The pros and cons of making a tech career change

If the idea of IT job security is beckoning, ask yourself a few questions before you make the jump from your current career

Dear Bob ...

I could really use your feedback. I'm very much considering a career change into the IT field. My present background is in architecture (buildings), but since things are very slow these days, I wonder how much longer I can survive.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Bob reminds new grads that breaking into IT requires more than a college degree. | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

Please let me know -- am I a fool to consider a change to IT these days? If it's not such a stupid idea, what area of IT would you think is good right now for long-term growth? Any good schools or training companies you could recommend?

- Dangling

Dear Dangling ...

I can't answer that question for you. You'll have to answer it for yourself. Here are a few points to ponder:

  1. Why did you choose architecture instead of IT in the first place? Have any of those reasons changed?
  2. If, in the middle of your career change, a decent -- not brilliant, but decent -- opportunity in your current field came your way, would you jump at it or would you let it pass because you've decided to change careers?
  3. When it comes to IT, what transferrable skills do you think you have? Are those skills strong enough to put you in the top 10 percent of your current field?
  4. Do you know enough about IT to know what transferrable skills you have? If not, what factors have led you to consider it for a new career, other than the possibility that there are more jobs available?
  5. Are you willing to take a serious hit in compensation in order to begin your change in careers?

My opinion is that the availability of work is a poor reason to choose a field. For most people this leads not to a career, but a job -- one they don't like very much. Chances are that your position will never turn into a career.

Assuming you love architecture and that's one reason you entered the field, you might be better off thinking of yourself as the sole proprietor of a business in that field. From there, approach your employment the way good executives consider business strategies.

In other words, traditional jobs might not be available, but there could be opportunities. For example, in an era of tight budgets, some businesses might decide to spend a small amount to refresh the space they have instead of building, homeowners might make similar decisions, and so on.

It isn't my field, so I'm just guessing. It is your field, and if you're good at it, you might find that if you focus your attention, you can envision a number of opportunities to pursue.

If you do decide to switch to IT, the most common entry point for people who lack a technical background is business analysis. If you're interested, I'd recommend reading one book each on Six Sigma, lean development, and Theory of Constraints. The future of business analysis is helping business managers figure out how to improve their business processes, then to figure out what enabling technology they'll need to make it happen.

After that, find some reading matter on the Rational Unified Process. Don't take it as a bible -- RUP has serious shortcomings. Take it more as a concept and vocabulary builder.

Then learn something about Scrum, which isn't necessarily the best of the agile genus of methodologies but is becoming one of the most popular species.

One other possible avenue to explore: As an architect, you might have developed strong project management skills. If so, this is an area of IT where demand generally exceeds supply. Join (or start attending) your local PMI chapter and schmooze with experienced IT project managers so that you can start to get a handle on the differences.

If this sounds discouraging, it's meant to. IT is a complex field with a lot of moving parts, so this isn't a decision to make lightly. I've run into a lot of people who express interest solely because they think it will be easier to find a job there. This is just a symptom of something we used to say in the '60s: The grass is always greener under someone else's Grow-Lux.

- Bob

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