On to Plan B

By eweek  |  Posted 2002-11-25 Print this article Print

On to Plan B

Some refugees from IT, however, want to get further away from their old careers. "Carrie," a systems analyst for a high-end hardware manufacturer based in the Southwest, said shes gotten "sick and tired" of the stress of quarterly layoffs that have reduced her companys employment roll from 10,000 to fewer than 4,000 in the last four years. (She requested anonymity to protect her job.) "With the way things are going at my company, everybody is thinking about Plan B."

"The guy in the cube next to me is 52 years old, and hes seriously considering going to work at the car dealership down the street from his house," she said. "It sounds crazy, but on the other hand, hes got customer skills, trouble-shooting skills, and hes a great problem solver. It could be a good fit."

Carrie has been working with a life coach to consider her own Plan B. She has several possibilities, including science teacher in a middle school and art therapist for learning-disabled children. On a recent interview at an alternative school, however, she came up against a harsh reality: the prospect of a massive pay cut. "Im willing to take a big drop in salary," she said, "but were talking about going from $111,000 a year to $22,000. If Im really going to do this, Ive got to build up a cushion and change my lifestyle."

Carries life coach, Sharon Teitelbaum, advises IT people considering a career change to first take a long, hard look at their personal financial picture—using any popular financial assessment book or program—to see what size paycheck they really need and what cutbacks theyd be willing to live with to follow their passion.

Teitelbaum herself is a former IT worker. She left database design and systems analysis in 1993, moving into technical training, then strategic planning. Then, during the next two years, while exploring her own career options, she discovered a love for mentoring others. She trained with the International Coaching Federation and, in 1995, hung out her own shingle in Watertown, Mass., and online at www.stcoach.com. She specializes in coaching people who find themselves in the middle of their careers and unfulfilled.

When considering a big career change, Teitelbaum said, besides figuring out what youre really good at, you have to give yourself license to think hard about what youve always longed to do, whether its painting watercolors or learning the flute.

"This is hard for the overworked to do," Teitelbaum said, "but it can pay off. In midlife, people tend to gravitate toward the kind of work theyll be good at, so you should listen to your desires."

And, advised Teitelbaum, take a critical look at the transferable skills youve already developed.

"An IT worker in midcareer is likely to have developed skills like managing multiple projects or cutting to the core of a problem or coming up with a variety of solutions and presenting them in an orderly way. They might be good at thinking on their feet or working with clients," Teitelbaum said.

Certainly not all IT pros who consider making a switch will get out or stay out. Executive search company TMP Worldwide Inc., in New York, recently reported results of a survey that indicated a modest uptick in tech hiring plans. And T. Williams Sweeny said the uptick may persuade some disaffected IT workers to stay or even return to the profession.

"There are still jobs going begging in certain areas of IT," Sweeny said. "And theres no need to burn bridges. I think plenty of people will be coming back to IT positions when the market opens up again."

One person who is not coming back is ONeal, the former IBM employee. His move to law, however, did not occur overnight. It began in 1995, when he was working at Digital Equipment Corp. as a systems developer, and he heard about a patent law training program. He began taking evening courses at Suffolk Law School while, by day, he weathered several job changes—all in IT—that eventually landed him in the Unix group at IBMs Lotus Software division, in Cambridge, Mass. Fortunately, layoffs in his group coincided with his law school graduation. He now awaits the results of his bar and patent exams. Hes confident that his IT-built skills—attention to detail and the ability to interview clients to ascertain their needs and expectations, for instance—will serve him well as a patent attorney.

One thing he knows will be different when the time comes to make the final switch: "I used to have headhunters calling me several times a day. Now Im going to have to chase down the work myself."

Stephanie Wilkinson is a free-lance writer and can be reached at stephw@cfw.com.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel