financial products. My philosophy and attitude towards sales is that I simply want to give someone the best information and facts possible and then help them make the best decision. If someone opened up to me, this was easy. I knew what the best course of action was for just about any scenario, taking into consideration the client’s personality and financial situation.

The other factor causing my unhappiness was the general culture around the banking industry. I had worked for a couple different banks and then brokerage firms. And the culture always seemed to be the same: everyone was out for themselves, everything a banker or advisor did was very micromanaged, and no amount of work including beating sales numbers was ever good enough. One must hit a certain amount of loan dollars funded or new money brought in to be able to keep their job. The institutions where I worked were nothing like Wells Fargo, who in the last few years have gotten in trouble for opening accounts without their customer’s consent. But the demand to hit high sales goals did cause tensions between ‘partners’ in the banking center who were often times pitted against each other while being told they are a team. Any time an executive came to visit, they typically did not acknowledge the many ways in which an employee was excelling at their job; instead they would find the one thing that wasn’t going well and tell you to be better. Now I’m not looking for a pat on the back or approval. I don’t care about that. But if I’m well over 100% of my set goals, it would be nice for that to be acknowledged before telling me I didn’t set enough appointments this week and need to do better or my bonus could be affected. This pattern of management is extremely tiresome. Meetings tend to end with everyone being completely demotivated and feeling like they could just quit and walk out right at that moment. However, cooler heads typically prevail and you keep working the job you hate. Because... bills.

Now in my job as an advisor, I met all kinds of interesting people with interesting jobs: teachers, doctors, pilots, train conductors, entrepreneurs, athletes, politicians, retirees and…. Yup! software engineers. I enjoyed speaking with all of these people, but I really enjoyed when I got to work with someone in Tech. I am so fascinated with the Technology Industry. It’s amazing to think about how far humans have come in a fairly short amount of time in regards to technology. The web, software, and machines continue to become faster, smarter and more complex and I love learning about it! But these people working in Tech were like superheroes to me. Not to mention they all seemed to enjoy what they did for a living and always seemed very nice. I always thought being able to work in Tech would be great, but I couldn’t actually do it. I didn’t know how to write code. In fact, it seemed impossible to me that people can even do that. That skill is incredible! How could I learn that now? I’m almost 32. Ughh.. I really wish I would have known about this field when I was younger and may have actually enjoyed college if this was my field of study. But I decided to do it. I was going back to school to get a four year degree in Computer Science. The long, laborious and expensive journey would soon commence and I would no doubt waste money on courses that I did not need. In my career I had led training classes. Boom, public speaking done! I have written thousands of emails to internal co-workers and clients, and developed educational material for coworkers. Bam, writing is taken care of! I already had a series 7 and 66 license. KaPlow, economics knocked out! The fact that I had demonstrated these skills in real life didn’t matter to a university and I would soon be taking classes to relearn these already acquired skills.

As I spoke with clients and a few friends I know who work in Tech, I learned that one does not necessarily need a CS degree to land a good job and start a career in Tech. The Tech industry really just wants candidates to have the software engineer skills and personality to fit the culture of the shop. It doesn’t seem to be as concerned about a piece of paper insinuating they are smart. This appeals to me. Ok, so now I just need to learn how to write code. But as mentioned earlier, this seems impossible. However, if I can learn finance, I can learn this. How hard can it be, right? But wait, where do I even begin?

While speaking with a friend about my interest in making a move to the Tech Industry, I learn of something called a Coding Bootcamp. This is typically a 12 week program where students learn full-stack web development. Which basically means students will learn the programming languages for front-end technologies (what people see when they visit a website) and back-end technologies (interacting with a database to feed the front-end information and render it to the page). My friend tells me that there is a Code Bootcamp right here in St Pete. It’s called The Iron Yard and by all accounts, it is one of the best code schools in the nation. Awesome! When I get home I look it up and find out that The Iron Yard closed all of their campuses a year ago. Not awesome. Back to square one.

I start doing research about online code schools. Some of them seem ok, some not so much. Some even guarantee a job afterwards, however those are much more expensive. Then I come across the Suncoast Developers Guild; a non-profit collective of software engineers, programmers, and designers in Tampa Bay. Turns out, the same folks who ran The Iron Yard wanted to keep the school going. So they created an academy as part of the Suncoast Developers Guild. I immediately apply and excitedly await an email with instructions to set a time for an interview with a couple members of the staff to discuss if attending the Academy is the best thing for both parties. I meet with Jason Perry, CEO and Toni Warren, President. They are both incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. I had a ton of questions for them as this would be a life changing event for me. I felt like they were very open and honest about what I can expect going through the program. The short of it is, that I would have the skills to be a junior developer and finding a job within a few months would be achievable as long as I’m willing to put in the work. After the meeting I’m more excited than ever, and hopefully await an acceptance letter. The next day, a notification pops up on my phone. The email is in. Nervously, I open it… Accepted!

I’m now eight weeks in to the program and could not be happier with my choice. I wake up ready to go in the morning. I’m less grouchy at night, even with the high work load. Now, I understand that being a developer isn’t all sunshine, unicorns, and rainbows. There will be struggles. There will be frustrations. There will be bad days. But the overall direction of my career is now very exciting. We’ve met with several employers at this point, and working for any of them would be amazing. There are many technology companies doing some really meaningful work and it’s exciting to know that I will be a part of that very soon.

I’m writing this post because I wish I would have come across something like it while weighing my options between staying in my current career or making a change, and I hope this may help someone else in a similar position. I am very happy with my decision to attend Suncoast Developers Guild (SDG). A word of caution, however. Not all code bootcamps are the same. Some are not great. Make sure to do tons of research, meet with the staff, and ask lots of questions. Sometimes the instructors may not be very knowledgable and I’ve even read about bootcamps where students will go through the program and then immediately start teaching the next cohort, which is obviously not a great way to go about it. But I can assure you, dear reader, that if you attend SDG you will be learning from code wizards who have decades of experience and know everything!

I firmly believe that if you are not happy with the direction of your life or career, you have all the power to make a change. So I say go for it! Follow your dreams. Dare to be great. We don’t get a second chance at this life; we are only here once and someday it will come to an end. Everyone deserves a happy and fulfilling life, all you have to do is reflect on what that means to you and follow your heart. Best of luck!