Transition into Tech
Home isolation - jumpstart your career change

Home isolation: 5 things you can do to jumpstart your career change

So you’re stuck at home and, chances are, the first couple of days there’ll be some… indulging (I’m looking at you, Netflix). Ok, a bit less so if you can actually work from home, and way less if you’ve kids and they’re also stuck indoors. I definitely know a little bit about both 🙂 . But overall, you’ll eventually end up with some time on your hands.

When this happens, you’ve got two choices: you can let time fly by, or you can make something of it. And, if you’re serious about switching gears and landing a career in tech, you’ve got gold on your hands. Or time, which – if like me, you’re in your early 40s or beyond – you know it’s pretty much the same thing.

So here are 5 things you can do to jumpstart your career change to a tech career during this social distancing phase:

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Fire your imagination!

Watch these mind-stretching Ted Talks. First, get to know yourself:

  • Watch this Ted Talk by Kathryn Schulz that aims to convince you that making mistakes is a feature, not a bug of the human being. As you watch it, think how this applies to your life and, in particular, to your career. Have you made a mistake in your career choice? In your studies? Have you followed through just because it felt good to feel right? Did it happen at the very beginning, or at some point along the way? Are you doing it now? Take a second to think how to relate to mistakes – and also make a ‘note to self’ kind of thing to monitor it as you start working towards your new career.
  • Or try this talk by Sir Ken Robinson about the work that speaks most to your authentic self. Could he betalking about you when he talks about people who go through their lives with little to now idea of what, if any, their talents may be? Or maybe those who go through life not deriving any joy from what they do, enduring work rather than enjoying it? His talk will explain, maybe, how you got to that point – and, incidentally, how learning might help you course correct. While his conclusions are mostly about what we can do to fix the education system, maybe the very same solutions, at a micro-level, might work for you?
  • And then there is Dan Ariely and his talk on motivation – and if you don’t know him, oh, are you in for a treat! He’s super smart, has crazy interesting initiatives and a personal story to match. Listen to his talk and think about what really motivates you; you’ll likely come away with an understanding of why some jobs never worked out for you. And you’ll also know how to structure your learning for your career transition so you can make sure you see your efforts through.

Then, see the ingredients that go into improving yourself:

Ok, and here’s a more techy talk – proving that you’re actually on the right track, in case you’re ever having doubts:

  • Thinking automation and machine intelligence is a hoax or maybe waaaaay in the future? Think again – and while you do, watch this talk by Tomer Gerzberg who wonders – correction, shows us what it will be like when we take humans out of the work equation. Blue and white collar too, and everything in between. “Love it or hate it, machines will light up our world in more ways than we could ever imagined”. What role will you play in this new world?
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‘A goal without a plan is just a wish’

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

First, understand yourself – personality, work-style etc. Try these resources:

(please take these tests as conversation starters with… yourself – not as absolute truths; read your results, think how they compare to what you thought about yourself, asked love ones for their take, consider any eye-openers etc.)

The other thing: some of these tests have paid versions (they all have at least a good free summary). In now way do I encourage you to buy the paid (I have zero affiliations with any of them). Rather, I would suggest you use the free versions to start the conversation with yourself. Up to you if you want to go further.

  • Research potential careers – look at job announcements for the careers that interest you. Here are some sites where you can easily do that:
  • Discuss with your loved ones – tell them you’re considering a career change and see what they say.
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Expand your horizon or go deep – your choice

Take an online course – I usually do my best to steer clear of clichés, but, honestly, ‘the sky’s the limit’. And if you were to take one, and only one, I’m pretty sure that’s Harvard’s CS50 on edX.org – it’s nothing short of fabulous. Challenging yet doable, as they say. Incredibly well done, highly entertaining – I mean ‘ART’, crazy value for… free (or for a minor amount if you want the shirtificate (yes, that’s actually a thing; you’ll understand if you take the course – and it’s definitely worth it!). Largest course on campus at Harvard, There are some ‘flavors’ to this course – so run a search with CS50 on edX to find them. Here’s a taster – and if you don’t ab-so-lutely love David Malan, sorry, we can’t be friends 🙂

