I met David Renton over coffee at the WebSummit in Lisbon; we had arranged to get together to chat about his transition from cabinet maker (yes, as in kitchen cabinets) to project manager working for Genesys, a well known customer experience and call center technology company. David’s story is one of deep personal transformation fuelled by equal parts heartache, hope and love – a journey of self-discovery that is utterly inspiring and more than worth documenting when it comes to successful transitions to tech. Join me in getting to know him, and his inspiring story.
Nothing in David’s early life pointed to a successful career in high technology. Growing up he didn’t care much for technology in general, meaning he wasn’t your regular ‘peer-under-the-hood-of-everything’ kind of kid. In fact, his only connection to computers? Gaming.
We had a computer, growing up, but I was never… I just wanted to play games on it. I didn’t really, you know, engage in how it worked; I just wanted to… I didn’t really have an interest in how it worked… I played a lot of rugby, that was my main focus at that time in my life…
In school, he excelled in athletics but was not particularly into… well, anything else, as he says himself. So, lacking any specific marketable skills, he embarked on a journey of low-skilled jobs, capitalising mostly on his athletic build.
Or, as he put it, he ‘fell’ into a number of jobs:
I am a serial pivoter! Raw truth of the whole thing, there’s probably a more sanitised version of this story that you could tell potential recruiters maybe 🤣 but I will give you the honest, raw truth of this one, Ioana. So… well, in school, I didn’t I engage really in academics… I was… I was… pretty good at rugby. And I got away with a lot in school – I wasn’t under pressure to perform as… in academics, which is, you know, my own fault. I accept that now. But at the time I was, you know, young and not very clever. So leaving school I didn’t have a career plan at all.
I worked on a night club door because I was a big fit guy. You know, it was easy work. I love to talk to people. So I got on very, very well at that profession.
After that, I worked for a company that sold very expensive vacuum cleaners so I would travel country going to people’s homes, take the machine apart and clean it and polish it up and put it back together. And that would be their annual service. And I really love this because I was travelling and talking to people and it was great.
An opportunity came up just around the corner from where I was living at the time, to work as a barman, and I spent five… four years working as a barman. So again, it was a people thing, but it was, it was it was an occupation of convenience, it wasn’t planned…
So yeah… Then I moved back to Galway and I met my now wife and we had we had our first son and it wasn’t very… you know, when I moved back to Galway, I fell into the doorman. A nightclub doorman position, again, more like a host, but, you know, with a security jacket, so because again, convenience, people, easy to get, walk-in, not very intellectually challenging, but could be considered a little bit cool, you know. So, again, fell into that, and then, when we had Jack, in my head it wasn’t the life of a man who was a father. You know, you need to be at home, especially in the daytime hours. You can’t be sleeping in the mornings because you’ve been working till, you know, 4:00 in the morning….
So I stopped and I had to get an apprenticeship. In school, a local business gave me some work, as work experience, as a part of my curriculum in school – working for a cabinet maker who made kitchens. I was putting things together and I was quite dextrous. So they said, oh, I didn’t realise you would actually be doing some work here. I thought you’d be just carrying things. And I said, no, I’m quite enjoying this . Again – building, creation, people – I love this. So that stuck with me. So fast forward to when I was 25 and we had Jack, I said, oh I enjoyed that memory, still. Maybe I’ll try and be a cabinet maker. It’s a trade you know, so my son can say ‘My dad is a cabinet maker’. So… You know, I don’t want my son to say my dad is a doorman – I’m not saying there’s something wrong with being a doorman, it’s just that in my head I needed to be at home, I’d made that decision.
This is one of the times where being very good at one specific part of the job can really work against you. I got very good at spray finishing so I would put the lacquers on the thing. So I got stuck in this one room. It’s a sealed room where you put the sprays on everything. So I would just have a line of stuff to finish and it was very isolating. And I’m more of a people person, I need, I need to interact with people and I like to, you know, be out and around to be a part of a team and work very well in a team. So that was quite isolating…
These jobs, however, were far from fruitless. Not only did he manage to make a living, he also won big in the self-awareness department. He realised, position after position, that he was highly people-oriented, loved being part of a team, moving around, being helpful. These realisations played a major role in shaping his new path.
David’s decision to transition to a tech career
So he decided to transition to a tech career. How did that come about, you ask? Let’s hear him recall his decision making.
Yeah, there was a moment when we decided, we as in me and my wife, decided that I should pursue a career in technology. I did a course, a university course that would allow you to get a place in university. It was an evening course, it lasted one year, and I did quite well in this course – in maths, surprisingly, because when I was in traditional school, maths would not have been on of my stronger subjects… But I discovered that it was more of an attention thing than an ability thing; possibly a motivation thing… At the time I had no job, our oldest son had been diagnosed with a very rare genetic condition, he needed a lot of care and he had to be brought to Dublin every week for treatment. So every week I would drive to Dublin, and then he would need more care in the house, more appointments down here (we were in the discovery moment of this horrible disease, trying to find out… ) so it was very easy to slip into unemployment saying ‘I don’t have enough time to have a job AND take care of my son’ so we were surviving… we were just getting to terms with this condition. So I think maybe we had just got used to the condition and at that point I was like ‘I got more to give, I can give more to the world, I want to be more, a part of the world, not just a passenger…’
So was it a spur of the moment kind of thing for him?
No, it felt like a ‘now’ kind of decision, at the time. But looking back, it was always there. My wife says: ‘I could see it in the making, you were just slow, David!’ 😀😉
Unlike Syk, who chose to go down a self-directed study path, David decided to go back to school as a way to achieving his goal of transitioning to tech. He enrolled in a one year ramping-up, preparatory course and found he actually enjoyed studying! As it turns out, not excelling in his early education was never an ability problem, but mostly an attention / motivation issue (and honestly, who can’t relate to that?!). With attention and motivation maxed out by his new resolve, there was no stopping him. He discovered he was good in subjects that would not have been a strength of his earlier on, like maths 🙃.
Following the prep year, and a little bit of perseverance (which, just fyi, both David and I strongly recommend in whatever you decide to pursue):
I remember, I had a path worn up and down to the entrance person’s room in the university I was always asking: Have I got a place? aI really want this! What’s happening? I want this!!
…he was finally a CompSci (computer science) student!!!
Join me on the next page to find out about David’s experience as a mature student, about his first exposure to the tech world and his first professional contacts in tech, as well as all the options tech holds for you. Hint: it’s not all programming!