Your Career Version 2.0: Life After IT

The constant drumbeat of bad economic news has everyone worried about their jobs. But as several InfoWorld articles have pointed out recently, many are finding the growing pressures of IT work intolerable. Would it be so bad to lose a job in an occupation you no longer take pleasure in?

Not if you can land a job in another line of work you'd enjoy a lot more.

That notion may sound reckless in these times, but you may be more employable outside the profession than you think. Kate Nasser, president and founder of CAS, a company that helps people transition to new careers, says IT people typically have skills that will stand them in good stead no matter where they want to go professionally. "An IT person's ability to analyze and map out any type of process, even if it's not technical, is better than others'," she says.

[ Stressand dissatisfaction are running high among people who work in IT. Read Tom Kaneshige's classic story on the phenomenon: " IT workers pushed to the limits." ]

Nasser advises that IT folks looking for a change should seek positions that require project management skills. If you can demonstrate that proficiency -- even by showing fluency with a common app like Microsoft Project -- and convince an employer you know how to be detail-oriented while keeping lots of balls in the air, then you are very marketable, says Nasser.

Not that you necessarily have to work for someone else. For those who nurture a secret desire for a new career -- or their own business -- we present the stories of five people who have already made the leap, lighting the way for those who wish to turn times of economic chaos into personal opportunity.

Peter Hail, CEO, Warehouse Cables

Peter Hail worked in IT since the 1980s as everything from a network administrator to an interface designer for Brown & Sharp, where he created an interface between the IBM PC and precision micrometers.

Hail says he left because he just got tired of IT being viewed in the negative. "IT is always viewed as a cost center rather than a profit center, and I didn't see it that way." Stuck in what Hail calls a "circle of thanklessness," he wanted to get out of his cube and do something in which he could receive the direct benefits of his own efforts.

Working with an engineering/contracting company designing and installing networks, Hail saw what Lucent, one of his biggest customers at the time, could do in the lab with fiber and copper cables. So he decided to strike out on his own by launching Warehouse Cables.

Cables are recession-proof, says Hail. As it turns out, when big companies put big projects on hold, they tend to do their own upgrades -- and for that they need cables. "Instead of building a new datacenter, they are revamping the old datacenter," he says.

Based on his experience, Hail asserts that there are still plenty of opportunities to start e-commerce businesses on the Internet. And like almost all those interviewed, he talks about passion. "Find a product that you are passionate about," he says. After that, do the research, do the research, and figure out how to market what you're excited about. "There is a wealth of good marketing information and educational books about marketing."

Seth Mendelsohn, Proprietor, Simply Boulder Foods

Seth Mendelsohn spent seven years creating clinical information systems for hospitals. At the end of his IT career, he was a senior analyst responsible for designing, developing, and building those systems, as well as the maintenance and training.

It was a good job, says Mendelsohn, but he burned out. The idea for a new career came from his avocation: He knew he always liked cooking and especially creating new sauces. "I knew that with my IT experience, I had the skills to start up a new business." That business is called Simply Boulder Foods , a maker of culinary sauces.

Like most IT analysts, Mendelsohn had spent quite a bit of time working in Excel creating complex spreadsheets models, a skill that came in handy as he built his new company.

Working in IT also taught him the importance of meeting deadlines, dealing with interpersonal issues, staying on top of milestones, and facing logistical hurdles. Today, Mendelsohn works 50 to 60 hours per week, but the business is growing -- with contracts from a division of Kroger and a deal in the works with Whole Foods.

The advice Mendelsohn offers is as simple as the ingredients in his sauces: "Just follow your dream and do what you want to do."

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