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Changing industry and why you should not be scared about it

The story about asking challenging questions, taking the binding decisions, seeking support, and respecting the time and strategy

illustration by Estera

It’s now about 3 years after I’m working as Android Developer, and about 5–6 years counting from the moment I’ve decided to make a switch as soon as possible. Now, after getting a third job in a new field I can clearly see that process is accomplished, so I conclude it will be worth sharing my thoughts and experience around changing the industry.

What will be covered here?

This article should help people that are thinking about a career switch (changing an entire industry), but you may find it useful even when trying to change positions or roles with different sets of responsibilities. I will start by describing context, then I will move to few things that helped me the most. We will see various examples of what to expect on that winding road of career pivot — difficulties, outcomes, profits, necessary things. Everything to give you knowledge on what to expect.

Context

Long story short I’m a professional musician with more than 20 years of experience (I started gathering experience as 6 years old kid). I reached a Master of Arts degree as a jazz guitarist. And then I put everything aside and become a software developer. Almost everyone who hears that, asks me this one particular question “Seems like a completely different set of things, so how and why you did that to yourself?”. That recurring question reassured me that it’s quite an unusual change and opportunity where I can try to help people by describing the process and highlighting things that helped me.

You may think now “It’s unusual and rare, so it’s not something I could achieve by myself.” Whereas data says — you’re wrong. First of all, it’s a completely casual thing. According to Indeed “nearly half of surveyed have made a total career switch”, and more than half of those who didn’t are thinking about changes. Of course, that’s just the data — as all statistics, we should be careful with making specific conclusions, but we’re just interested in general confirmation of the fact that it’s a common thing. We can expect that it will be even more common as of rapid changes in the world in every field (economy, connectivity, technology, and so on).

Let’s move on to the part about lessons learned during my journey, and how they can help you.

Define your WHY.

“Why am I doing all of this?” — an answer for this question is crucial as it will simply help you in a moment of weakness. Do not underestimate that power. The vision of a finished process was really helpful for me.

The actual place where you will land once you’ve started is unknown. It may be something completely different from the imagined one, but I’m quite sure you won’t regret it. It will be closer to it if your goal is reachable. By reachable, I mean the case of a person similar to you who already achieved that or similar goal. When things are getting tough, it’s effortless to just give up. A good, thoughtful, and motivating answer to WHY should be a backup in case that will happen. When I think about it in retrospect, it was one part of my secret — we’ll get to the other part in a moment.

Right answers

You may want some examples of good answers to that question. In order to do that, we need to take a closer look at the cause. People are changing jobs for a number of reasons. The most well-known are economic reasons, lack of satisfaction and challenges, toxic relationships, boredom, low flexibility.

In my case it was a mix of a multitude of things: I was starting to feel burned out as a teacher very quickly (after only 4 years). I was depressed by the lack of possibilities and challenges in front of me. On top of that, there were terribly few job offers, even for a small salary, none of them full time. As I love music so much, my goal was to change the industry but keep music as a hobby. My WHY was to change everything I hated in my past job and to make my new job to be the exact opposite as much as possible. Which was finding a job that will inspire me, give challenges, be well paid and remote if possible.

Wrong assumptions

You may be surprised but by wrong assumptions I mean just clearly unreachable — with no possibility to achieve the goal. No examples of successful stories for the change you’ve got in mind doesn’t mean it’s not achievable — but it should give you a solid warning to think about that twice and ask yourself a question like “Why nobody achieved that yet?” Then think about possible reasons. Maybe nobody had a chance or just didn’t share the experience with a wider audience. Or maybe that change will take too much time or has no clear benefits etc.

Even my case seems like something with a low chance for success to some people. I don’t think so, as it’s just looking odd because of varied industries. I can imagine far more extreme changes but it’s not important. As long as you’ve got a thing for such an extremely different occupation, and people are able to learn it from scratch and start earning money within a period that does not extend beyond life, then it is by far an attainable goal. And if you already know some things in that new field then your chances are simply rising. Don’t get me wrong — I’m far from telling people things like “You can be anyone/anything you want”. You need to do a cold calculation here and check if the job you’re thinking of is reachable in a sense I put before. The main question is if you can afford to invest time, money and other things that we will talk about in a moment.

