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Ask HN: If you were to switch career, what would you do?
44 points by NinjaX 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments
If you were to quit your developer job today and move away from the tech world for a little while, what job would you do? Or what domain would interest you?

I would move to sales. Sales is the only skill that helps you make money fast, if that's your goal. What I really mean by that is as you get better at Sales, you increase your "personal conversion rate" - which I define as a person's ability to convert someone into a paying customer.

When you're good at sales + you're already a developer, you can build your own Saas and sell them (like most solo founders do, except excel them at selling it).

When you're good at sales + you work for someone else, you can still get rich fast by taking up a commission based job (most tech startups I know of these days, provide around 10%).

Sales isn't the only commission based job.

You should broader your point: percent based compensation can make you money fast. Far faster than trading your fixed hours for money at a capped rate.

Trading time for money is doing a thing that doesn't scale.

What are some non-sales examples?


A good friend made enough money he was able to quit his job as an engineer to provide telecom consulting services directly to small healthcare providers in the North Carolina mountains. Started a small phone company, hired a sales guy, who closes the deal, my friend comes along and walks the company through integrating.

He describes it as a hybrid between being a reseller and a managed service provider, but 100% of their revenue is residuals from services his partner sells, and they both live pretty comfortably and happily.

Trading financial assets.

Any examples of jobs that have percentage based compensation but aren't sales?

Partnerships and advisory roles can have % based compensation.

Brokering typically has % based compensation.

These don't inherently involve any more 'sales' than selling yourself in an interview for any other kind of role. They can involve more sales if you need them to.

I know developers working at consultancies who earn a percentage of their day rate as part of their compensation. Though I think this is quite uncommon.

I can be a developer, a trainer, a tech doc editor, a tech conference presenter and more.

But I know deep inside that I can never be a salesperson. It's just not in me. The Dilbert gene.

I think it's true of a lot of developers, too.

If you can do all the above, then you already have some basic sales skills.

A developer - needs to "sell" his solution to his teams/managers

A trainer needs to sell his trainings to get students to come visit.

A tech conference presenter needs to "sell" his ideas to the audience so they can "buy" it.

Actually, training and sales is an extremely good combination to have. Case in point: Most people on the internet get rich by teaching others to become rich rather than doing what they teach themselves :) Such as - eCommerce courses, become a consultant type courses, etc.

I think you pinpoint in your three bullet points why that can't work: you have to believe in what you are selling.

How much of it is cold calling people though? I’d hate to be annoying as my job.

Sales is not just about cold calls. This is a common misconception. Cold calling is just one aspect of it. You can skip cold calling as a channel and pursue other channels of interest. In fact, these days, cold calling doesn't work well as it used. People have moved on to other channels such as linkedIn, chat based applications, etc.

Wow good to know. What’s a good starter sales job for a recovering software engineer? What do you search for on monster.com?

+1. Sales + Marketing.

Not realistic, but when I was 13 or so my father worked for the Forest Service, and we spent a week at a cabin in a California wilderness one summer. While we were out there, we ran into a young guy who was working a summer job where he wandered around the wilderness, camping and taking notes in a little book whenever he heard an owl. I've always wanted to get paid for something like that. Of course you can't demand $200 an hour, and it probably gets scary at night.

I would be a carpenter or custom furniture maker. My childhood was spend working with grandfather creating broad range of wooden products starting with kitchen furniture and finishing with music instruments. As an electrical engineer I could create new electrical tools my grandpa never imagined and be way more efficient than he was. Also open source CAD tools open new horizons.

Likewise. I'm already trying to make the transition. Honestly, if I didn't have to write another line of code, professionally, I would be over the moon.

Woodworking is my choice as well. I have not done a single project yet, but really want to try it out. I watch a lot of woodworking videos on YouTube and find them fascinating, especially the Paul Sellers ones. He has a very popular tutorial for building a workbench with just hand tools, while it seems to a lot of fun I also find it a bit daunting in terms of the time and mental dedication. I hope I will be able to make the commitment soon.

I wanted to ask the same question more or less the same way because I have had enough with technology.

I know nothing else apart from fixing computers and I really suck at programming, therefore I'm doomed to switch career.

