Civil Engineer to Marketing : My not so obvious career change and how I did it
We’ve all been there. You’re 16 years old sitting in a classroom and someone asks you what you’d like to do for the rest of your life. Of course you have no idea! You’re still just a kid, but it’s at this time that you have to make some pretty big decisions that could have a dramatic impact on your future.
There are those kids at school who know exactly what they want to do with their lives from the time that they enter high school, but for the other 90% of us, we have no idea. There are things that you like doing, but in most cases they are not viable career paths. Or so we are told anyway.
I was one of these students.
This uncertainty of knowing which direction I wanted to go, coupled with not being accepting into the Multimedia design courses that I had been working towards sent me on alternate path into the world of Civil Engineering.
I know, there aren’t many similarities between the two, but my Dad was an engineer, and I grew up around his work and learning the skills required to be a good engineer. As it turned out, I was actually a really good engineer too!
I started at one of the biggest structural engineering companies in Australia while I was still completing my engineering course as a summer trainee, but when it was time for me to head back to my studies, the company wanted me to stay on, and my boss at the time contacted the school to provide documentation that I was already completing all of the tasks that I would be doing over the coming 18 months on a daily basis, and attending school would be a waste of time when I could be working from him. My course was reduced from 3 years down to 18 months!
When I joined the team there were only three of us in the civil division of the company, but over the years to follow, we were a team of more than 20 people, and I was managing a portion of the team along with large projects, and I wasn’t even 22 years old yet.
Things were going well, and the company had a lot of young employees which meant there was always someone to party with at the end of the week. The CEO was awesome and really looked after his employees, until one day we got some devastating news. He was diagnosed with aggressive bowel cancer.
As his health deteriorated, the structure of the company changed as a new management team started to take control of the company, and in the process, the rewarding parts of being involved with the company disappeared. Throughout this period my interest in being a civil engineer faded, as the parts of my job that I enjoyed were starting to lose their shine. Directors outside of my department were constantly trying to scale us down.
At the same time that this was all going on I was spending more time focused on being in my band, and still living in the hope that maybe by chance, one day I might be able to make a living off playing music.
Over the next few years’ work was a means for me to be able to pay the bills. I was good my job, but not in the slightest bit passionate about it. After 7 years with this company, I arrived to the office one day to be marched into a board room and find out that I had been made redundant. After my experience over the previous few years, I wasn’t too phased about leaving the company, and thought that a change of scenery might reignite my passion for engineering.
I got a new job within less than a week, and was excited to get stuck into my new role — which was very much the same as my old one, just with different people. But this didn’t make me any happier. The harsh reality I came to realize was that the engineering industry in Australia was run by grumpy old men, and I had a choice; I could either spend the next 30+ years of my life continuing to do something that I didn’t really like, dealing with people that I didn’t like, just to make enough money to keep living, or I could look into making some major life changing decisions.
Not around a year after starting my new job, the band which had been the one thing that I looked forward too was winding up and I was losing my creative outlet. The thought of having to sit at a desk all day doing something I didn’t like terrified me, and I needed a new outlet.
Around that time I had started dating my now partner who was just as passionate about making cool things as me, and she suggested that I should start writing a blog. We talked about the few things that I’d be good at writing about and came to the conclusion that I should start writing reviews on music releases that were to be a bit more fun and lighthearted than other reviews websites, and focusing on the bands that these other websites didn’t want to touch because they weren’t big names. Yet.
The blog was called Chucking a Mosh, and the first review that I ever wrote was for a new band out of Tasmania called Luca Brasi. The plan was to write one review every week in the hope that people may read my work and check out some small bands that they might not have otherwise heard about. It Worked.
From the beginning, every review that I wrote got hundreds of views, and I had quickly developed an audience due to the unique writing style that I used. Given how well things were going, my partner and I decided that we would turn the blog into a full website where we would post music news, reviews, sell merchandise, and run events across the country. The site was instantly a hit and drew more than 1000 hits a day becoming a go to source for alternative music news in Australia.
Bear in mind that while this was all going on, I was still working a full time job as a civil engineer. My nights, breaks, and any free moment I had were spent creating content and promoting the site, and not long after, building up a team to help contribute to, and run Chucking a Mosh.
It was at this point that I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I loved creating content, promoting products, and building communities. I wanted to quit civil engineering and start my journey in marketing. I knew that wasn’t going to be as easy to do as it was to say, but I had set a goal to work towards. Next was working out the steps to get to that goal.
