Mid-Life Career Changes

I know a couple of people have posted about how to break into the games industry, but I’m curious how you go about effecting a real career change when you’re already half-way through a particular career path but aren’t enjoying it.

I’m a development officer at a mid-sized Canadian university. I fell into this work because I was good with people at the smaller department where I worked as a communications manager (and where I graduated from with a BA in Music). After doing this for five years I’ve come to the realization that I really, really hate asking people for money for a living. It pays very well compared to other university support staff positions—but it also means a great deal of responsibility and stress.

My first love is computers. I love building them, installing new software, working out the little bugs that computers and networks have when things go wrong. I love going to my friends homes and fixing their computers for them. I loved the creative design side of my old job and was pretty good at designing brochures and websites.

But I have no idea about how to move from one 15-year career path to a completely different career path where I have no formal training—all it’s ever been is a hobby. My friends tell me I should do this for a living—but how do I give up a job that pays $75,000 CDN a year and start over as a first-year tech support person probably working for barely above minimum-wage? Would some kind of A+ or MCSE certification help me land a better job? I can’t afford to go back to school and get a full computer science degree so programming is probably out. Is this even something I should even be considering when I’m half-way to retirement and a full pension? The money isn’t important to me but I do need to keep paying off my mortgage.

All I know is that I feel completely trapped and every day I hate waking up to go to work. I know I need to make some changes soon. I’m posting this here for advice from any of you that have also made a significant change in your careers and what you did to ease the transition?


You may want to look at other departments in your university. Tech work isn’t so consolidated in an IT department as it used to be in higher ed. Marketing departments commonly have their own web developers & people who dream up new ways to boost enrollment via the Internet. Distance Learning is big, too, with plenty of course design & technology work for people with experience in education. Your mileage will certainly vary, but it’s worth a look if you haven’t already.

I’d consider a gradual shift into tech instead of a bloody revolution. The lines are blurred these days. You don’t necessarily have to abandon your career skills to jump into Java programming or PC repair whatever you imagine IT work to be. Maybe you’ll have to spend a few years on the periphery between people work and tech work, but that’s only fair. You may even thrive at that interface between geeks & normal humans.

You’re good with people, so hit your network for leads. I bet you know somebody who knows somebody who has the perfect job for you.

Also, doesn’t your school have an employee tuition benefit?

I quit my job, took out loans, shifted some lines of credit around, and went back to school full time. I have friends and family to rely on to watch my kid and my wife is carrying the family insurance. So while it has been a difficult road, I have had some forms of suppport.

You may not be in the exact position financially and familially (is that a word?) as me, but I can damn sure identify with being in a shitty career and a miserable job going nowhere. It has taken a year to get this far and will probably take a year to finish, but with a paid internship in January, I think I will make it.

To finish the sappy, public service announcement, it has been one of the most trying times of my life, but I have learned more about my strengths and failings than I ever would have if I would have languished in the last job. It has, without a doubt, been the most positive thing I have ever done.

BTW, there is very little “easing” of the transition, as you put it. I simply had to jump and pull the cord.

Yes, we have tuition support at school. I’ve signed up for a couple of Continuing Education classes starting in January and over two years or so I can finish a Systems Development Certificate (not as good as a degree, but a step in the right direction). I can do this at no cost and in the evenings and on weekends as long as I’m willing to stay in my current job or at least working on campus.

It’s the change of lifestyle I think that scares me the most. My wife has a lower-paying job at the bookstore and we could survive on a lower salary with me, but we’d probably have to get rid of the Acura and the motorcycle and maybe sell the house and get a condo. It’s hard to think of going back to living from paycheck to paycheck again when we’ve only just begun to get clear of some of our debts.

That’s what gets you. The lifestyle and the security. I’m sure that you get your fear from the fact you have to be a provider. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you are paying for that morgage, buying diapers, then clothes, then your kids destroy things at a fantastic rate make your collateral damage budget start to be more and more significant part of your income …

That last bit is me, but I definitely can sympathize. However, I was in exactly your place at one point in my life where I had a hard time getting up the resolve every day for work but I was stuck between (what I thought) was a rock and a hard place. I ended up taking a chance and put my future and my family (swallowing that pride) at risk for the potential to do something I love and have control over it.

It’s not something you can do lightly or that will not put you over the wall sometimes. I can pass on one bit of information that you may or may not already know. If you do decide to make the change, make sure to communicate with your wife. I had tough lessons for about 2 years (and we’re still mending the damage) of the pressurecooker and your wife’s (and maybe in your case, your family) and friends support is the only thing keeping you from throwing in the towel. In retrospect I don’t know how she was able to deal with me and my fits of dread and anger as I tried to forge a path for my own sanity and for my family. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without my wife or friends. Hopefully she supports whatever decision you make.

Mine was a success story and it looks like a few others have done the same. Most of the people I regularly associate with now have similiar stories. Hopefully if you decide to do it, you will have the same.

Good luck.

I understand. Even though I had been there a while and have a house and a kid, we were by no means secure, so it is not as if I am going to be taking a tremendous step down. In fact, my paid internship in a “real proffession” (accounting) may pay close to what I was getting after 8 years at the old job.

I would still say making a change at a relatively young age (35 for me) is better than letting it whittle you down and at 50 saying, “Oh shit, what have I done”.

Whatever you decide, I wish you the best.