The following analysis is pretty deep into the details of
just one particular part of my personal trajectory.
You may wish to be able to put this event into either a
After being unemployed for about eight months (!),
I took a job as accounts payable bookkeeper for the local schools.
Half a year into it it became clear that particular job wasn't going to work out,
and I was unemployed again for a couple years.
My decision to take the bookkeeping job was more than just taking anything that was available.
I knew even then I'd never be able to go back to high tech,
and in fact over these many months I've never looked back.
It was clear to me I was getting off
the high tech roller coaster, that I was changing careers at age 49.
My experience has been the conventional wisdom that career changing is fairly easy is wrong.
Reading about it doesn't make it real.
Think if you actually know of an individual who's made a successful career change.
If a career requires college level training for entré,
switching into it is not easy at all.
I don't think the conventional wisdom about career changing applies to professional careers;
it certainly doesn't apply to high tech.
I also found government unemployment services to be almost useless.
They're directed toward blue collar jobs.
They don't provide much in the way of the resources necessary to find another professional job:
networking and referrals, re-education that takes more than a few weeks, and so forth.
Faced with a "white collar recession" they seem to be dinosaurs.
Changing careers was a pretty serious decision
and I fully expect it will dramatically affect the rest of my life.
As such I've got quite a few different explanations/rationalizations:
- One way to view a career in high tech is as a Faustian bargain.
The benefits are that one gets paid a wildly higher salary,
there's the tantalizing possibility of getting rich,
and huge intellectual challenges are routinely offered.
The costs are that one gives up even what little job security there is in the rest of our economy,
there's little place for older workers,
and one is forcibly moved into an odd social class
that has little in common with the average citizen but isn't accepted by the upper class either.
To a small degree any "professional" job in this country at this time involves similar tradeoffs,
but high tech exaggerates them so much they become qualitatively different.
- In the computer field younger people to do the actual programming
--mostly no one else can keep up.
As people in the field grow older,
they're expected to move into more managerial or enterprenurial oriented positions.
But my relative lack of people skills made such a progression impossible for me.
And there came a point where I couldn't compete with the "young hot dogs" at actual programming any more.
One might expect that a wealth of experience would be worth something
so older workers would in some situations be as valuable as younger.
But in fact change in the computer field is extremely rapid
--I've heard the "half life" of computer knowledge estimated as at most 5 years and at least 18 months--
so the experience an older worker can bring is nearly worthless.
- I've been worried about the effects of high tech development on society at large for at least a decade.
I can remember seeking out materials (then rather uncommon)
on the ethics of high tech clear back when I first moved to Massachusetts.
If the same argument one uses to say that the inventors of the atomic bomb
shouldn't have done it is turned toward the people in the computer field,
the argument seems to make just as much sense.
Automation has displaced an awful lot of workers;
it's not clear that society is overall better off.
Cell phones are an example that didn't even seem real back then.
Weighing both the plusses and the minuses,
it's not clear our society is overall better off having this technology.
Given the strength and length of my doubts about the ethics of high technology,
it seemed best for me to exit the field.
- I've been uncomfortable with my career for quite a while.
Back at the end of 1998 I was so uncomfortable with my career
that I sought out and spent a lot of money on a practice that
specialized in providing career choice advice based on the results of several days of psychological tests.
From what I could tell they were the best at what they did in all of eastern Massachusetts.
I found it interesting that they recommended the very career field I was in
They did identify markedly uneven skill levels with a pronounced relative deficit in social/people skills.
I was somewhat disappointed even at the time
that their advice seemed to be based on what the computer programming field had been,
which was already quite different from what I knew it to be
and even more different from where I suspected it was going.
I remember them expressing doubts
that I'd be able to make the best use of their advice because I was too depressed at that time.
Just recently I've realized their advice had a pronounced slant
and probably wasn't very appropriate to me in any case.
The majority of their clientele is MIT students who are trying to figure out
"what I want to be when I grow up,"
so they're definitely slanted toward high tech
and don't have much experience with adults pondering career changes.
It's clear I've been seriously doubtful about high tech for quite a while.
The need to leave the field and a path to do so have finally become clear.
- Even though I like to think of myself as being able to handle stress reasonably well,
there's overwhelming evidence that in fact I don't.
It's been demonstrated to me very graphically over the past several years
that I can't handle the levels of stress that are typical in a high tech job.
It makes sense to change to something with no public persona whatever,
no travel whatever, very very few "extra" hours,
and a job that's easy to leave at the office rather than living it all the time.
- Many people my age and younger in this country at this time
have to change careers three to five times in their life.
So far I've made it with only a single career all the way from college to now.
The economy has changed enough that a career change is almost required,
and this is a relatively easy way to do it.
- The median salary in this country at this time is
much much lower than what I was used to in high tech.
Taking a job with a more typical salary gives me more in common with the people around me.
- It's fashionable nowadays for people near fifty to "downshift,"
to take a more convenient job at lower pay,
and this often although not always involves something of a career shift.
That's exactly what I'm doing.
- I never had really good academic credentials.
I've only got an undistinguished B.A in a general major rather than specifically in the computer field.
And even the undergraduate time I did spend
was occupied with taking every intro course the college offered and learning about independent life in a big city
and repeatedly coming to the attention of school administrators for lackluster academic performance.
As a result I've always been something of a hanger-on in the computer field.
At first it didn't matter hardly at all.
The boundless energy of youth and a natural knack for understanding systems
and a willingness to do what I now see a grunt work was sufficient.
Most of the people around me had similar backgrounds.
Computer company culture tended to view academia
as less advanced than the people out of school that were actually producing products.
What familiarity I did have with academic computer science was viewed with suspicion and quickly became obsolete.
This attitude changed over the years.
For more than half the last dozen of my years in the field some of my coworkers had PhDs's.
My lack of academic credentials,
which initially acted positively to provide an entré into the culture of computer companies,
has become a distinct negative.
One recruiter characterized my training and experience as "all over the map"
even though I like to think of my high tech career as having a constant focus on networking.
- I always tried to keep a low profile.
I'd seen too many high profile managers go quickly
from being favored sons to being thrown out or losing a whole lot of money.
I wanted to stay down at a level where the risks seemed quite a bit lower.
At first this worked well,
because as a very junior and young person there wasn't any opportunity to move up anyway.
But as time went on I was expected to move up,
and even though I was silent about the reasons my reluctance to move up was seen as unforgiveable footdragging.
- When I finally seriously considered leaving high tech,
my years of experience were double the typical value, and longer than even most of the executives.
It was clear I'd overstayed.