Author Topic: IT career advice with non-related advanced degree  (Read 3545 times)

notquitefrugal

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IT career advice with non-related advanced degree
« on: August 07, 2013, 04:59:24 PM »
Apologies in advance for the length of this post. Iíve learned many helpful things from this blog and the forums. I still have a ways to go in terms of reducing my expenses to MMM levels, but the elephant in the room is the fact that my career and income havenít grown as well as I would have liked them to.  Iím trying to fix that, as well, and am open to suggestions. Here is my situation:

Iím currently employed full time as an attorney. Iím paid as a self-employed individual, so on top of the nasty self-employment tax, I have to provide my own health insurance, disability insurance, my own retirement plan match, etc., which effectively lowers my income even more. My gross income averages around $45,000 per year. When you subtract out Ĺ of the self-employment tax and the health insurance, itís equivalent to around $40,000 per year if I were an employee. Iím in an economically stagnant area and my prospects for growing that income are slim. I have applied to numerous other positions (in this area as well as others) over the past couple of years, and have gotten a couple of interviews, but no offers. Not to be a complainypants, as I donít mind most of the work that I do, but Iím not in love with it either, and I feel like Iím spinning my wheels.

Computers and technology are my passion, and I have done computer repair, networking, and consulting for various businesses and individuals on the side since I graduated from high school. I don't think it would be possible for me to expand this business enough to do it full time, though. I have a Computer Science degree but no work experience writing code, so those skills are quite rusty at this point. My other IT skills are current, but I donít have any certifications. Since it appears unlikely at this point that Iíll advance as an attorney[1], Iím ready to try something else, and have begun applying for higher paying IT positions for which I feel Iím qualified, such as software training, support (not helpdesk), or hardware operations manager.

I have been underemployed for several years now, and my goal at this point is to try to catch up by increasing my earning potential as quickly as possible. Am I thinking about this wrong?

Has anyone made a similar switch in the past, and do any MMM forum members have any suggestions for what types of positions/companies I should be targeting? I feel like I would be valuable to a law firmís IT department, but Iíve had one interview where I was looked upon with a fair amount of suspicion due to the fact that I have an advanced degree and was applying for a position which was ďbeneathĒ it. I explained that I tend to enjoy that type of work more, and that the position was a better opportunity than my current one. If I leave my law degree/employment off my resume, anyone who does a Google search is likely to discover it. Does anyone have any other suggestions to make the JD degree less of a burden?

[1] There are numerous reasons for my pessimism besides my own experience in investing tons of time searching for positions and cranking out cover letters. The ABA-accredited law schools have overproduced JD degrees for decades, and as a result, there are far too many attorneys competing for far too few attractive positions.

JR

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ichoosemyself

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Re: IT career advice with non-related advanced degree
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2013, 08:18:03 PM »
Some large firms have "E-Discovery" staff attorney positions available. I wonder if your background would make you competitive for those.

mgreczyn

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Re: IT career advice with non-related advanced degree
« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2013, 11:08:50 AM »
I have often fantasized about making a similar switch myself, though not starting from being a lawyer.  Here are a couple of folks who are making the jump from law to IT:
http://coffeespoonsofcode.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/my-story-from-lawyer-to-ruby-hacker/
http://erincodes.wordpress.com/tag/hackbright/

It seems there are a number of ways to go about this switch.  One is to approach it from the certification side by picking up Cisco, Linux, MS, etc. certifications.  I *think* though I'm not sure, that this is more of a hardware track.  Another is to approach it via formal education in CS.  A third approach is to try to self-teach since CS material is at the forefront of the online learning movement.  My wife works for an IT company and is fond of reminding me that if I try to make that switch at 37, I'll be going in with little real-world experience and competing with 21 year old engineers who are willing to work longer hours for less money, so the pure self-taught route might be risky for me.   You could try a hybrid approach as well, cover the basics with free online courses and then switch to a formal curriculum for more advanced work.

Edit: I just re-read the OP and saw that you already have a CS degree.  Sounds like all you need to do is figure out what language is most in demand, then brush up and go to town.  All the blogs say Ruby is hot, though I wonder if there is some Silicon Valley distortion going on.  All the stories I hear about Ruby folks getting snapped up seem to originate in SF.  Can anyone corroborate? 
« Last Edit: August 08, 2013, 11:34:39 AM by mgreczyn »

willn

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Re: IT career advice with non-related advanced degree
« Reply #4 on: August 08, 2013, 11:33:04 AM »
Iím ready to try something else, and have begun applying for higher paying IT positions for which I feel Iím qualified, such as software training, support (not helpdesk), or hardware operations manager.

IT is a huge field.  What do you love? Not the specific skill, but what is it about computers that you enjoy?  Helping people get more from technology? Then small business support might be your thing.  Troubleshooting complex systems under pressure?  Then working at a managed service provider that supports other companies may be your thing.  Teaching people new skills? Then technical training.  Shutting out the world and solving puzzles?  Programming.  Hardware tinkering with a side of highly specialized configurations? Maybe storage or enterprise networking.

