Seeking Career Change Advice


#1

Hi, I’ve been in the shadows of the FCC forum for years, mostly checking out posts in getting a dev job for inspiration here and there. Thanks for this.

First, a little backstory: I’ve been working in a factory for about 10 years now. A few years back I hacked together a pixel reading bot to automate foreign exchange trades, at the time I considered it a trading experiment and not a programming one. The trading algorithm I wanted to test didn’t work out too well, but it was just play money anyway and it was fun building the bot, even though it didn’t work perfectly either. It did ignite my interest in programming.

However, both my job and my interest level fluctuate in the demands they place on my time. For the last six months or so my job has been down to only 40 hours a week and my time has been used semi wisely in this time, to the point where I’ve developed a decent framework of understanding for this web dev stuff… I would say I have mostly been studying the greater ecosystem and figuring out how all the puzzle pieces fit together, which might not be the best way to start, but I felt a deep need to do it… I still have to stop myself from spending hours reading source code I don’t understand of required middleware used in projects that I make way more difficult for myself than they need to be. But, I can spin up a web server on a virtual machine and make a dynamic site linked to a database that looks like absolute crap. Feels good.

The Question:
So now overtime is coming back at my job, I’m not getting younger, and I want to do this stuff for a living. My savings divided by my monthly expenses is about 20 months, I want to use this to change my career. Should I quit my job and buckle down full time on this, get some real projects up and a portfolio site going? Should I move and go to a university to get a degree (I don’t have one)? Or should I just put my tail between my legs and continue working in my decently paying manual labor job and wait for things to slow down enough for me to keep working on this in the future?

Thanks for taking the time to read this, I look forward to any insight!


#2

Re: Your questions. This is a tough call.

But first, let me commend you on what you have done so far (bot, trading algorithm, knowing how to build a database-backed dynamic site, etc). Not a lot of beginner level can even do that.

It’s great you have a big idea of how everything fits together, and now maybe is the time to deep-dive on specific technology. Deep dive on CSS, css frameworks, some animations and transitions, and also deep-dive on Javascript and maybe know one JS framework really well, and familiarity with others… Angular, React or Vue. If you know HTML, CSS and JS, I think you can land an entry level dev position.

It may be worth it to invest a few hundred dollars (at $10/course at Udemy, and some free ones) you can increase your efficiency/pace of learning. It’s $10 well worth it many times over.

Your million dollar question of should you quit your job and do this learning full-time is what’s harder for others to answer. Only YOU can answer that question.

Depending on the job and company, you may not need a degree to be a web dev. Of course, it’s advantageous to have this piece of paper in your back pocket when the time comes you need to take it out and show it, but I believe you can find jobs where a degree is not a requirement.

I do not think you should stop learning and moving forward due to your current work load. You have to keep moving forward.

Maybe as compromise, instead of totally quitting your job, you can reduce your overtime hours and instead spend those extra hours in your self-development, doing deep-dive learning on html, css, JS. You’ll be turning down overtime hours, you’ll have reduce pay, but still have an ongoing salary. When you’re farther up the road in your learning and ready to start applying at jobs, then maybe you can re-evaluate again if quitting the job is the right time.

Good luck.


#3

Hi owel, thanks for your fast response! I was excited to see your name pop up having read many of your posts.

I agree with your assessment of where my focus should be, despite my being able to do some things a lot of beginners can’t do, I can’t do a lot of things they can. Just different focus areas, I suppose. I have a udemy course I’m working through, a couple more lined up, and a couple books on my to read list… Actually dozens of each, more than I could work through even with a whole year off I think, and its an ever evolving list that I’m sure is never going to shrink.

Unfortunately with my job and those like it around here, the overtime is mandatory. I’ve tried to get out of it before to no avail, my current employer knows I’m trying to study in my free time but has already said they aren’t going to cut me any slack. That being said, I think you’re right and that no one can answer this question but me. Maybe in ten years I’ll write a machine learning software for plotting personal career paths :rofl:


#4

I am 100% not going to give you advice about quitting/not quitting your job.

I just wanted to comment on what stood out to me most about your post. You mentioned having to stop yourself from spending hours reading source code. That level of curiosity and genuine interest is the often the missing piece that can’t be taught. That’s what I try to describe to new students who ask “Do I have what it takes to be a developer?” It’s probably why you’ve been able to build applications without (it seems) a very focused course of study.

