Today, the term “career path” means something different than it did a year or two ago. Many people have had to face facts and change the way they look at their skills. As contributor Jonathan Lurie pointed out in a recent article, “Discussion: Do I have a future in software development?,” one option is to specialize your skills and go after a niche market. Another choice is to move away from the tech industry. As a manager, you’ve got an advantage—if you’re willing to use it. The people skills you rely on can get you a job in other industries. The big question is, will you be happy if you leave the tech industry.

Soft skills can be a lifesaver
Several years ago, I made a conscious decision to diversify from integrations and development into project management. My thinking was that if I ever became one of those people who had been in tech for so long that they were completely burned out by the constant demand to change their skills, I’d be able to use those management skills in other industries.

These days, I’ve come to look at those universal skills as a career lifeboat. For the last few weeks, I’ve been receiving calls from recruiters whom I haven’t talked to in months, sometimes years, asking if I’d be interested in organizational project management (PM). I have experience with the required PM tools. I have experience in organizing projects and teams. Many aspects of managing technology are directly applicable to well-paying managerial positions in training, business development, and strategy and risk planning.

In a desperate situation, using your skills in a nontech industry could turn your career around, giving it a boost when you need it most. The question is whether or not it’s a decision you can live with.

The hard choice: Should I stay or should I go?
There are many questions to ask yourself when you’re thinking of moving away from the tech industry. These are just a few:

  • Will I get the same satisfaction from nontechnical management?
  • Am I ready to make a commitment to a new role in a different industry, or would it just be an interim position?
  • If I start building skills in another industry, will I be able to grow my technical expertise and remain competent?
  • If my most recent experience is nontechnical, will my resume preclude me from technical opportunities?
  • Do I have choices? Will the tech sector recover soon?

How you answer these questions depends on your situation. In the current tech climate, many people simply need work of any kind. For them, the choice may be easy.

Others have taken lower-paying or nonmanagerial jobs just to stay in the industry, and they may have to choose between need and desire. Do you wait things out, or not?

The tech job market: Rumors or valid considerations?
Once you’ve evaluated your situation, you need to consider the current market for technical managers.

I’ve heard a lot of speculation that economic difficulties will “weed out” those people who are not truly dedicated to technology, but I’ve seen no indication that it’s true. Now more than ever, getting a solid tech job is all about who you know and how well you present your skills. When demand hits, those with the most visibility win. There’s no magical scale in an interview that measures your dedication to the industry. Everyone in the tech sector wants a tech job.

I’ve also heard that less experienced job candidates have a better chance at winning a position than experienced individuals because companies assume that more experienced candidates have higher salary requirements. While I can’t say that recruiter demand dictates industry reality, in some cases agencies are asking people to “dumb down” their resumes to better their chances of landing an interview, and to justify a lower salary.

Despite the rumors, it’s true that many job seekers are forced to use their more generally applicable skills to their advantage, no matter what their level of expertise in their chosen field.

What’s your answer?
For many, it’s a difficult decision to make. Despite their dedication to technology, some tech managers have taken teaching positions or temporary jobs while they wait things out. Within my circle of friends and former colleagues, no one has taken a permanent job outside of the tech sector, but I’ve come in contact with many unfortunates who have.

Personally, my choice wasn’t easy. After evaluating the questions above, I decided I would rather have a peripheral job in technology doing something I enjoy than take a high-paying job outside of the industry and risk being miserable. I no longer manage high profile, fast-paced projects, but I’ve found a new career path that is personally fulfilling.

Thinking about a change?

I’d like to open the floor for discussion. I realize that, as part of the audience, you are dedicated to technology or you wouldn’t be visiting this Web site. But have you considered moving out of the tech industry? What other industries have you considered? What are your thoughts on making the hard decision? Let the community know by posting your comments and suggestions in the discussion below.