Life After the IT Department

If you didn't work in IT, where would you go? What could you do?

Though IT employment is at an all-time high in the U.S.--some 3.8 million employed residents in the U.S. consider themselves IT professionals according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, a record high--and is expected to climb even higher--computer and mathematical sciences jobs expected to grow faster than any other professional occupation through 2016, nearly a 25 percent increase--there are those that work in the field that no longer think it's all it's cracked up to be.

Salary competition from offshore outsourcing, companies posting ads that expressly favor H-1B visa holders to the exclusion of U.S. workers, the fear for job safety that comes in a recession year and the constant pressure to keep skills up to date have worn some tech professionals out to a point that they would consider alternative careers.

"I'm a male Oracle DBA in my late 40's, and though my job is lucrative, it's also endless, with lots of evenings and weekends devoured by a constantly changing environment... Who wants a job where today's honored Master is tomorrow's washed-up Dinosaur?" wrote an anonymous commenter on an eWEEK article last month.

Some that do end up leaving find new life in far-flung careers.

"Because of the unscheduled overtime and travel, I left this field as demands of my growing family increased. I was fortunate enough to be able to use my skills in the academic arena," wrote another anonymous commenter.

Janice Weinberg, a career consultant and former IT professional, has been advising techies for years about their next career moves, should computers no longer be the job they want.

"When the media coverage of offshore outsourcing reached a frenzy level, I began reading articles about how to prepare for the loss of a job. I saw a lot of people giving advice about what other careers IT people might consider and they were being coached to try something completely different, like becoming teaching or becoming a chef because these jobs required individualized, non-remote interactions and could not be offshored," said Weinberg.

Weinberg said she thought it would be a shame if IT professionals who once liked their work were force to make 180-degree turn from it, and began compiling a list that she later turned into a book [Debugging Your Information Technology Career, Elegant Fix Press, 2008] which she hopes will serve as a compass to new and rewarding fields that build on computer professionals' knowledge.

"When people are forced to seek new employment, due to offshoring or the recession, they often use that time to consider alternatives. I think that IT professionals should be aware of the fact that they don't have to waste all of the time they spent in IT," said Weinberg.

Starting in a completely new field is almost accompanied by a precipitous decline in income, unless one goes back to school for a new advanced degree, and sometimes even if they do.

"Some of these are jobs IT pros have heard of; others they might not have though of," said Weinberg.

Though most of the roles suggested in her book aren't computer-related jobs, computer proficiency is a prerequisite to all of them.

For example, Weinberg suggest that a business analyst or software developer who guided finance of sales staff in defining the IT requirements could becoming a global procurement project manager supporting one of those functions.

"A network security administrator's experience would be quite valuable in a cyber-liability insurance broker or underwriter role," Weinberg gives as another example.

Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of marketing and services for Yoh, a technology recruiting firm in Philadelphia, says that the very first thing an IT professional who is thinking of a career change should consider is what their transferable skills are.

One person he consulted, a vice president of infrastructure at a technology company said he wanted to do something else but be able to leverage what he did well: getting stuff done.

"This is the most transferable skill for an IT worker, whether they go into another technology job or to a R&D firm or a construction company--the ability to execute projects," said Lanzalotto.

A good place to start would be to look at your resume, said Lanzalotto, and find these executable skills there, from getting project done on time or under-budget or managing a team of coders.

"Project and program managers have the most immediately transferable skills. Once you have a PMI certification, you can project manage anything, anywhere," said Lanzalotto.

Other transferable skills lie within the technology themselves. A techie with strong ERP skills will be able to transfer this to any company that want to undertake an SAP implementation, even if they're not the person doing it.

However, before applying for new jobs Lanzalotto reminds potential job-hoppers to do their best to figure out what went wrong with the job in the first place.

"A lot of it is at the end of the day, you will figure out what those things are when you look in the mirror and do a practical honest assessment of yourself and figure out what you didn't like. Sometimes it was the people and sometimes it was you," said Lanzalotto.