Whether you make a big leap of faith and quit your job, whether you pursue a career in programming, or just become an enthusiastic hobbyist and Open Source contributor, it sounds like programming is a good fit for you and I hope you don’t give it up.


#5

You are to be commended :clap::sparkles::raised_hands: ! Man, I’m really impressed by what you’ve already accomplished.

Regarding quitting your job…it’s just really hard to tell someone that they should quit their job. I couldn’t have it on my conscience to tell someone to take a leap like that when jobs in any industry aren’t always easy to come by :sweat_smile: . Your level of curiosity and determination makes me think that you could slowly chip away at a portfolio, though. Or…I wonder if you could talk to your current supervisor(s) about your interests, maybe show them things you’ve built, and see if they could work with you and make it so that you could split your duties between your current work and the development work you want to do? It might be a long shot, but you never know.

Either way, good luck, and super kudos for all you’ve already accomplished! :man_astronaut:


#6

Hey Jeremy, thanks for the reply and the kudos. I wasn’t expecting my current level or past projects to get me any sort of accolades here, but it does make me feel good and helps put things into perspective a bit.

I do have an idea for a project that involves my job, a gamified training simulator, but its a bit beyond my current abilities. It would either take advanced stuff in canvas, or I could just make it a standalone program by using something like Unity which seems like a better fit in this case. I don’t know Unity though, so that’s moving to a different language and platform for awhile, which I wouldn’t mind since I have other ideas for projects there down the road. What stops me from shifting over is that I also feel pretty close to being able to work on some web site ideas that I have and have some guilt about abandoning them for awhile to work on this other project.

I like to daydream about finishing that training simulator, walking it into the office at my job and blowing their socks off to the point where they offer to let me work on that type of thing on the clock, but it feels like a pipe dream. The most likely outcome is that it ends up being something else on the portfolio. Without overtime I’m able to work on my studies for about 4 hours a day on average, so to switch over and build that would take at least a couple of weeks, I don’t know if that’s the wisest use of my time.

Your post here struck a chord with me on this. I found it only a couple minutes ago after checking your post history to get a sense of who I’m talking to. That thread was about just giving up, which I can’t really see doing, but you said in your reply about how one’s expectations put a pressure on the learning process… and man do I feel that. This stuff is always grinding away in the back of my head and it feels like any time I’m not working on it is wasted, then even when I am working on it I always feel like I’m not moving fast enough. A feeling I know is not healthy and I’ve tried to shake it off, but it’s sticky.


#7

Hi Ariel, I always enjoy seeing your responses on here, I like your pragmatic style.

I have read a lot of those “Do I have what it takes?” type of posts, and a lot of the impostor syndrome stuff, but mostly just because so much of it is floating around. Personally I feel more like the guys in the Cool Runnings movie… like people from the outside looking in would be like, “well you are an undereducated factory worker who is already over the hill in engineering years, you are a fool for even thinking about this”. But in my mind it is a natural personal progression. I don’t view getting a job as a programmer as the true end goal either, though it would be nice to make more money and in a way get paid for continuing to educate myself. If I did get a job in the industry I think I would still spend a lot of my free time working on personal projects, since that’s what really matters to me.

Thanks for your reply and don’t worry, I’m not going to give up programming :+1:


#8

I’m not going to shock you with the response of saying the decision to resign or not is up to you. I’m in the similar situation, but a little different: silent forum member, 10 years into career as a therapist (39 y/o), code when I’m not being a husband, father, or Cub Scout den leader, watch younger people code circles around me, and am currently going through troubles with work exhausting me and taking away free time (story for another time). Slow down and really think through what your end goals are.

What I can say is that you sound like you have the fire and passion for this. It doesn’t matter if you are educated or not. One of my best friends with only a high school diploma is a Principle Cloud Architect / Professional Services Lead. Education and experience is not the end-all, be-all. If you have the skills and can prove it, you can make it. Don’t settle for less. And remember when you look in the mirror to say “I see Power. I see Pride. I see a bad-ass motha who don’t take no crap off of nobody!” You got this.


#9

Hi Latrotox!

I am reading through the different posts and there was one that referenced a Medium article (link below). I don’t know if you had read it before but I put it here just in case :slight_smile: I think it would help you.


#10

I feel you pain, and I feel the pressure you are facing buddy.