At this point we had been running Chucking a Mosh for about 18 months, so I had a solid example of growing a company from an idea into a fast growing organization with a number of staff members, and innovative concepts that have since been adopted by other music industry publications in Australia. When you couple that with more 8 years of project management, and business development that I had at the time through my engineering career, I thought I was a pretty well rounded package that would be an asset to any company.
Getting someone to take a chance on me was a whole different thing. For the next 3 years, we continued to develop Chucking a Mosh as I worked my engineering job, and I talked with everyone that would listen to me from companies all over Melbourne about marketing positions. But I had no luck with any of them.
I got the same response from all of them. I had a very unique skillset of a combination of creating innovative concepts and executing very quickly and with little to no budget, combined with years or project management and business development experience. In theory that should have given me a huge advantage over other applicants, but it was the same response over and over; “We think you a great person with some fantastic skills, but you’re not right for us.” This happened on at least 15–20 or more occasions, but I never let it phase me. Someone will take a chance with me and I’ll show them that they should have hired me.
At this point I decided to take a different approach and build up a bigger client base on my own doing freelance work through a company called Cloud Peeps. Cloud Peeps are a company that helps in connecting freelance community managers with companies for contract work on a monthly basis.
To make this change I needed to prioritize the projects I was working on to create more time to take on new clients, and this meant taking a step back from Chucking a Mosh. It was a very tough decision to make because it was my baby. I had help to grow it from nothing into this huge thing. But it had to be done to push forward. If you stick with the same thing forever, you will never progress.
I had only starting taking on contract community management and social strategy clients, alongside my engineering job for a few months when I received some other life changing news. My partner had just been offered a job with a large tech company in New York City, and we were going to be moving to the United States. Just as it was a great opportunity for her career, I saw this as a great opportunity to advance my career change in a big city and make a fresh start.
This was the turning point in my career. After years of balancing two careers, it was take the plunge and leave my engineering past behind in Australia, and embrace my skills as a marketer in the United States. I quit my job as a civil engineer which was one of the most exciting, yet terrifying things that I’ve ever done.
My safety net was now gone, I had to make it work. Going back to my old career was not an option in my head.
Because I had done all the hard work transitioning into the marketing world with Chucking a Mosh and my freelance clients, I had a running start when I arrived in New York, but there was still a lot of adjusting to do. I quickly picked up a few more freelance clients covering work in everything from community management, social strategy, brand and product management, marketing and growth hacking and even public relations. It was tough going over the first few months, but I had done it. I had changed careers, now I just needed to take the next step and figure out how to take things to the next level.
After around 4 months of working my ass off and doing some very cool things for my group of clients, I was contacted by a video curation startup in New York called Waywire. They offered me a position as a curation coordinator, meaning that I would be assisting making sure that the content that they were displaying was high quality.
The job was a full time position, so in order to take the role I had to scale back my freelance work, and only retain the clients that I knew I could manage out of office hours without overloading myself. I needed to keep some clients as this new gig didn’t pay well, in fact it was barely enough money to cover rent and basic food! But it was an opportunity — and in the US if you haven’t worked for an American company before, you haven’t worked for anyone in a hiring manager’s eyes.
Things quickly escalated at Waywire. It had only been a few weeks since I have joined the company and I was already pushing some major changes that would give the business a big boost in exposure, resulting in the dismissal of my department manager and taking over the role of VP of Content and Marketing. This was a huge jump for me, and even though I was already completing all of the task required for the role, it was nice to have a title that reflected my work, even if my salary was still stuck at a barley livable amount.
Over the next 6 month I built up a great marketing team, and under my guidance we hit our targets every month, and were building a very cool product. But I was doing all of these things and barely able to survive, so I was always on the lookout for new opportunities.
Exactly one year had passed since we packed up and moved to New York, when my partner once again was offered a job too good to refuse at an even bigger and more well-known tech company, with the only catch being that we would need to relocate to San Francisco.
Even though we had both grown to love New York, it was a great chance for us both to advance our careers in the home of tech, and it was at this point that I realized that I had achieved my goals and was finally a marketer and had made the very tough career transition. Even if it took me 6 years to do!
After moving I was overwhelmed with offers form some very interesting companies in San Francisco, but I chose to work with some amazing people who were creating some awesome learning tools from Australia called GO1. I accepted the position as the Marketing Manager for the company and work remotely, as a number of their employees do, and to date it’s the greatest job I’ve ever had.
This is my story, and everyone makes different decisions with their life, but anyone can change careers. It just takes time, focus, commitment, and drive to succeed.
I will be releasing another blog post soon with some tips on how you can make your career switch, and I’m always happy to talk to anyone who might have questions.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” - Wayne Gretzky