Additional question

Before you will try to answer the main question by yourself, first try to answer an additional one. “What is wrong with my current position?”. Maybe you will find out it’s fine, and you just need to talk with your boss about some tweaks, and there’s no need for such an extreme solution. Or you just need to change the employer or environment, not the entire industry.

But if changing industry seems like a far more beneficial option than trying to fix issues with the current one, then go to the next step and find an industry you might like more. Make research or a dozen of them. Ask people. Then go back to the initial question and answer, what you will gain by such radical change. That will become your catalyst.

How to pick up a new occupation if you don’t have anything on your mind yet?

Think about activities that you like, job offers in the place you live, even consider moving to another place. Ask friends, maybe they can help or even teach you something.

If it’s still hard for you to choose, try taking the Gallup test and discover your strengths and even consult results with a career coach to get the right interpretation. Another idea is to find your preferences and predisposition with a psychologist. To sum up, there’s always an option to invest in help from professionalists.

Here’s my personal hint: some occupations tend to favor employees with additional domain knowledge. Let’s say quantum computing — if besides that knowledge you know something about chemistry, then your value is higher if a specific company has that narrow specialization. So you may think about fields that (even if you will give up) will have benefits for your current or future job.

If you ask me, how I solved that part — I defined my “why” pretty early. Then I picked up learning to program as it was something I was interested in for a long time but never had the opportunity to try for real. As it was still a too wide choice, I had to narrow it down and pick a specialization as well. I went on forums, analyzed possible job offers, then checked what hardware/software I have, then I picked mobile development as a sum of those things.

Emily and Jerry

Let’s take an example that we will use throughout this text. Say hello to Emily and Jerry.

Emily is a photographer. Jerry is an accountant. For some reason they actually want to do the opposite in the future — Emily wants to become an accountant one day, and Jerry dreams about taking photos professionally.

Let’s take a closer look at their motivations.

Emily is taking wildlife photos as she’s good at that niche but this job is too unstable and stressful for her. She recalls that actually she was good at maths at school, so she decided to change her job and become an accountant in a couple of years. Her motivation was working full time as an accountant and additionally if she will find the right job, she might even start working remotely. Changing places for taking wildlife photos around the world after hours was her inner dream. Emily actually doesn’t have friends that did a similar switch of industries, but she found one woman on the internet, so she’s ready to start the process.

On the other hand, Jerry is already an accountant with lots of experience, but he just feels burned out. He was thinking about that change for a couple of months, but it’s finally the time for action. As he’s taking nice photos of friends with his phone with a good camera (that’s what friends told him), he’s thinking about changing his job to be a wedding photographer someday. His motivation is to free himself from desk and chair, meeting people, and taking photos as it’s something that he likes.

The above choices seem good, as they’re not detached from reality like becoming an astronaut, professional pilot, Disney Channel star as an adult. Though actually, I didn’t make research for these extreme examples, so I might be wrong in calling them extreme.

Here’s a less drastic, but real example of my friend, changing fields: https://www.mustythoughts.com/how-i-got-a-job-in-qc

In the next paragraphs, we will explore different possibilities for our heroes.

Try simple and fun. Then not turn back.

When I was trying to write about it, at first I thought that I started with no preparation. You know, just started. But then I realized it’s not true. The truth is I started simple. I started by playing with coding. As far as I remember I just found the codeacademy.com website and started with a free programming course, then I did some reading about that topic, possibilities, reviews. But most importantly I got my hands dirty. Just to check if it’s for me if that’s interesting at all? For me — It was. And that’s it. Just try new things — for a couple of days after hours or during the weekend. If possible, the research should be quick but extensive. With only one outcome. Hot, or not — or more seriously, fun or boring?

So the next step may sound silly but you need to make a commitment to yourself that you will not turn back at least until 1/5 of the whole process time that you assumed. Let’s take my goal which was finding a job in a new field.

I was assuming that it will take at least 2,5 years. So 1/5 of my assumption was half a year. Half-year of hard work and learning. It may sound long but that amount of time will ensure you if the decision was right. Until that moment, do not try thinking if what you’re doing makes sense or not — you will not get the right answer simply because you don’t have enough data for that kind of summary. As I said, you need to try to make your hands dirty before, and that week or two is the only time for giving up.