I am in a construction job, something that I have been working at for ten odd years and I have built my way up from the absolute bottom and have made success for myself. However, it isnt what I feel passionate about at the end of the day. I want to develop as a career, and whilst at the moment I am fortunate enough to be able to devote an hour or two a day to learning, I am at some point going to have to make the leap of faith to get a new job.

One of the sticking points for myself is that I am likely going to have to take a fairly hefty pay cut if I am going to be in a junior position. I have enough savings to last a while, but it is a scary thought when actually I have bills to pay and I need to put food on the table.

I am going to give you my opinion… whether it is the right one or not that is to be decided by yourself realistically, but nevertheless this is what I would do.

If I had 20 months of savings, then that is a fairly substantial amount of time. I would go for it!! Perhaps try and secure a junior position to bring the money in a little bit and that will always add experience. There are the positions out there if you arent in need of a certain salary! Life is far too short to be doing something you don’t feel passionate about buddy.


#11

Like others say, it depends on the person.

Me personally, I would quit the job and try to code 30-40h a week (4-6h a day). It’s definitely what I would do myself at this moment actually, but I do not have any savings. I see life as something to be enjoyed, and risks have to be taken sometimes. Time is very precious for me, so If I can spend at least a year not doing what I don’t like, not going where I don’t want to, it’s a lot for me.

I don’t know. I guess it depends on how safe one needs to feel in life. Some might find it stressful to just quit a steady job with income, and some, like me, find it exciting to just a burn a bridge in a way, so I could push myself out of the boat and just force myself to learn how to swim.

Also, I don’t think of it as something depressing, I just use it as fire to achieve and keep working on everything in life - We don’t know how much more time we have. We can’t be sure if we’ll have tomorrow. We don’t know if we have 1 year, 5 years, 20, 50 or 100. Who the hell knows. I just want to make the most out of them, however long I have, because I know that I would realllllly regret not living, not taking risks (calculated and thought-through) and playing it safe.


#12

After reading the first few replies here and thinking about how to think about this for myself, I wanted to solidify my thoughts into a post, since writing helps me think and having an audience causes me to structure things properly. Sorry if it comes off as ego stroking or cheesy, this is kinda my pre game prep talk to myself :sweat_smile:

I mentioned working in a factory for the past ten years, actually in this “10 year” span I’ve had 2 different jobs, I did 7 years at my former employer and I’ve been with my current employer for a little over 4 now. I left on good terms from my last job just because I needed a change, my loose plan was to go to Thailand to study muay thai (even though I had no martial arts background or training whatsoever), just to get in shape to join the military and find some sort of purpose that way. So, never having even been on a commercial flight before I made the international trip alone to a little camp a couple hours away from Bangkok. I stayed there a few months before my funds dried up, which happened much faster than I expected, but still I had some eye opening experiences and don’t regret the journey.

The first lesson I learned there was how to relax. I never thought about relaxation as a skill until my trainers taught me how to do it, they said my movements were strong, but that I kept my body too tight and it was getting in my own way. To just relax and let my natural strength come out instead of trying to force it. Thinking about it here now as I type this I can see that I’ve been doing this same thing with my programming studies to perhaps an even greater degree… forcing, controlling, programming in tight small movements. I’m going to try relax more and let my studies flow more naturally from here on, I think. Over there, though, I went from someone who got nosebleeds and blackouts from being over stressed (for no good reason) to being able to deal with life in a much more fluid way.

The second lesson I learned was that I’m smart in my own way. My family, friends, and school teachers had told me growing up that I was smart, but I never understood what they meant. I have never had a good long term memory, but a pretty good short term one. So I could cram for tests and pass with good grades no problem, but ask me about what I learned in a few months and Hah! yeah right. So I always thought when people praised me that they were praising this gimmick.

Well, in Thailand no one knew me and there were no tests. I got lucky over there and ended up with an awesome roommate for a few weeks, a software engineer from France who had a nervous breakdown and decided to travel the world for a few years just seeking adventure. He also played my favorite game: Go. Every night after training I would fire up my laptop and play a few rounds against an AI opponent, he saw this, expressed that he played too, and from then on we played against each other instead. He had studied the game in university as part of his studies on AI, which before the advent of AlphaGo had been considered one of the greatest benchmarks for the strength of a bot since before then it had never been able to compete with a high level human player. He beat me once, but the rest of the time I had his number. This fascinated him, he told me that he was not expecting a challenge. He ended up having some curiosity about how my brain works, which made me feel good and wonder a bit about that myself.