Plus, I'm old for technology.

My problem is I'm an introvert who gets easily exhausted, both physically and emotionally.

If I could only get hired as a hand crafted shoemaker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Tbwiv1NHR4 or as a carpenter that works again the traditional way of hand crafting...

I want to stop dealing with technology; just use my computer when I feel the need to or so I can pay my bills; nothing else, nothing more.

Being an introvert is the worst. I feel like I’ve missed out on so many opportunities.

You can work around that - I'm an introvert and find dealing with people hard work, but I'm still in a client facing consulting role right now and actually enjoy it.

For me the trick is to avoid pretending I'm an extrovert, which is something I feel a lot of fellow introverts are doing.

Put me in front of a whiteboard or on stage at a conference and I'm fine, but I still tend to hide out in dark corners at parties.

My first stint in grad school taught me the lessons I needed to survive my second stint. Hiding in your office won’t protect you when your department starts melting down.

Tell me about it...I have been like this my whole life and it really sucks to see others do so many things and you just stay in your own corner as if you got punished for some reason.

You always have the ability to learn something new. The video you linked to is someone who worked in an office for over a decade, and got started making shoes in her kitchen. She didn't "get hired".

That's not the case I'm afraid. As she had stated around 01:48, she started in her dining room and based on her own website description, she comes from a background in shoe repair...therefore, she already had the foundations set up in advance.


I'm not surprised a public-access TV show about makers shows the "used to have an office administration job" perspective, and her own webpage highlights the "background in one aspect of this business" perspective. I don't think either one is completely true or false.

The point is that nobody ever "hired" her. Take shoe repair classes if you want, or find a shoemaker who will take you on as an apprentice, or just buy some old tools and watch a bunch of online videos. No matter what path you take to learn the basic skills, you'll never end up with a sole proprietorship like that by being hired.

I would teach kids in a more non-traditional, activity based way. No tests, just real world activities and projects that they can apply to real life. Unfortunately there are too many politics in the education system and teachers can't fully teach in the ways I would want to. It's all about the numbers and what looks good on paper.

I do some of this on a small scale now but I run my own project based workshops or after school clubs in order to bypass the system.

Examples of clubs I have ran:

- Learn how to build an automatic solar powered plant watering system

- Learn how to build your own retro arcade system

- Learn how to build a battle bot and battle it against other classmates bots

- Learn how to program [name of game]. I focus on 1 game and try to cover most of the basics. After they get the core game programmed, they are able to customize it or program another game with the concepts they learned.

For most of these things kids utilize critical thinking, math, programming, electronics and engineering.

If I were to change careers, I think I’d go into politics and become some type of political operative. I like the process, I like the issues, I like the strategy. It would flex a completely different set of mental muscles than my software engineering job and to me, that would be quite a welcome challenge.

My friend worked for a large bank in the credit model division and a large political consulting firm. He said the credit card people were nicer by far. The political operatives just saw voters as sheep.

Developers are too naive for politics. It would spin your head so fast you wouldn’t even know what hit you.

That's quite the condescending generalization you're making there. That might not be your intention, but that's the way this comment came across.

Sorry. Yeah you’re right it is too much of a generalization. I’d amend it to be developers I’ve met.

It takes something to realize you may have over generalized. Thank you for the apology. I appreciate interactions like these on the internet as opposed to animosity.

Well good luck to you. Reach out if you actually pursue this. Happy to help.

If I were unconstrained by economic imperatives to feed me and my family, I‘d love to try my hand at writing for tv/movies - it’s one of the most creative jobs around.

If I still had to provide, then I’d be curious about plumbing - the sort of job that cannot be automated or offshored.

yup - the trades will be one of the last things to go automated (hopefully). I think I'm gonna jump into one (from sysadmin), but still can't work out which.

Each of them has their trade-offs though - building is super rewarding, but very hard on the body. Or becoming a sparky is probably more interesting, but lots of climbing round inside in small tight spaces running wires etc. and spiders. lots of spiders.

Plumbing.... also interesting, but you gotta be prepared to deal with other peoples shit.


Let me explain. I would live with just the bare necessities, see the world at my own pace, free of all obligations and demands, fix a bike here or there, help out people wherever I could.

