In parts 1-3 we discussed topics that I feel apply to anyone changing careers into any field even though we emphasize tech overall. Part 4 will be the final entry in the general advice before we dive much deeper into what you will need specifically for a career change into tech. In previous entries, we focused on finances, support networks, and educational decisions - which are all things that you have to work on externally. This week, we are going to focus on some of the things you might have to change about yourself to help your chances at a successful transition.
Make Your Job a Lower Priority
This obviously doesn't apply to those who will decide to leave their jobs, but for the rest of the people this is the biggest elephant in the room. I'm here to discuss the points and benefits of making your job a lower priority overall by citing some common issues people may have.
1. Loyalty Even If Your Current Job Influenced Your Decision
The most obvious answer is there is something about your current job or field you wish to change - maybe you hate your current role, don't feel any professional fulfillment, or just tired of your current overall station in society. I personally feel people feeling overly loyal to their current company, bosses, co-workers, and in many cases clients as well, is a huge burden to carry as you are prioritizing people involved in your present in a decision geared toward your future. If you are so afraid of letting people down that you fail to prioritize your own best interests because of it, you will find yourself being held back.
2. Carrying A Heavier Burden Rather Than Lightening Your Load Elsewhere
Perhaps loyalty isn't your mental block, but instead, you simply can't bring yourself to sacrifice other parts of your life/lifestyle. This can be tough or tricky, especially if you've lived a certain way for a length of time. This is further amplified by American culture because we have this cultural stigma of always remaining "productive" in service somewhere. You may be afraid of being a burden to others, of losing support or credibility from people you care about, or you're just too damn prideful.
One of the biggest and worst stigmas stems from the few people who are actually capable of working and studying full-time, and we tell ourselves "if others can do it so can I!" That's one of the worst mistakes you can make unless you have mind-boggling flexibility in every aspect of your professional, school, familial, and social lives. The number of people that can successfully maintain balance in all those fields for a prolonged period of time, regardless of financial and network support is ridiculously overstated and the belief that this is the best course of action is really just the hardest course of action. Hardest does not mean best or most rewarding! You do what you feel is necessary because I do know there really are people in situations where this is the only realistic option, but please I beg you, do not let this stigma influence you. Most of the failed transitions I've seen are because of this type of inflexible burdening individuals place on themselves.
This is a good lead-in to my next point...
3. Pay Attention to How a Full-Time Student Prioritizes Their Lives
I worked in a hospital for many years of my life, by all accounts it is a very serious and professional work environment to be in. Something previous jobs I held like fast food, dry cleaners, or cutting lawns certainly doesn't compare to. Those other jobs weren't anywhere near the quality of job as the hospital was, both in commitment and compensation.
Why do I mention this here? Because if you never worked in a higher-level workplace environment, you may not understand the point I'm trying to make. Where a lot of jobs like my previous jobs provided natural flexibility for students, a job like my former hospital job didn't. It demanded you treat your job as the highest priority, for better or worse. This might have been acceptable if you were already studying to be in the medical field and were learning a ton of relevant information, but a lot of times it simply clashed with a full-time student's priorities.
Note: Please don't mistake 'higher-level' as a shot at job quality or that those "other jobs" real jobs or have stress. It's just my way of explaining that not all jobs demand the same level of prioritizing to each individual.
You see, working full-time students tend to have an outlook that a lot of full-time workers don't relate too at the workplace. Whereas a non-student employee may be trying to extend their employment in their current role as long as possible, a student doesn't recognize where they currently are as where they intend to be. This at times can appear to be selfish or immature behavior to some, especially those in higher-level environments, but that's a gross blanket judgment. The goal may be near or far, but that goal is the top priority, and everything else is either helping or in the way. You need this sort of mentality for a career change to be successful! If you allow your current job to be the highest (non-familial) priority, it becomes much harder to escape that reality.
4.How About I Just Sacrifice All the Fun Stuff Instead?
Don't worry, you will be having to sacrifice a bunch of fun stuff! But if you think this is the grown-up or mature decision to make so you can be more "productive" or do more "important" things well, I just hope your career switch is one that you can count in weeks. Anything much longer than that, and you will likely just want to punch everyone you see in the face.
Seriously, fun should be a significant sacrifice, but don't throw it all away as if you are being selfish or indulgent by having it. Very few things will deteriorate your mental health faster than having no you time or de-stressing time.
Learn To (Re-)Love Learning
Ok, this one is a bit niche I feel, but it is relevant especially if you have been out of a learning environment for a long period of time.
For me, one of the hardest personal changes I had to make was how to adjust back into a student's mentality. 15 years at one job allowed me to reach a particular level of comfort with what I already knew, even in a fairly limited scope. This makes it easier to block out new things or to deem them as irrelevant. Re-opening your mind to process information you may have grown accustomed to ignoring or not committing to permanent memory is a very challenging task.
I was fortunate my coding bootcamp provided me with 100 hours of mandatory pre-course work, so I was afforded a chance to see this weakness for myself before I left my job. This may very well be something you don't have the opportunity to work on before making your decision, so consider this a heads up and prepare for it!
10 (much smaller) pieces advice to work on for yourself:
1. Be cognizant of your attitude towards school in the past. You probably haven't changed all that much and taking on too much could spell doom.
2. Know and accept when your patience is running out. It's a sign your mental capacities are not optimized for learning or problem solving, and you probably aren't working at your best anymore.
3. Family first. Kind of. Always give special attention to those counting on you, mainly your spouse, kids, and those you caretake for if applicable. You need to prioritize yourself over the rest of your family, however.
4. Adversity will come, be ready. But more importantly, be confident. Regret is natural to some degree, but if I believe you've made the right decisions, you should too. Progress is rarely, if ever, not hard.
5. Networking will be your next full-time job. If you don't know people in the field you're going into, find some as soon as you can.
6. Learn to block out the haters. Surprisingly this will come mostly from people you care about. At best, they failed or talked themselves out of their own changes (encourage them!). At worst, they're allergic to self-improvement and hate to see it in others (get rid of them!).
7. Appreciate the small victories. Your skills probably will not grow as fast as you would like, and you will not go from novice to pro overnight. Learn to celebrate the little achievements you weren't capable of yesterday, no matter how small.
8. Rest doesn't equal laziness. Being well-rested, no matter the path you choose will keep your mind as close to optimal functionality as it can be. Operating at a higher capacity in shorter bursts is oftentimes better than operating for a longer period of time.
9. YOU CAN DO THIS! There is always a better you waiting inside yourself. You just need to never give up trying to bring it out.
10. DO NOT RUSH ANY STEP IN ANY PROCESS! Your future is precious, nurture it the way it deserves.
I've really tried my best to give as many different and alternate solutions as possible. I know from personal experience that no one set of rules or advice will work for everyone, which is how these general articles end up so long-winded.
The one thing that does apply to everyone though? Nothing is guaranteed. A career change is scary and it takes a ton of courage to even begin on that path.
Thank you for following this general career change series. I still have a Part V-VIII planned, but geared exclusively for tech careers and will touch on topics like different fields/specializations within tech, demographics within the field, culture, and much more. I hope you will continue to follow!