  • Start a coding program such as FreeCodeCamp – one of the best learning resources you can find. It runs you through everything you need for a web development career – but it’s a good basis to build on even if you’ll later choose to go another way. Can’t say enough good things about it.
  • Or, if just feel like good-old fun, try Scratch or it’s cousin, AppInventor. Both created at MIT, both using Lego-like blocks rather than actual lines of code, both offering a pretty fun way to mastering essential coding concepts – all the while providing you with hours of fun.
  • If you are interested in expanding your horizon – check out the YouTube channel of the Web Summit – the largest tech event in the world, with some 70.000 participants in 2019. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to attend the last two editions and can tell you, hands-down, it’s an extremely rich experience – most of which is now available to you. There are several sub-conferences – and the playlists are grouped by these, so take your time to check out the one(s) that interest you the most. But maybe don’t stick with your interests – you’ve a wonderful opportunity to stretch them. Here’s a quick reference if you need help navigating the sub-conferences (‘stages’). Here’s a taste of what you can expect, with their 2020 trailer (fingers crossed!)

Lastly, if you have an old computer and find yourself in a tinker-y kind of mood – you could take it apart and Google resources to help you understand what it’s made of and how it works. And if you really want to take your learning to the next level, then explain it all to someone else! Finally, then see if you can put it back together again and make it work.

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‘Don’t wait; the time will never be just right’

Napoleon Hill

  • Actually build something – I’m not going into a whole lot of details here – because it all kind of depends on where you want to go with your career change. The way I see it, you’ve got two options:
    • You can build something that will consolidate your learning and your portfolio, at the end of the day; this is a good choice if you know exactly what you want – in which case there’s little I can tell you – just go do it!
    • Or you can do something, anything – tinker with anything at all; this is helpful if you don’t know what you want – as in doing so you’ll be able to test what you enjoy and what not so much. Here are some things you can try:
      • If you want to give coding a first try – go with Scratch or AppInventor (see above)
      • If you’re more an electronics / robotics kinds of person – have a Raspberry Pi or Arduino delivered to you and see where that takes you (spoiler alert: if this is you, you’ll never have had so much fun!)
  • Start a portfolio site – you can go any way you want; code it from scratch, use a CMS… if you have something that you can highlights so your potential employers or clients can see what you’re made of, do this.
  • And while you’re at it, start working on your GitHub profile. And if this is Greek to you – start learning Git and GitHub. Plenty of resources out there and soon help is on the way right here!
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If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others’

African proverb

Finally, and just as importantly as all of the above – reach out to people in the industry you’re interested in; do a quick search to see who the thought leaders are in the field you’re interested in. Don’t go overboard, or you’ll soon drown in the information that will invade your feeds. Pick a few industry leaders – the big names, and try to find some new names, the ‘former beginners’. People who’ve started out recently and have fresh ideas and insight to share. Connect on Twitter and / or LinkedIn (I really, REALLY recommend using both) – and then, here’s what I suggest you do if you’re a real, hands-down beginner:

  • At first listen & learn; soak up the conversation, see where it leads, what the key topics are etc. Do a little extra research in the background on the topics that pique your curiosity / interest.
  • Next, throw in a helpful or appreciative comment (the sincere kind) – when / where appropriate. Let me stress that again: sincere.
  • Finally, when you’re more comfortable, aim to bring value to the conversation. Engage not just with the person you follow – but with the other people in her/his community of followers. Aim to bring value, to be helpful, and always, ALWAYS, be respectful and friendly.

All right – I hope these fill up your time – and I’d SO love to hear what you chose to do to jumpstart your career change, whether from the above or other. And if you do create something – please drop a comment or reach out on your favourite social to share your work!

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