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On considering a career change

by talexb (Canon)
on Apr 30, 2011 at 16:39 UTC ( #902216=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Having spent the last twelve or so years writing Perl web applications and other bits on a variety of platforms, talking to a variety of databases, I'm considering doing Something Different. That requires some introspection, which leads to this post.

Why don't you want to write code any more?

I love writing code. One of my most recent projects was writing a REST API using Dancer and DBIx::Class. Both of these modules are fantastic -- they require some new ways of thinking, but they remove the drudgery of All The Usual Web Application Junk as well as All The Usual Database Junk and leave you the interesting stuff. I'm really proud of the result.

But I've been writing code for close to 30 years; before Perl, I was writing code in C and assembler (6809, 68000, x86). I think it may be time to move on.

So what are you good at?

I'm good at digging into a specification and finding the dark corners and corner cases. I love to debate the boundaries of what a product or service is going to do -- what we want to include in phase 1 (do this now), what we should leave for phase 2 (do this later, if the project has legs), and the other stuff that belongs in phase 3 (um, never?). I also consider myself a bit of a usability/user interface expert, and I really enjoy testing software, both manually and using written tests.

I'm not sure if that's starting to sound like a project manager, but it could be. The part of that job I may be weak on is talking with the customer, but I'd probably be OK with that if I under-promise and over-deliver. Meetings may bore some people, but if it's focussed conversation, I love it.

So .. I'd like to get your feedback on my new direction. Let me have it.

Alex / talexb / Toronto

"Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds

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Re: On considering a career change
by Your Mother (Bishop) on Apr 30, 2011 at 19:55 UTC

    Maybe it’s time to start your own business; form a partnership or consulting firm, or work on a commercial software project or an open one with commercial side-effects.

    It sounds to me like what’s going on is you’ve just explored your current map and are interested in seeing new lands. Whatever you decide, consider finding a way to keep it shaken up and fresh. Project management is nanny-like and dull for a problem-solver, so I say. Consulting-ish stuff can be different every outing. Having your own company or commercial project would let you wear more hats which could keep it fun; though you’re also locked in beyond the demands of a regular job.

    Good luck. I hope your switch doesn’t keep you from participating here.

    (update: missing word added.)

Re: On considering a career change
by ww (Archbishop) on Apr 30, 2011 at 21:16 UTC
    Project Manager may be a good option... in the right shop.

    But in the wrong shop -- one where the Proj Mgr is also the admin honcho (and sometimes, the chief AH in charge of vacation scheduling, OT assignments, timecards, EEO reports, and so forth, ad nauseum) it can be a hellish position.

    However, lest this seem too much a knock on a Proj Mgr role, full disclosure reveals that I've also run my own business... and in doing so, proved I was vastly better at what I had been doing than at running the company... so I have a somewhat jaundiced view (to the tune of half a mil, +-). That was a hurtful hit, that took nearly 20 years to offset.

Re: On considering a career change
by sundialsvc4 (Abbot) on May 01, 2011 at 02:10 UTC

    It certainly sounds to me like you would be an excellent “consulting engineer” or “consulting architect” on any sort of project.   You could be as busy as you care to be.

    It might be most useful for you to think about what you don’t like, because these seem to be fairly specific things.   They seem to be, perhaps not so much reflective of a dislike of the work itself, but rather, dislike of certain environments or situations that you have found yourself in recently.   Or perhaps you simply want to broaden your horizons.

    That should be easy to do.   If you have been writing code for 30 years, it becomes less essential that you actually be the one who writes the code, because your skill and experience might be better put toward choosing what code should be written, by whom and at what time; how the code should be tested and then deployed, and so on.   “Coders” can be had, who will work under your direction or according to your master plan.   The best use of experience at this level is really that of “executive.”

        It certainly sounds to me like you would be an excellent “consulting engineer” or “consulting architect” on any sort of project. You could be as busy as you care to be.

      Mmm. That sounds right up my alley. I'm less interested in the minutiae of managing a project than I am discussing and recording the boundaries of the project. My experience with feature creep tells me that's something I think I could deal with pretty well. (We can add that, but it's going to make the project longer.) We also used daily scrums in our development, and that's the place where that kind of thing pops up.

        .. Or perhaps you simply want to broaden your horizons.

      I think that's it -- it's time to move on. I'm passionate about writing good code based on a sound design, but now I want to try something different.

      Alex / talexb / Toronto

      "Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds

Re: On considering a career change
by dHarry (Abbot) on May 01, 2011 at 07:48 UTC

    You love to code and you're good at it, yet you want to change direction, why? It's not like you're bored with coding. Why exactly do you think it's time to "move on"? Is it the 30 years? I myself I'm not coding much lately, just some things for fun, private projects. I moved (again) into the project managers role. I did it before, years ago I was a PM, I managed several projects, got completely fed-up with it and moved back. Now after having not managed for 12 years or so I decided to give it another try. I was actually doing some retirement planning and realized I don't want to code until my retirement. Now years later I feel in much better shape to manage projects.