In my example, it was coding lessons and talking with friends already working as developers. For Jerry/Emily it may be taking a weekend photography/accountant basics course, sharing photos on Instagram, or watching interviews with photographers/accountants. All to get a better understanding of job specifics and playing with the idea, not necessarily getting the real work experience. If for some reason you found out it’s not for you, then that is your time to give up. Fail fast, they say, and it’s kinda true in this case.

But if there’s something absorbing in it for you and you’re making a commitment then remember, from now on no turning back at all until at least 1/5 of assumed time. Of course, if you will be lazy during that exampled half-year — that time should be longer, as you still don’t have enough data for answering questions like: if you’re good at it, if you like it, if you really know what to expect, what are real requirements for getting that position etc.

Talk, read, watch

During the first phase, it’s crucial to talk with people that already have experience in the area of your interest. Conversations are a critical component of all researches. It is not enough to talk to one buddy; you have to talk to different people who may have different perspectives. And remember, that these people already went through what’s in front of you — ask for their mistakes, shortcuts, hints, ask for the best learning resources they know.

Goals will keep you in a loop

Losing track of progress, invisible end-goal, bad days, all of them may appear at some point. To get yourself entertained, small — and achievable — but yet interesting intermediate goals will come to rescue you.

Those goals (if set right) may have an additional value of something that is worth mentioning in your next resume or during your first interviews.

For me, it was doing apps that may help my friends. I asked some of them what they may need, and I was surprised with the number of ideas in return. For Emily, it was helping her family with their bookkeeping, for Jerry — taking free photos at friend’s parties and family celebrations.

What’s necessary for a career switch

Now I will share what I did and what helped me, so I hope it should help you as well.

  1. Answer to “Why”, starting simple, not turning back — jump to that sections if you didn’t check as it’s the core of this publication.
  2. Time — let’s face it, it will take a while. You need to find some hours in your calendar. That time needs to have one specific feature. It should be time spent without distraction. Check out 3 steps to improve your focus ability during work with my hints. If you will decide that you need to start college in order to start working in you’re dream industry, then it will take years — it’s normal, but you should take that into account.
  3. Support — it’s very important that people close to you will be aware of your plans. You don’t have to introduce it as a definitive decision in order not to scare them (even though you are treating it as such), but it’s worth mentioning that you’re serious about that, so they can understand and help you in tough moments.
  4. Gather resources — sometimes they require money as well. If you know what to do, where to find free courses, books, etc. then it’s more than great. But having money during such a big switch may help a lot, as it can possibly speed up the learning process. You don’t need just some resources — you need the best possible one, well suited for your needs and high quality. That’s where private lessons and specialized courses may make the most sense in my opinion.
  5. Learn learning techniques — Say what? No, I didn’t make mistake. There are plenty of techniques to speed up learning, make it more fun and efficient. If you’re from Poland I would recommend the great book „Włam Się Do Mózgu” by Kotarski Radosław. The second thing that might also help you are deep work conception and spending time productively as probably you will be trying to take everything out of your free time. You can check out my previous series about that topic.

Difficulties:

Let’s talk about the things that discourage industry-changers the most.

  • Sense of regression — almost nobody likes to be a freshman. It will very likely happen that even if you are older than your colleagues, they will have much more experience in that field. That may feel intimidating, but there’s actually nothing we can do other than getting better and better, day after day, and actually learn from them.
  • Money loss — if you’re investing, you are counting on profits. When things will get hard, you may have a feeling that the money you put in that project will never pay back. That is not true as you will see in the next section about profits. Money loss and a sense of regression may actually meet in one place called internship. I was in that place too — after I was professionally teaching people how to make and play music, I landed on the new job lowest position with even lower salary (I was lucky as the majority of internships are not paid at all) — it’s the period where your savings or relatives will help a lot. In terms of internships, I think it’s the most crucial thing, after all the things I’m talking about. I mean completing it and getting a job afterward — it will give you a massive boost to your short experience and even shorter resume.
  • Waste of time — this is an interesting one. Sometimes we are dissatisfied with our job only because we have low qualifications. So you may have two choices of investing your time efficiently:
  1. continue working hard on what you’re currently doing and put a lot of effort to become an expert. Finally, with greater knowledge/experience you may land in a place that will satisfy your needs. But if you don’t want to, or other factors are not favorable in doing so, you’re starting thinking about the second choice
  2. pick something new — but then you can think that effort on new things will stop progress on things that you’re currently doing, and you may be good at. That might create an endless loop of making no decision at all and standing forever in a starting point. After several years, you may regret not taking any decision — as some of my friends already experienced. If you know people with similar dilemmas, send them a link to this article, maybe it will push them on the right track.
  3. there is also a third option, but in my opinion, you shouldn’t consider it. Doing both — learning current and new things at the same time or alternately. But you will be torn apart — and that leads to a higher rate of giving up.

