Wednesday, March 16, 2011

10 alternative careers for burned-out IT workers


Takeaway: So you're thinking about leaving IT — but you're not sure what to do instead. Here are a few alternative fields where you might be able to use your talents in more satisfying ways.

I recently wrote an article that caused a bit of a stir. That article, 10 reasons for quitting IT, brought to my inbox an onslaught of email agreeing with my reasons and/or asking for advice on where to turn. After giving it some thought, I decided I would take a stab at a follow-up article to try to address the question "What should I do instead?" Here are a few possible alternative career choices for admins and consultants wanting to get out of IT.

Some of these ideas might make perfect sense, whereas others might make you say, "Huh?" Either way, look at them as suggestions that are related to your current field — which you may or may not have already thought about. The relation to IT might be a bit of a stretch in some cases, but for others it will be quite obvious.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Auto repair

This might sound a bit crazy, but modern vehicles more and more depend upon computers. In fact, without the computer at its core, the modern vehicle wouldn't be able to accomplish half of what it does. From emission control to hybrid power to brake control, automobiles depend upon computers. These computers are nothing more than embedded systems that depend upon another computer to troubleshoot, diagnose, and repair them. And since most IT admins and consultants love the thrill of fixing things, becoming an automobile technician makes perfect sense. Granted, you will need to get the proper training to make this leap.

2: Teaching

The educational system does not have enough good teachers willing to go the extra mile to help future IT pros understand the career they are about to embark on. Does that mean you should step into education so you can beat it into your students' heads that they will suffer immeasurable frustration during their career as a consultant or administrator? No. It does mean, however, that you can prepare them for the challenging road that lies ahead. And many of you will certainly understand how much difference it would have made in your lives if someone had helped prepare you for the challenges you have faced.

3: Working for a smaller company

If you're unwilling to completely leave the field of IT, you could step down from that fortune 500 position and join a much smaller company. Having a much smaller network to deal with, few computers, and users who don't have that same attitude toward you will remove a world of suffering from your shoulders. You could even step into the not-for-profit world and really feel wanted and loved. Although the NFP field has its own set of headaches, they aren't nearly as intense as they can be in the upper echelons of capitalism.

4: Architecture

This is another career that would require more education. However, you like numbers. You like the order and design of the world around you. And you could learn CAD more quickly than you learned subnetting. Architecture is one of those fields where the sky could literally be the limit. You could spend some time in the great outdoors, you would be using the numbers you love so dearly, you would have a modicum of control over your own fate (perhaps being self-employed), and you wouldn't have to deal with downed networks, fail-over, end-users, and lazy programmers.

5: Programming

You've spent years dealing with bugs, bug squashing, and software in general, so why not join the developer ranks and start coding yourself? Most of the programmers I know are good, although quirky, people. Some of them live singular, solitary lives, work long hours, and are dedicated to what they do. The biggest difference between programmers and admins/consultants? Programmers' stress and headaches are specific in nature and tend to involve only one or two major problems (code won't compile, features need to be added, etc.). Now I won't kid you into thinking that programming will be an easier, less stressful route than consulting or administration. But you won't have to deal with the avalanche of problems coming from nearly every corner of every building you walk into.

6: Writing

One of the biggest downfalls in the world of computer software and hardware is its documentation. Because software and hardware are ever-evolving markets, the minute you put out a book or manual, it's out of date. That means those manuals must always be updated, renewed, refreshed. Take those skills of yours and build a brand for yourself. Write the manual for a piece of software, hardware, or protocol. Or find a blog to write for. There are millions upon millions of computer users out there, and most of them have no idea what they are doing. The world needs good writers of computer manuals and how-tos, because we know the manufacturers aren't creating these documents.

7: Management

Not that you would ever see me working the management side of the coin, but this field is a good fit for a lot of administrators and consultants. This is especially true for consultants who have had to run their small shop or one-man show and keep the ball rolling. Those types have the necessary marketing, management, and communication skills necessary for management. But understand this: You will be trading one set of headaches for another.

8: Research and development

Companies thrive on research, and that includes tech companies. What R&D departments don't need are people who have no idea what they are talking about. As an administrator or consultant you have been out in the trenches. You know how things do work versus how they should work. You are fully aware of the real-world needs versus the company-created needs. A voice like yours could be of incredible value to a company creating the next big thing in IT. Of course R&D tends to live only in bigger companies, so you would have to make your way though the mounds of resumes already piling up on the HR desks. Figure that out, and you might have a perfect match.

9: Cosmetology

I know, I know. This one might seem crazy on the surface, but give it a chance. First, there is an elegant mathematic to the art of hair design. I did a short stint in the field and really enjoyed it. Not only are you dealing with real people with real issues (some issues a bit bigger than others), but you see instant results when you are done. There is no sitting around and waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under you (as is inevitable in IT and consulting) no dealing with budgetary constraints or security holes, no horrific hours, and no cloud!

10: Farming

I couldn't resist. Based on the amount of readers who truly wanted to pull way back to their "roots" and be farmers, this seemed like the perfect way to end this piece. Farming might well be one of the single most rewarding professions in the history of professions. Yes, it's hard work, yes there is very little money to be made. But man, is it a good way to reclaim yourself. Digging in the dirt, creating the very things that sustain life… what more could you ask for? If you choose to go this route, I would highly recommend you bank a nice nest egg first, because you won't get rich off the fat of the land. Your soul might, but your bank account? Not so much.

Taking a break

Naturally these ideas are all subjective, but everyone has a skill other than IT they can bank on. Even if it's not the most marketable, profitable, or manageable skill known to man, you have something you can turn to when IT or consulting loses its luster. And who knows, maybe a break from the field is all you need. Go be a farmer for a few years and then, if you need to, come back to IT. Don't worry — admin and consulting work will still be here. You'll probably have to play a massive game of catch-up, but you'll get back into the race more quickly than you think.

Other alternative professions?

This is a just short list of possibilities, but there are plenty more. What other careers do you think might be well suited for those who are thinking about leaving IT? Have you ever switched fields only to return to a tech job? Share your thoughts in the discussion.

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