That's obviously unrealistic in this rat race society and the times we live in, but perhaps that's part of the allure.

On a more grounded level, something in concert/stage production. I love live music shows, festivals and theater productions. It's not nearly as glamorous as most people think, but the stories you'll have are amazing and outrageous.

On a realistic level, I would stay within my current job profile (technical product owner or some such similar title), but switch to a company working in the area of improving the environment and lessening human impact.

I want to shift my career to focus on climate change over the next ten years (though likely remain a developer, if possible).

If you have software skills, electric utilities are hungry for good developers, are a key piece of infrastructure for fighting climate change, and are going through an IT revolution (from a host of special purpose systems to well-integrated sensor and control platforms).

I did. The projects I work on now only involve dealing with mitigating the effects/lowering the things that produce climate change. There is a lot to do in this area and most organisations that work with it don’t have good IT teams.

This can be good and bad. If they don’t understand IT then they don’t value it, but if they get it then there are very interesting jobs to be done.

Can you share your company or examples of others like it? Besides some non-profits, I can't seem to find very many and it's something I'd like to do but remain a developer.

Check my profile. There are quite a few companies that specialise in things relate to lowering our emissions. Solar, power networks, electric cars, heat pumps, new types of transport (electric boats, trains, planes), urban agriculture and more.

They are all going to need good control systems, machine learning for optimisation and much more. Just some ideas.

I tried to do this on a volunteer basis. I wrote to a bunch of professors in the field but they all had zero interest in software engineering help. I had assumed it would be incredibly useful and they jump at getting it for free :-(

I would do something outside at least part of the time. Sitting at a desk the whole time really kills me.

I wonder how lucrative being a private investigator is these days.

Insurance companies use them a lot!

People trying to game worker's comp, I'd imagine or something else?

They’re not the people I talk to when verifying claims though?

Something involving food, maybe line cook/prep and work up? I love to cook at home-and sort of miss the hustle and grind working in kitchens during college.

This fascinating story from The New York Times -- https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/23/opinion/sunday/dinner-and... -- dives into the daily work of a high-end waiter. The author talks about the repetition of the work, and that seems like something I'd really enjoy.

I think a realistic job would be industrial designer or architect. An unrealistic one would be photographer or writer. Maybe working in the film industry.

My self christmas gift was a some gear to start shooting short films as a hobby that I will write, direct, photograph, and produce/compose the music. I think that's better than spending my free time coding and being burnt out.

Isn't it a bit presumptuous to assume everyone here is a software developer to begin with? :-)

I did switch careers this year, away from software development. I'm now working as a stagehand in the theatre.

(I'm still working on Strukt and a couple other projects in my spare time. Expect version 1.6.1 in couple days, probably.)

Politics. We need folks that can think deeply, systematically and with compassion.

I am in a weird IT/marketing/devop/instructor position right now. Today I was pondering different what if I had begin a nurse degree (my intention was to go into ER or pediatric) or had stayed with pychology. I am glad I didn't follow through with journalism though.

I'd like to be able to tinker with farming machines. But I don't enjoy being around people who work in that field (unintentionnal pun).

I think I'd like to work in the woods or in environnental oriented NGO. I must find a way to concile both.

Some form of agriculture is pretty appealing. More scope for being outdoors during daylight hours, and (somewhat) more tolerance for people who prefer to work alone.

The money side of things doesn't look great, though.

Go back home & work on the family farm

I’ve started down that path somewhat. Having spent the past few years in an advisory/post-sales/consulting role, my interest in using computers has been stifled by idiosyncratic takes on enterprise architecture, and I just want to do stuff that matters to me.

As a start, I’m turning to creative hobbies that let me use computers in a creative way:


Arborist/tree cutter-downer person. All the fun of climbing and crevasse rescue skills combined with being able to use a chainsaw attached you your belt. The videos in YouTube look fascinating.

https://www.baileysonline.com sells good arborist starter kits. Excellent pricing and customer service.

High performance driving coach. I've done some of that as a volunteer for a car club I'm a member of and I really enjoy it.

Downside is that if anything, there's even more travel than I have with my current job.