    I disagree with YourMother, it's not boring at all for a problem solver. There are many problems to solve, it's just that they are different types of problems:) Meetings can be boring we all know, "fortunately" the PM chairs most of them, so it's your responsibility to keep things focused. Communication is maybe the most important skill of a PM. Normally this skill can be developed. If you feel you have to improve in this area do so.

    My advice would be, why don't you just try it? Do it like for a year and evaluate after 6 months and 12 months. If you find out it sucks you can always move back. You could also do it in phases, start as a team lead, take over more and more tasks of the PM, be his/her backup and then do your own project. Also there exist different PM roles, e.g. a technical PM, a PM, a PM of a program of projects.

    My 5 cent advice: in my experience it really pays of to have a senior PM coaching you. Don't micro-manage, tell SW engineers what to do and not how to do it (even if you know it better;).



Re: On considering a career change
by sundialsvc4 (Abbot) on May 01, 2011 at 16:39 UTC

    The beauty of software development is that it is a big team effort, and companies are finally beginning to recognize that.   (They also seem to be recognizing that “finding people whose only business advantage is that they say they’ll work Cheaper, is not such a good idea after all.   So there is not only a lot of work to do, but a lot of cleaning-up to do.   And now we have “pads” and “smart phones” and “clouds” and oh-my.)   You can and should decide what role you are best qualified for now and what your best contribution to the collective efforts might be.   With 30 years in, “coding” probably isn’t your best role anymore.

Re: On considering a career change
by raybies (Chaplain) on May 02, 2011 at 20:04 UTC

    I've often thought about going into teaching, because I love kids, and I'd love to teach them an assortment of life areas, including music, writing, electrical engineering, sketching, math and computer programming. I would love the chance to just impact lives more significantly.

    But then, I always seem to fall back into the one criteria that keeps me working...

    I need the money.


      You can do both.   Check out your local community college.   They are always looking for teachers in their so-called “adjunct faculty” to teach evening courses.   I did this for many years, and let me tell you ... whereas ex-high school kids who don’t yet know what they want to be when they grow up are a little bit exasperating, adults (and it is entirely possible that one or more of your students have PhD’s ...) will keep you on your toes!   Fair warning:   this is serious college stuff.   Try to bluff dem cats, and you are $DEAD.BEEF.   The adults who go to community colleges have, likely as not, already been through “the undergraduate scene” and they are not really in it for the certificate.   The student loans were paid off years ago:   they are paying money for this, out of their own pocket.   They want information, and they want access to industry experience.

      (Loved it.   Still do.   It just isn’t very often that you do something that makes you realize, “hey, this thing I’m doing right now really matters ...”)

Re: On considering a career change
by jdporter (Canon) on May 03, 2011 at 13:35 UTC

    What you want is called "Software Systems Engineer", at least in my neck of the woods.

Re: On considering a career change
by iguanodon (Priest) on May 06, 2011 at 13:09 UTC
    I'm not sure if that's starting to sound like a project manager
    Not the ones I've worked with (well most of them anyway). Where I work, project managers just schedule meetings and ask "what percent complete is your part?". As long as you remember what you said in the previous meeting and increase it a bit, all is well with the world.

Re: On considering a career change
by Ratazong (Monsignor) on May 06, 2011 at 07:17 UTC

    There is a role in our company that fits exactly to your description: (software) requirements engineer.

    There you totally focus on technical items, you need to clarify them, you need to prioritize them, you need to have an eye on the overall picture, find extreme and boundary situations. You will of course have some administrative tasks too, estimating and planning - but not to the extend as a project-manager does. You will have interfaces to the architects/implementers and the testers - and probably to do some testing yourself. You will also have close customer contact - however that is not so bad, as you would focus on technical discussions. All financial negotiations would be done by the project manager instead.

    You will however no longer do any coding.

    Another possibility for you could be software tester or test manager. As a good tester you have to have a close look at all border-situations of the software (as the straight-forward-cases usually work). Here you could still do some coding for test-automatization (automating tests is still a kind of buzzword which makes the eyes of the managers shine ;-) .

    The drawback is that such a job is not as respected as other roles in software development (at least not in the companies I worked for - testing is often seen as a "training program" for implementers) - and therefore the payment is lower. And as a tester you will never have enough time/budget to test all the things you consider necessary - so there is a risk of getting frustrated...

    Nevertheless, with both recommendations above you will not be too far away from your current job - so switching back is always a possibility...

    Good luck with your (new) career! Rata
Re: On considering a career change
by ig (Vicar) on May 29, 2011 at 07:01 UTC

    It sounds like you want to move towards being a product manager more than a project manager, where the former sets project scope and objectives and the latter manages plans and resources to achieve them. Of course there's lots of overlap in the need to negotiate scope and objectives and many people end up being a bit of both.

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