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Considering a Career Change into Tech? Part III - Your Education Decisions

bmweygant profile image Brandon Weygant ・8 min read

We've discussed in previous entries the importance of securing your finances and having a reliable support network. Today, we are going to discuss the next crucial decisions you will have to make: education. Arguably, these should be the first decisions you actually make, since before changing careers you should at least have an idea what career you would like to change in to.

What New Career Do You Want?

Having some level of conviction in what you want to do in your new career goes a long way in putting a plan into action. I mentioned in the opening this is arguably the first choice you should make, and as such, it should be the choice you take the most amount of time contemplating. Your financial situation and support network are temporary, normalcy will return to that aspect of your life eventually. But the career you decide to change into could be a lifelong decision. Think long and hard on this and what you really want to do with your professional life. Some questions you might want to ask yourself while contemplating:

1) What do I love doing?
2) Are any of my hobbies or top interests plausible career paths for me?
3) Are the skills needed to achieve this career attainable to me?
4) Does the field(s) I'm contemplating have any potential positives or negatives to my ideal lifestyle, such as remote work available, demanding hours, high/low-pressure environments, etc?
5) What's the industry outlook like now? In 5 years? In 20 years?
6) Is my career a one-time educational push, or is continuing education required to stay relevant?
7) Is the program(s) I'm considering legit? Do I know anyone who attended or can vouch for the program in some way?
8) Does the field pay enough to justify the cost & risk?

There are literally hundreds of questions you will ask yourself that I can not possibly cover here in-depth. I will repeat this advice throughout this entire series - Take your time and be as thorough and honest with yourself as possible. This is not a decision to be rushed, there are a ton of uncertainties and scary things to contemplate.

Your Educational Goals & Where Will You Learn Your Skills?

Your educational goals should be more along the lines of what form of education do you seek. There are a ton of professions where that track is already determined, but we have tech in mind with this blog series. You see, tech is slightly unique because unlike becoming a Nurse or School Teacher, college isn't the only option available to you to start and even advance your career. In this instance, it's important your educational goals go hand in hand with your long term career goals, especially if you want to eventually be a high-level executive rather than a senior-level employee. I will list some pros and cons of different avenues that may be available to you.

College

Pros:

Risk - College, regardless of the field you want to pursue, is the safest bet in a lot of ways. In some instances as mentioned above, it's the only bet as well. The single biggest pro of college is that upon completion, you have a higher level of confidence potential employers won't question what you actually know and your degree will provide a high level of validation.

No Other Alternatives - There are a bunch of jobs that quite simply, you wouldn't be allowed to practice legally without college. If you aspire to one of these, college is the only choice.

Future Outlook - With a college degree in hand you will be less limited by your level of education than other candidates. This is especially important to help secure promotions and could even negotiate more favorable employment terms.

Cons:

Time - Quite simply, the biggest drawback is time. If you haven't already earned significant credits toward a degree college you can expect a 2-year minimum journey and longer-term lifestyle adjustments.

Cost - College doesn't have to be the most expensive route, but if you're looking for university-level education and don't have a scholarship/grant/sponsor it can quickly become a massive financial commitment.

Experience - This doesn't always apply equally to all fields, but as far as tech goes college can leave you with a gaping hole of real-life experience. Most of the college grads I spoke too who took computer science as a major had never built a website. College, from the perspective of someone who hasn't attended, seems to focus on the theories and history of tech rather than the practice. Nothing wrong with that approach overall, but it is something to be mindful of.

Filler Courses - Finally, colleges will likely fill your schedule with a bunch of classes that have little to nothing to do with your aspiring profession. Even if you find you enjoy them, they can be viewed as a potential waste or inefficient use of time at this stage of your journey.

Vocational/Bootcamp

Note: I group these two together for convenience, but there are notable differences. The main one is a vocational school provides a professional certificate to practice a specific profession, but the overall concept is the same.

Pros:

No Filler Courses - Just about everything you learn in this setting will be relevant toward your desired job. Whether through skills training or career services like resume building, you shouldn't have to worry as much about your time being wasted.

Time - These programs for most people are often the fastest and most reliable way to acquire marketable skills. Obviously no single statement is true for all, but vocation schools and bootcamps can often provide in months or even weeks what a college does in years in terms of skill acquisition.

Experience - If the program is worth anything, you will likely have some level of hands-on work to show for it. An entry-level portfolio or at least the ability to help you secure an internship in your field to gain equal experience is often a staple of what these programs will deliver to you in their promise.

