The Art of Career Change

In the years since I began high school, I’ve pursued four distinct career paths, each so very different from the last that most people conclude that I’m insane when I list them.

I began high school set on a career in architecture, and I even took numerous courses that taught hand and computer-aided drafting, architecture terminology, and so on. By the beginning of my senior year, however, it was clear that architecture was the wrong career path for me. For one, I despised the tediousness of creating elevations, and I always seemed to struggle with floor plan layout. I would inevitably end up with some odd space that didn’t quite fit into any of the surrounding rooms, forcing me to call upon a classmate to assist me as I reworked the design. At the same time, thankfully, a hobby had developed into a full-time obsession and thus seemed like a logical career path.

So, as I looked toward college and what I expected would become my career, I set upon audio engineering as a viable path. As I mentioned, what began as a hobby turned into a weekend-consuming obsession that took priority over most everything else, including my junior prom. By the time I realized architecture wasn’t for me, I was traveling with a local band, working regularly at an area venue, and had run sound at a side stage for a large music festival. Thus, I sought out and found what I believed was a viable degree program at the University of Hartford that would prepare me for a long career as an audio engineer. Oh how I was mistaken.

Unfortunately, I did not realize how utterly deficient the University of Hartford’s Audio Engineering Technology program was until it was too late. Considering the dearth of programs I could transfer my credits to, and the lack of job prospects my overrated degree brought, I yet again contemplated a different career path. Looking over the non-engineering courses I’d taken at the University, I recognized that I had truly enjoyed the accounting courses taken as part of my minor in Business Administration. After speaking with the director of the University’s accounting department, I made the decision to pursue a Masters degree in accounting after completing my Bachelors in audio engineering.

After completing my degree programs, I quickly secured multiple job offers in the accounting industry, providing near-instant gratification that my third career change was a prudent decision. Everything seemed to be going fine until the recession of the late 2000s took its toll on the accounting firm that had employed me since graduation. In June 2009, near the peak of the unemployment crisis, I lost my job. For months I pursued another position in the accounting industry, only to find that positions did not exist. After all, I specialized in non-profit accounting, and the organizations that needed such expertise were disproportionately impacted by the recession.

To pass the time and keep myself busy, I returned to a hobby I had largely abandoned: web programming. I began by re-establishing a blog I had let fall dormant. Through that process, I encountered a few situations where I wanted to customize some aspect of WordPress but could not find a suitable solution in the innumerable plugins that were then available. I created my own plugins, released them through the WordPress repository, and went about my business of job hunting and blogging.

Late last year, I stumbled upon the concept of a WordCamp—community-organized events for users and developers of WordPress. My timing was unfortunately such that the nearest event had just happened in New York City. As I explored future options for attending one of these gatherings, I discovered that a Boston edition was in the early planning stages. Fortuitously-enough, the group that had committed to organizing the first New England WordCamp was in need of additional volunteers and, having an abundance of free time, I gladly offered my assistance.

While assisting in any way I could with preparations for WordCamp Boston 2010, I continued to search for accounting positions throughout New England. WordCamp Boston came and went (and was an overwhelming success), and I continued my routine as had developed over a number of months, searching for jobs in the morning, blogging and developing for WordPress in the afternoon. Never had I seriously considered pursuing web development as a full-time career, largely because I lacked any serious qualifications to justify such an action. That changed, however, when a fellow WordCamp Boston organizer contact me about a potential position with his employer.

With some hesitation over what yet-another career change would mean for my accounting degree and plans for becoming a CPA, I agreed to complete a few projects on a contract basis that had the potential to lead to full-time employment. Thoroughly enjoying the challenges these projects presented, I gladly agreed to complete a trial period that would provide 40 hours of work weekly. The 30-day trial passed with incredible speed and I accepted a full-time position without hesitation. As I continue in my latest career as a web developer, I am daily challenged in a way that I find both stimulating and rewarding, rather than frustrating and tedious as accounting had become.

As different as each career pursuit is, I am grateful for the opportunity that each presented. Skills that I would not have gained were it not for the previous jobs I held and education I obtained regularly influence and assist my approach to implementing solutions to client requests. Client relation abilities that were so crucial as an accountant play a similarly-vital role as a developer. Structured and reasoned approaches to problem solving imparted by my engineering background regularly influence how I effect the features our clients engage us to provide. Diligent yet efficient coding finds its influence in all of my previous career paths, particularly the “Form over function” mantra instilled by my architecture teachers. Ultimately, while my employment history epitomizes circuitousness, each successive career benefits from its predecessors.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned, and what I’ve termed the “Art of Career Change” is the importance of flexibility paired with the unique skills and viewpoint that a diverse past impart.