The second ego booster came as I was leaving the camp when my budget ran out. The camp manager was kinda crushed. A nice sized group of the fighters and coaches in the camp would often get together at night and kick back a couple beers in front of the TV (a ritual I didn’t join in since I just drank water usually to conserve money). The night before I left, though, I decided to go out and join them. He told me I showed more improvement in a shorter time than any fighter he’s ever trained before, which floored me cause I thought I sucked. I stated this and he said no, that with another couple months I could have been a professional. I still doubt this, but its what he said, along with that he had me a televised fight lined up in a month that he was going to have to cancel. He really tried to get me to stay on until then, but I really had no way of doing so.

So I returned from Thailand relaxed, confident, and completely broke. I quickly got a job just to pay the bills at my current employer. After a couple months of settling in I talked to a military recruiter and was told I didn’t meet the requirements to get in, for reasons I won’t go into. So, I just continued working. And working. And working… Until here I am, casting these thoughts out into the internet void, bouncing them off of what is surely one of the most supportive yet sometimes brutally honest communities on the net. I’m not normally the type to do this, I don’t usually write anything for strangers to see, but this has been an invigorating and insightful process for me.

After looking at my past ventures, thinking about my strengths and what I’m capable of, do I think I have what it takes? In a year, can I go from where I am now to a new career? I think so. I have the magic sauce.

Thank you all for your replies and insights, this has all helped me immensely. If anyone is out there just reading from the shadows, thank you too because you know what, 2 days ago I was one of you, and when this thread is collecting dust I’ll be one of you again, hunkered down grinding away and occasionally coming up for a glimpse of humanity. Thinking about it, maybe I’ll post a little bit more in the future (in smaller chunks), because this has felt really good. Take note of that, my bretheren in the shadows, and consider trying it yourselves perhaps.


#13

Hi, @Latrotox Sounds like you’ve already been doing dev stuff. Check out https://www.codetriage.com/ What you’ve done is pretty advanced especially for someone who considers himself a bit of a rookie. My personal interests are in Cybersecurity and I’m been freelancing in IT support. Go after being a dev, but don’t quit your job. There’s no need to stress yourself like that. Too much stress is bad on the nervous system, you can get sick. I’m currently recovering from it now. I know you said you want to study but don’t do it too much. It’s easy to get sucked into frameworks and languages of all kinds. I made that mistake also. I wanted to solve too many problems at once. Pick a problem that you want to solve and then learn the languages and frameworks related to that. I If you want to start getting experience now in IT, whether its in IT support or Front End or any number of things. You can use Fiverr to set a Front end dev “Gig” and make some cash. In the “Gig” you can say your a JS dev and then just say what you’re gonna do for potential clients. Right now, Front End can be your second source of income. Programming is all about experimentation, you’re going to learn by doing, not by getting a degree. In my experience at University, the students were “introduced” to a variety of development paths, i.e. mobile, web, app dev, and database. There’s a lot of theory and not a lot of coding time. This can be a reference also. https://medium.com/@lydiahallie/advice-from-a-19-y-o-girl-software-developer-88737bcc6be5 The most important thing I think I could tell you is this, all it takes to be a dev is proof that you can do simple projects; like if an artist comes in with 10 self portraits, it doesn’t change the world but it proves that she knows it. The old adage of old school programmers is “to use whatever borrowed piece of equipment you have and see what you can make it do” I hope this helps some.


#14

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


#15

Here’s my two cents. If you want to quit your job, there are a couple of factors I would consider before doing so.

  1. Location. Are you in or near a tech hub? If you are, it may be easier on the savings to go to interviews, etc. There will also be more available positions, most likely. If you aren’t, are you willing to relocate? Are you calculating the cost to travel to interview in your savings? Is the tech job market near you large enough for you to get a junior position quickly?

  2. Do you get along well with your current boss? If you leave and have to come back to ask for a job, do you think it would go over well?

  3. Do you have a significant other or kids, or any kinds of dependents? Any dependent is a potential emergency situation, in my opinion, that can seriously drain savings, be it spouse, child, dog, cat, or grandparent.

  4. Do you have a study plan? I think a solid study plan is going to be key, as long as you determine that the other factors in play are favorable to your living off of your savings.

Just


#16

What a great thread. I am mostly a lurker on these forums myself, but I wanted to drop you a line of encouragement. You got this - go for it.