To be honest, it’s hard to decide and help with that commitment. But remember that once you will make the decision, then follow strict rules of not turning back. Overthinking at the beginning if the picked path is right, will not be helpful at all.

What you can gain, even if you will fail

Benefits of career pivot are hardcoded with your personal why, so let’s talk about general benefits. So even if some people will give up on trying, here’s a list of things one will get just by learning new things (after a period of not turning back).

  • Greater knowledge. Broader spectrum. At least a new hobby.
  • Stories and experience to share — it’s worth sharing knowledge to provide lessons for others even if we fail. Speaking of what, it should be taken into account that my example of industry change was a happy-ending story (at least for now/this time). People are rarely sharing summaries of what they learned from failures so try to seek such examples as an exercise to have knowledge about that side too.
  • Backup plan — knowledge-driven insurance in case of unexpected events that will erase your current job.

Let’s think again about Emily and Jerry and assume they both failed at some point.

Emily of course was overthinking right after she started. But as she was curious about some related things, even after she came to the conclusion that it’s not for her, she was able to get through several courses: one about spreadsheets and some others accountant related. She also read lots of materials about setting up a business. After the trial period, she decided it’s not for her but shortly after she was encouraged by friends to try going with them for quality assurance boot camp which she’s currently doing. What is most important that the process of change pushed her into the direction of exploring the unknown, learning new things, discovering possibilities. Even though Emily doesn’t want to start a career as an accountant anymore, she might find another job on the way.

On the other hand, Jerry failed partially because his WHY wasn’t strong enough. It turned out that he just wanted something new, as he was bored as hell. But asked, he doesn’t regret hours and money spent on workshops, and photo-editing software tutorials. He’s still taking photos for fun, but now he is so devoted to it and happy with reaching more experience in that field he’s even selling some photos from time to time. All of that had a positive side effect on his regular work. He’s not that bored at work anymore. To be honest he admitted that he likes his slow-paced job now more than ever.

What can go wrong and why do I find you exaggerating (pitfalls)

First, watch this TED talk about making hard choices. Since changing jobs is already difficult, changing industry is even scarier, but you can tackle that easily.

Tim Ferriss: Why you should define your fears instead of your goals

Strategic thinking is a crucial skill, as a lack of wise time management may lead to

  • higher level of stress
  • overwork
  • disturbance of social relations
  • anxiety
  • less money and time (but for me it’s a good exchange for any good experience)

You might need the ability to identify them as the result of our rapid changes. If you find yourself in that position simply slow down, take a rest, and find balance.

Key takeaways

I think it may be helpful even for my future self, as nobody knows if I might need to change the industry again in the future. Here is a brief summary.

  • define your answer for “Why I’m doing all of this?”
  • try simple and get your hands dirty — a couple of intensive days with new things will be more than enough
  • if you’ve found it’s fun, and you want to start the switch progress — don’t even try to think if what you’re doing is right/wrong until will gather enough data (which is a couple of months of hard work)
  • spend time on learning in focus
  • set yourself intermediate goals
  • devote yourself to the new 100% after hours. In my case, I was sitting with resources and learning after/before work whenever I’ve got the possibility
  • try different resources/techniques — only some of them will suit your needs
  • as industry-switch means learning a lot, read about learning techniques
  • get ready before you start (prioritize and set time aside — relatives help is invaluable)
  • estimate roughly how long it should take, and define milestones once you will know the scope of work that you need to do before your first attempt on inter

I hope this story will help you in making a better decision. In my opinion, if you’ve ever considered change (and reading this is a sign you did), you should start preparing for it right now, as time is the most precious resource we’ve got (read about that here).

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