Why I’m Changing Careers
If you won the lottery and retired right now, what would you do? Supposedly, the answer to this question reveals the career you should choose. When I realized I lacked passion for structural engineering, I asked myself this question and the answer surprised me. I would go back to school to earn a degree in computer science. Technology has always been my passion, and if I had all the time in the world, I’d spend that time learning all I could about computer science.
I’m married, own a home, and, at the time, my wife and I were planning to start a family. I felt trapped and believed a career change was an impossibility. In my mind, it was too late. Though I disliked the work, I was good at it, and I had a secure job in a bad economy. I could provide well for my children giving them every opportunity to succeed in life. Living through them would ease the pain of working in a career for which I had no passion.
But what if children weren’t in my future? My wife and I lost our unborn daughter in January of 2009. The doctor’s found no cause for the complications that led to her stillbirth at 32 weeks. It was seemingly a fluke, so we tried again. In April of 2010 our son, Joel, was born 10 weeks premature. During our stay in the NICU, it was discovered that he had an extremely rare genetic mutation for which my wife and I are both carriers. After a 10 week struggle, Joel passed away. Our hopes of raising a family soon faded.
I began to contemplate a life without kids. Why was I wasting time in a career I didn’t enjoy if kids weren’t in my future? It dawned on me that the solace I sought in having children may never come, so I needed to find my own happiness. I suddenly realized I didn’t need to win the lottery to follow my dreams. Leaving my career and going back to school only required a few lifestyle changes and some loans. In June of 2012, I made the decision to quit my job.
My wife and I decided that I should take some time to determine if this was right for me before returning to school. I spent the next six months working on various side projects and providing web development services to a few clients. It was the creation of pelicensemanager.com that confirmed my love for software development (I’ll discuss this project in length in another post). There’s something so fulfilling about solving a problem with software.
In January of 2013, I went back to work at my old job on a contractual basis. They needed help to alleviate a brief overload of work they were experiencing. Those few months solidified my decision. That company was an amazing company to work for, but I found no joy in the work. At that point, I applied to the University of Illinois at Springfield M.S. in computer science program and began completing the prerequisites.
I’ll be graduating in December.
Better yet, my wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl shortly after I went back to school.
Hindsight is 20/20. Reflecting on my childhood, it’s easy to see that I should have chosen computer science over structural engineering. I vividly remember the amazement I felt when I helped my dad program a bouncing ball in basic on our Commodore 64. I was enamored with the HP-150 Touch Computer that we were only able to afford because my grandfather, who worked at Hewlett-Packard, was able to get a huge discount. I have fond memories of playing Zork for hours on end with my brother. When we got our first IBM, a childhood friend and I programmed every game in the “Basic Computer Games” book.
My fascination continued to grow. Freshman year in high school, I was given a TI-82 calculator. I soon became the go-to guy for programming the calculator to help on tests. I had the ash assembly shell installed on my calculator as soon as it came out. By my senior year, I had a TI-92 that I spent hours programming games on when I should have been paying attention in calculus class. It amazed me that these tools could be programmed to do just about anything I wanted.
When it came time to choose a career, I fell into the trap of thinking of others first. I wanted a “classical” career that would impress others instead of the career that so obviously suited me. I chose structural engineering because of the notoriety attached with the profession, and I knew my strong analytical skills would work well in the field. Even my college entrance essay reflected my wrong choice. In that essay I discussed wanting to minor in programming to facilitate the development of software to help me as a structural engineer.
Throughout college there were several “red flags”. I specifically remember taking an electrical fundamentals course my sophomore year that I greatly enjoyed. I had the passing thought that I should change majors to electrical engineering or computer science, but thought it was too late to make the change. Furthermore, during college orientation I was given the statistic that only 40% of people beginning college in a given major will graduate with that major. I didn’t want to fall on the “wrong” side of this statistic. I wanted to prove that I could finish what I started, even if it wasn’t the right choice for me. School always felt more like a chore than something I enjoyed, but I never realized that if I didn’t enjoy the classes I wouldn’t enjoy the career.
Why did I continue on and get a master’s degree in structural engineering? Of all the branches of civil engineering, structural engineering is what I disliked least. I felt that a master’s degree was necessary to get a decent job in the field, so I believed I had no other options. I also wanted to be the first person in my dad’s side of the family to earn a master’s degree, and I wanted to impress friends and family with my accomplishments. In retrospect, it was a big charade.
Do I regret my decisions? No. Had I not followed that path, I would not be where I am today. I can now truly enjoy this new career path knowing it’s the right choice for me. With my experience, I will never again need to look for greener grass, because I’ve found it.
What do I want to do?
Very simply, I want to solve problems. I want to combine my analytical and creative skills to solve any problem presented to me using the best tools for that problem. As I hope this website shows, I’ve had a wide-ranging exposure to programming and software development. I’m eager to learn, and I’m ready for any challenge.