#17

Thanks for the practical thinking points, @davemowery you bring up some reasonable stuff. I live in south central Pennsylvania in the United States, it’s a fairly rural area but if I expand my search to about 50 miles there are usually a couple of entry level tech jobs around. That being said, I’m completely fine with moving and would happily fly to a distant city to interview for good opportunity, but probably only a couple times since that is, as you mentioned, rather expensive.

Having to go back to my old job or a similar one has been a sobering point in the back of my mind during this thought process. Right now I’m leaning towards leaving on good terms and trying to get some good references so that I can always walk right back into my old job whenever I want, albeit with a pay cut since I’d be back to newbie status with less vacation time, no raises, etc. I’m also confident in being able to get a job in any local factory given my strong references and work history. It’s a nice safety net to have, but obviously I’m hoping to not have to use it.

Regarding a study plan, I do have a loose one. It has 5 key components:

  1. My personal projects. Not counting a portfolio site or any guided projects to be completed through a course, I have 4 site ideas that I think have some value and could potentially make me a little cash on the side. Whether they succeed in that or not, they’ll look great on my portfolio. I have more than 4 ideas, but these 4 starter projects seem like they are just over the horizon to where with just a little more knowledge I could actually implement them.

  2. Web development. Right now my focus is about to transition away from back end to front end, which is what I need to start working on my projects. I’ll probably use the normal flow of HTML > CSS > React to get started. I’ll also have a JS course constantly rolling along as well. While I study these I want to get faster at the back end stuff, so I’ll probably start off each day with a scaffolding challenge where I see how fast I can set up and deploy a generic site from scratch.

  3. IT Support. While there aren’t many dev jobs in my area there are a lot of IT support jobs that require some programming abilities. They aren’t necessarily an increase in pay from what I’m making now, but have other benefits, such as broadening the scope of my knowledge and potentially having free time at work where I could continue my studies on the clock. This seems like my most likely entry point into the industry, which is completely fine with me since it seems like IT Support can lead to other very interesting jobs up the career path.

  4. Raw programming. I got started in all this with python, and sometimes I miss it. It’s nice just being able to have a problem and find a solution without getting lost in the module ecosystem. The time allotted to this would be less rigid than in the other areas so that I can just explore different languages and concepts without feeling bound to some goal. Also in this temporal block I would work on things like codewars and hackerrank to grow my fundamental skills.

  5. Math. I’ve very slowly worked my way back up to Algebra level and am excited to start getting into concepts that I never touched on in high school. More than that, though, is that whenever I crack open a tome on machine learning or computer vision I don’t understand their hieroglyphics. Someday I want to.

Its a lot, I know. My time wouldn’t be divided equally among the different topics. Math and raw programming would just be two small chunks of my day, just trying to use the no zero days concept to make slow steady progress. IT Support would be MOOC and cert based, with a larger chunk of my time later in the day, to give my brain a rest since these concepts are easier for me. Web Dev and personal projects would, of course, be the meat and potatoes… just trying to constantly realign my neurons by force of will.

Right now I work nights, and actually I’ve never had a day shift job. I know from my time in Thailand that I’m actually way more effective as a human when I sleep on a normal schedule. The prospect of sleeping at night and waking up early seems like an elusive butterfly of a dream almost as tough to catch as the dev job or anything else. Thinking about it, I’d be able to work hard from 7 - 12, lunch, work from 1 - 5, then exercise, have dinner with my girlfriend (who thinks me taking some time off work for this is a great idea), chill for the night and go to bed around 10. I’d probably devote Saturdays to unstructured study, where I can throw my schedule out the window and just focus on whatever is interesting me the most at the time, and Sundays to no studies at all no matter how much I want to, so that I can do things like this. Restructure my thoughts, visit friends and family, play games, watch movies, you know, do whatever. Dehermitize myself a little.

Sound alright? Thanks again to everyone!


#18

First of all, I’m in Altoona, PA! Are you anywhere near?
Secondly, your plan is pretty good. I would make some concrete goals, like maybe find out what employers are looking for, and set smaller, sub goals to reach the big goals. Use them like benchmarks, so you know you’re not spending too much time on something that might click when focusing on something different, but related.
All in all, though, it sounds like you could probably make it.


#19

Hah nice! What are the chances? I’m in Carlisle, about twenty miles south of Harrisburg.


#20

Ah yes, I know Carlisle. My wife moved from Dover to be with me.