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On changing careers

I had just made the decision to leave my 15-year career as a designer to become a developer, and I had no idea where to start. The only programming I had ever done was building websites for friends and family. I was completely green.

That was six years ago. Now I’m enjoying my fourth year as an Applications Engineer at The Container Store doing fullstack development.

I tell you this because maybe you are thinking about jumping careers and you feel stuck, frustrated, and lost. Maybe you feel like it’s never going to happen. Believe me, that’s normal.

What follows is a short list of things that helped me get through the tough times by keeping my focus on the end goal. It starts with a simple question.

What motivates you?

I have always loved doing creative things, so when I got a job as a designer at a marketing firm in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I was excited. I thought I would be doing the thing I loved doing more than anything else. A few years in I realized I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t know why.

A coworker suggested I take the StrengthsFinder test (now CliftonStrengths). Now I am not normally someone that takes personality assessment tests, but I liked StrengthsFinder. It’s actually less about discovering your strengths and more about discovering what motivates you.

If you don’t want to take an assessment test, try talking to your friends and family. Ask them what they think you’re good at. Pay attention to what you do that makes time fly. Look for commonalities between these things, and write what you learn down.

Knowing what motivates you gives you an anchor you can always come back to in times of doubt or indecision. And it gives you a point of reference for the next step.

Try your new job on

Knowing my motivation was great, but knowledge without application is useless. At that point, I was leaning in the direction of Web development, but I needed a way to try the role on before making a huge life decision.

I bought a subscription to Treehouse and used my lunch hour to watch web development videos and do exercises. I began volunteering at work to design and build marketing emails (coding like it’s 1999). I worked my way up to building brochure sites for clients.

Finally, I took a big, scary leap. My company announced they were rebranding, and I volunteered to redo their website. It took some convincing, but eventually I had my first official Web project under my belt.

You may not have an hour for lunch, or you may have limited personal time. Be open to finding anything either at work or at home that you can do to try your new job on right now. Create a plan and stick to it.

Focus on moving forward

Completely changing careers didn’t happen for me overnight. Big changes like that rarely do. You have to be patient and stay consistent.

I compare this experience to being on a boat in the middle of the ocean. You can’t see your destination, but you know the general direction. Yes, there will occasionally be the need for course correction, but as long as you’re moving forward, you will get there eventually.

Don’t underestimate the power of tiny, consistent actions. A lot can happen over the span of one year. Don’t lose hope. Chances are you’re closer to land than you think.

Now what?

As I said, this is a (very) small list of things that helped me make the jump from design to development. If you’re on a similar journey, let me know. Oh, and if you’re an aspiring developer, checkout my post on how to get started with coding.

Until next time!