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Weigh your options carefully before leaving the IT field

Many IT managers consider moving out of IT, especially during bleak economic times. Here are the questions you need to ask yourself about your career goals before taking such a big step.

A number of years ago, a buddy and I met for lunch. We were both in the IT field and on the management track at a major consulting company. However, we were both burned out on the daily grind. During lunch, we talked about the possibility of quitting our jobs and opening our own non-IT company. I proposed that we go into aquaculture (fish farming). His proposal was to go into the furniture upholstery business.

Needless to say, that discussion went nowhere and both of us stayed in the IT field. In talking, we determined that the time was not right to make a career change. However, perhaps under different circumstances, the result of our conversation might have been different.

Given the current job market, it's very likely that many IT managers are considering moving out of the field. The question is: How do you know when it is time to get out of the IT management field altogether?

Sometimes events force your hand
While IT managers may not like their bosses or the work they are doing today, they generally like the IT field. This is the situation my buddy and I were in many years ago. We toyed with the idea of getting out, but we still saw much promise in our respective management careers.

We also weren't facing big decisions that were out of our control—such as a layoff situation. This is how many managers make career changes. In my last job, for instance, our company went through a series of layoffs over a three-year period. I would guess that maybe 10 percent of those that were laid off left the IT profession entirely. One person I know went into the mortgage brokerage business, one person went into the painting business, and one person opened up a mail-order baking business.

I think in most of these cases, the people who made such radical changes were seriously considering a career change before the layoff. The layoff event gave them the last push they needed to make a career change.

Career questions to answer
If you are thinking of leaving the IT field, you need to analyze and answer several questions before making a final decision:

Are you tired of the IT profession?
Look back at how you got into IT. Many people get in and don't like it from the start but stay for financial reasons. Others enjoyed the IT field at one time, but are victims of long-term burnout. This is more than just the result of having a bad day. If you dread going to work, you need to make a change.

Think about the things that you like and dislike about your job. If you dislike your manager or your short-term career prospects, you may just need to look for another career opportunity within your company. Or perhaps you may need to look at another company, if your company is also on your list of dislikes. On the other hand, if you do not like working with technology or if you do not have the desire to learn about the changes that are happening in the industry, you may need to look at alternative careers. Likewise, if you're a manager who no longer cares to manage people or if you are a project manager who no longer cares to manage projects, you might be wise to look into careers that are much different than the one you have now.

Is there another skill/profession you can do?
Typically, people who are unhappy with a career specialty can think of another one they'd rather be doing. This might be a side business that you want to devote more time to. Perhaps it is a hobby that you think can be developed into a business.

There are also many people who have experience in multiple disciplines. I know two project managers, for instance, who work in the IT finance area, but are also Certified Public Accountants. They've told me that if they ever get tired of IT, they feel they could still use their CPA skills to gain employment in the accounting profession.

How much money do you need to make?
This is, obviously, a key point for anyone—especially for managers who believe they wouldn't be able to grab the same salary at another professional role. But do you need to make as much as you're making—can you adjust your lifestyle to take on a job that pays less?

Many people, for instance, might want to go into teaching, or landscaping, or work more with their church, but they find that the financial change isn't feasible. In many other cases, however, people will actually take less money to do something they really love—and they will change their lifestyles in order to make such a career change.

Can you make it as an entrepreneur?
Let's say you believe you have an opportunity or a talent that you can leverage to start your own business. The question is, whether you think you have what it takes to make it in business for yourself.

You need a product or service. You need a place to sell it. You need to find customers. Starting your own business is a huge professional step—whether you stay in IT or not—and it requires a great deal of investigation, not to mention discussion with others who've done it, with family that will be impacted, and with those you'll likely lean on for support in the early going.

Start with a list
If you are thinking of getting out of the IT field, I recommend making an initial list that will help you determine whether you need to change jobs or change professional fields. Write down what you like and dislike about your job. This exercise will help you determine if you really want to get out of IT management or just out of your current job situation.

Then, if the results indicate that you do want to move out of IT, make a list of what other jobs and professions interest you and how your current skills match up. Then consider the various questions I've posed above.

The bottom line is that, if you are sure you are ready to get out of the IT field, go ahead and get out. But think through the consequences and make sure you have good alternatives in place.
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