Financial Flexibility - WARNING Do not confuse this with cheap (see below in cons). But these programs will be creative in financial offerings. Money-back guarantees (often with lots of restrictions), pay nothing until you get a job meeting x criteria, payment plans, and so on. Some even provide housing arrangements to ease your career transition. Do a thorough check-up on all the benefits offered by each of the programs you are considering.

Neutral:

Career Services - Career Services is a popular offering for a lot of programs. When I started my transition I had been at a single job for 15+ years. That's no resume writing, no interviews, no applications, hell I didn't even know where to start looking for work. I personally needed all the guidance I could get in this field, so a career services program appealed to me greatly. That said, no career coach will get you a job you couldn't eventually get on your own. They are a tool and source of guidance, nothing more nothing less. What you actually get out of career services is really more about your perception of career services than anything else.

Cons:

Cost & Risk - I can't in good faith say cost is an issue for college and not these programs. Especially factoring in completing the program has a notable difference in the safety net a college degree would provide, you'd at least be somewhat desirable in another field. And a good community or state-sponsored college can actually be cheaper than some of these programs, even over the course of a 4-year degree. These two factors combined are a big reason why programs offer the above mentioned financial flexibility programs.

Program Quality Varies Greatly - Not all bootcamps or vocational schools are created equal. There can be a massive gap in quality between programs, and trusting the first program you come across is a big mistake. Read all the reviews you can, do some covert research on social media, ask 1000 questions, and read the terms and conditions very carefully. Make sure the school is the right one for you and your needs.

Cost & Risk Part II - There is an additional concern I felt needed its own section. Remember the WARNING from financial flexibility? That is because more and more schools are offering tuition deference and housing accommodations "perks" not strictly as a benefit to help ease your career change, but as a means to raise profits. I won't disclose all the stuff I've read or heard, but I do recommend you do some research on individual schools if these are benefits you are considering. Also, I recognize schools are taking a risk deferring tuition and that they should charge more in those cases. A good source for more info on this can be found on course report(spoiler: some programs can cost up to 2x more with a shared income agreement).

Self-Learning

Pros:

Unmatched Flexibility - Your rules, your time. No curriculum to adhere to, no crappy instructors to curb your learning appetite. Basically you will be able to take full control over your own education by taking the trust you would otherwise be putting in others and putting it in yourself.

Cost - Self-learning is by far the cheapest route. There are tons of free to low-cost options available for educational DIY'ers to sink their teeth into. Granted, you could technically spend several fortunes if you were so inclined, it's your money after all. But I'm willing to bet if other options cost was a deterrent, that's not really your thing.

Neutral:

Note: I don't believe there are many actual cons to self-learning, as it is a natural practice in everyone. Also, many of these potential cons have equally positive alternatives for the right people and which category it falls under largely depends on you. The key here is to know and understand your own strengths and weaknesses.

Time - Self-learners can put as much or as little time into their education as they want. With such a wide range of commitment levels, self-learning can simultaneously be the fastest and slowest means of education.

High Level of Self-Motivation Needed- If you don't have the necessary conviction, allow yourself to get distracted easily or don't make your education as high of a priority as it needs to be, you will fail. No way else to say it. If you do, your chances of success rise drastically, as well as the rate in which you acquire the necessary skills and knowledge.

Risk/Reward - This path could potentially be the least life-altering way to do things, making many points in my previous articles moot. Between that and the potentially non-existent cost, you can successfully eliminate almost all practical risk! But, the old saying does ring true, no risk no reward. Quite plainly, without the added pressure to incentivize them or pre-defined goals to work toward, many people would simply stop pursuing their career change at varying points of adversity or difficulty.

Emphasis on Self - Sometimes, we do our best work by ourselves. Sometimes, we do our best work in groups or as part of a team. Sometimes we need someone to explain things to us. A lot of self-learners will be stuck with option A with no real way to access options B or C inherently. My advice? Anyone considering this option should thoroughly research any communities or groups welcoming of novices and to find yourself a mentor if at all possible before embarking on this path.

Employability - Plainly put, if self-learning is your only form of education, there are many doors that are closed to you without experience already. It will be many times harder to convince employers to take a chance on you. On the other hand, if you have some degree of formal education behind you, you may have easier access to opportunities even with a lower level of knowledge. The difference can appear to be so stark at times, that self-learners with no degree may be better served to pursue this path with the intention of being there own boss rather than seeking employment elsewhere.

In Conclusion

One more time for the people in the back: Do not rush any step of this process. This step more than any other step we've talked about thus far will have very long-term consequences hopefully, great ones. It also impacts your short & mid-term decisions: how much financial & network support you need is tied directly to the requirements for your education decisions. These factors combine to make this step by far the most important part of your decision making processes.

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