Teacher to Engineer: My Career Change Story

I graduated college in 2001 with a degree in English and no strong direction for a vocation. After graduation I spent a few months working on the customer service desk at a supermarket while I thought through my next step. After what in hindsight was very little deliberation, I decided to go to graduate school for a Master’s degree and become a high school English teacher. Though I loved literature, writing, and being in the classroom, that became a short-lived career. After only a few years teaching Julius Caesar and T.S. Eliot, I started searching for something new.

My first teaching position was with a small private school about two hours north of New York City in a suburb of Albany, New York. I grew up about three and a half hours from Albany, so one of my first adult struggles was coming to grips with permanently relocating away from my family and everything I knew.

At the time I was dating someone who would eventually become my wife, but other than her I had no ties to the area. It was difficult for me to settle into a career that I haphazardly chose in an area I never planned to live in. Maybe that was one of the reasons I started to dislike my career path – I really don’t know – but looking back I can see that the thought process leading to changing careers began almost immediately after I started teaching.

My girlfriend and I were married a few years later, and we bought an interesting two-family home in a so-so part of what we call “midtown” Albany. Mind you that Albany, New York is also referred to as Smallbany by virtue of its size as compared to New York City and Boston both only two or three hours away. I think this played into my career conundrum because even after getting married, buying a house, and really settling in, I didn’t feel rooted. I didn’t feel grounded. I didn’t feel like my life was coming together.

I still needed more growing up. That’s clear to me now. Even at 24 years old, I was waffling emotionally and spiritually. It took some serious blows to my ego, most of which I caused myself, to wake me up and set my feet on a better path.

I taught ninth grade English for three years at a small parochial school, and somewhere toward the beginning of my third year I began a deep introspection that would last the better part of the first semester. My thoughts wandered from regret to ambition, from despair to intense motivation.

Why did I choose this career in the first place?

A question I asked myself regularly, and one for which I had no good answer.

I earned so little that moving out of our two-family house into a typical suburban home in a better area was out of the question. I experimented with rental properties, I took a second job teaching a community college, and I spent study halls researching career options for someone with an advanced degree but no practical skills other than playing a decent guitar and reciting Sonnet 18 with the eloquence of one of the King’s Men.

Without any particular affinity for the legal profession, I seriously considered law school. With no desire to be in finance, I researched MBA programs. Without any previous inclination to be in law enforcement, I considered applying to the New York State Police academy.

I loved my time in the classroom. I enjoyed connecting with young people in an academic environment, and I loved working as an adjunct instructor at a community college. Nevertheless, discussing the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird and Hamlet year after year had grown tiresome. Some of my colleagues were passionate about their profession, but some were merely waiting. Waiting for summer break. Waiting to retire. Waiting to go up a step on the salary schedule that none of us had any control over.

I needed something else.

I taught three years in the private school and two in a public school, and after a couple years of tumultuous personal storms, I left teaching altogether. I took a position as a mortgage broker during the waning years of the real estate refinance boom of the early 2000s.

Part of me liked that job, especially the potential to generate wealth by integrating my dayjob with my real estate investment endeavors. Part of me also hated that job, especially being in sales and the unscrupulous characters I interacted with frequently.

I tried my hand in several other jobs all of which I felt disdain for even as I sat in the initial interview.

My father-in-law worked as an IT manager for New York State, and on several occasions made the casual comment that I should look into a career in IT. I don’t think he’d remember saying that now considering how casual and infrequent those comments were, but at the time I was vocationally rudderless and hungry for something to sink my teeth into.

I took a position as a sales person for an IT training company mostly because it allowed me to take classes and get textbooks for free. I spent one year failing at sales but exceeding in my studies. I took the CompTIA A+ course, though I never took the exam. I took the Network+ course and passed the test after two attempts. I earned a few Microsoft certifications, learned ITIL, and took some project management classes.

I chatted regularly with the instructors at the training center who explained to me the world of IT certifications and the incredible career opportunities in even small markets like Smallbany.

I was hooked. I saw opportunity. I saw a path. I saw something I could really sink my teeth into and something that wouldn’t grow repetitive and dull. I was 28 years old and finally felt like an adult with direction.

I eventually found my way into my first tech job as a help desk analyst at a regional VAR where I fell in love with networking and began my certification journey. Along with my background in teaching, a couple breaks I got early on with a startup MSP, and the support of my wife and father-in-law, my life completely changed.

I believe there’s much more to life than one’s career, and I’ve grown to understand that much of my listless vacillation was rooted in deeper emotional and spiritual problems. However, as someone who needed constant new challenges instead of a routine, as someone who needed to be engaged in something instead of waiting, as someone who needed to provide for his growing family, this career transition changed my life profoundly and for the better.

Thanks,

Phil

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