All these career tracks are accessible--they are generally a "practicioner's art" where the degree can be irrelevant.  If you can prove you have the skills, you can get jobs.  You say you don't want help desk, but that's a very valid entry point to get experience seeing a lot of problems on a wide scale. From there you can jam out more specialized certifications and move on.  In fact, I recommend it and am gearing my blog toward those moving into IT through that route.

Hotness in virtualization and networks right now. VMWare, Cisco certs will get you in the door.  From there its being the guy that goes the distance to find the cause of the problem. 

notquitefrugal

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Re: IT career advice with non-related advanced degree
« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2013, 07:36:56 PM »
This thread may be helpful.

Indeed, there appears to be a lot of good advice there. Thanks!

Some large firms have "E-Discovery" staff attorney positions available. I wonder if your background would make you competitive for those.

I have the "electronic" part, and the "discovery" part, but unfortunately, no experience where the two intersect. Also, larger firms tend to look for "excellent academic credentials." Although I had those in undergrad, law school is a different story.

IT is a huge field.  What do you love? Not the specific skill, but what is it about computers that you enjoy?  Helping people get more from technology? Then small business support might be your thing. 

You say you don't want help desk, but that's a very valid entry point to get experience seeing a lot of problems on a wide scale. From there you can jam out more specialized certifications and move on. 

I enjoy optimizing things as well as fixing broken things. Small business support/help desk/networking/repair is basically what I've been doing for the past 10+ years on a part time basis, as a contractor. Typically for businesses with 10-30 devices (servers, workstations, laptops, network printers, iPads, etc.). So, a lot of helpdesk positions would be a step down, and from what I gather, they tend to pay less than my current full-time job. I'm a little unusual in that I have a CS degree but no relevant work experience doing programming, and no formal background in MIS (self-taught), but a lot of relevant work experience in that area.

The Cisco certifications interest me. There would definitely be a learning curve, but if I can pass the bar exam on the first try, surely I can learn what's required for an IT cert. :P

Thanks again to everyone for the helpful replies (and keep them coming if anyone has anything else to add)!

willn

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Re: IT career advice with non-related advanced degree
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2013, 07:26:48 AM »

I enjoy optimizing things as well as fixing broken things. Small business support/help desk/networking/repair is basically what I've been doing for the past 10+ years on a part time basis, as a contractor. Typically for businesses with 10-30 devices (servers, workstations, laptops, network printers, iPads, etc.). So, a lot of helpdesk positions would be a step down, and from what I gather, they tend to pay less than my current full-time job. I'm a little unusual in that I have a CS degree but no relevant work experience doing programming, and no formal background in MIS (self-taught), but a lot of relevant work experience in that area.

The Cisco certifications interest me. There would definitely be a learning curve, but if I can pass the bar exam on the first try, surely I can learn what's required for an IT cert. :P

Thanks again to everyone for the helpful replies (and keep them coming if anyone has anything else to add)!

Ok, then I would be tempted to basically do a small business consultancy if were you.  It capitalizes on skills you've developed, you probably have a built in network of business that you can get to help market you--your customers are your best source of new leads.  This type of work is much different than if you go with a bigger company doing managed services, or specializing in one area like storage or virtualization.  Don't be afraid to charge a lot as you'll be working a lot more each week than just the billable hours. Most servicers in this market do monthly retainer agreements.

I think you become more "antifragile" to changes in technology or the economy also.  You won't be dependent on one organization.   You have to keep up on a lot of skills, but you can also hire subcontractors if you have a big project that exceeds your expertise.

If you don't want to go the entrepreneurial route, you could probably capitalize on your current skills in a system administrator at a 75-150 person company.  These positions require similar wide ranging skill sets, and you'll usually have 1 or 2 help desk techs that you back up.  Finding a "tech forward" outfit in this size range helps, even though companies that size often do a fair amount of outsourcing, if they have lots of technical dependencies they usually want someone on the inside that really knows their system. This can be a fun position as you get to optimize everything into best practices over time.  Frustrations can include getting blocked from needed upgrades due to budget, or the view that they don't need "enterprise" level stuff, so sometimes getting needed upgrades or good gear and software can be tough.

In either one of these roles I recommend a CCNA certification. It's the "entry level" Cisco certification but it is not easy, and it is directly applicable to just about every network out there--not so much the specific Cisco commands, but beyond that--you will learn very practical knowledge and skills that are foundational.  Understanding the network stack in detail will give you the ability to troubleshoot all kinds of connectivity problems, implement firewalls, routing, security, network design for small business.





bobthefrog

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Re: IT career advice with non-related advanced degree
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2013, 12:03:24 AM »
Have you thought about providing legal consulting to venture capital funded startups? I don't know how close you are to an active VC area (e.g. SF, Seattle, LA, Boulder/Denver, NYC, Austin), but that would definitely be a way to get yourself closer to technology while still utilizing your strengths, and legal counsel is definitely needed.