Another option I tend to look into from time to time is sourcing and inspecting classic cars and motorcycles for overseas (ie, non-US) buyers. That's something that I've done occasionally as well, but it's very cyclic work.

I would write. Im not sure if that means novels, short stories, movie scripts, or something else entirely. It would be interesting to be a travel or food writer.

That doesn't sound like it would make a lot of money though (as in, a living wage), unless you are highly successful...

I don’t think money is the objective with this sort of question: if you could drop a very well-remunerated job to do anything else, chances are you wouldn’t do it for more money.

Money isn't the be all and end all to some people, you can live cheaply if need be and still have fun.

In fact I know a travel writer who travels the world and writes articles for magazines. If my writing could just pay for my travel that might be worth it.

Thay could be said of nearly every suggestion in this thread, since the original post assumed developers leaving the tech world.

I’d like to be a criminal defense lawyer, especially in the realm of vacating wrongful convictions that are based on unconstitutional rulings/Brady violations or helping those who are innocent and should be exonerated based on DNA or other evidence.

Every so often I debate going to law school part-time. But I feel a little trapped by my tech career and how much I’ve done and progressed so far.

I'll second this, I've also debated law school time to time. Every time I start to get disillusioned with tech (the vast majority of tech jobs do nothing to improve the world or help people) I consider criminal defense.

I got incredibly close to be able to become a dance movement therapist. I spent more than 500 hours in a self experience / education group and even lead a group session myself obviously under supervision. But dance education is required by the ADTA and I don't have that so I won't become one, alas. Now, that would be a pretty big change, wouldn't it?

Forest ranger

I would like to try something new but Im afraid I wouldn’t be able to switch careers entirely - software development is the only thing I know how to do. Part time is much more feasible though. I can make a comfortable living by doing dev three days a week. For the rest of the week Im considering volontereing for some climate change cause.

If I were to switch my first career would be mechanic. It doesn't pay like it used to according to many I have talked with but I love working with machines. My dad was a mechanic at one point and I never lost interest in seeing him fix stuff that I thought couldn't be fixed.

I am a product manager currently thinking about trying a career in software development. I have coded for a few years on the side but never professionally, and my computer science background is limited to basic algorithms/leetcode. Wondering if any developers here think a PM background would be a boon for a new dev.

If you’re already managing a product, why not start committing code to that?

My company will not allow that unfortunately (I have already tried), I would need to move to a different company to try something like that

Whenever I'm frustrated, I entertain the thought of penguin farming in the Falkland islands.

I would write, sing, and play music. It's what keeps me happy, outside of work.

I'd love to be a pilot. I've wanted to be a commercial pilot my whole life but when I was getting ready to go to college the job market was absolutely terrible. It isn't a whole lot better today.

I'd love to get back into music at some point. Not sure which direction within that I'd specifically want to pursue, but it's something I sorely miss doing.

Would want to try my hand at cooking, although not really sure if I would enjoy high-pressure restaurant cooking as much as I do for myself & my family.

I'd design and shape surfboards and skateboards and do the graphics for them. Something that can't scale that I have to do one at a time.

I’m actually designing and building a SUP. I’d love to hear your design and graphics ideas. Email me if you want. (In profile)

I wouldn't mind being an electrician, refrigeration tech, or maybe home automation (like crestron).

Forest Ranger, specifically in the PNW

Any idea what the first steps for that would be? Sounds amazing.

I’ve spent a marginal amount of time thinking about it, but my first thought would be to go back to school for forestry at a big state university and go from there.

Teaching. So realistically still tech, because teaching CS or EE would be easiest transition.

Small engine repair, classic truck/car restoration, or used parts/salvage sales

business or finance combined with original passion of electrical engineering. I probably will still go that direction as I find that those who control the money are in control and I am tired of being a peon subject to other's deals.

Ok, but if you do please think of the peons below you. Thanks!

Writing. I still might.

Bespoke shoemaking. Did that for a while, really enjoyed it.

Rotary engine mechanic

Before anything else, I'd actually took a sabbatical.

I would do my SSC and become a strength coach.

Either a Chef or a Film Director :)

Woodworking, Import/export

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