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Amanda Fawcett for Educative

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How and why to change to a different software track

Many developers choose to stick with their programming domain, but others venture out and shift their career trajectory in the tech space. Educative’s recent community survey, in fact, reports that nearly 59% of users plan to change careers in the coming year.

Career shifts in the IT space are a great option for many people, though they come with a unique set of challenges. To make a transition to a new tech specialty, you need a record of projects, training, and skills.

No matter your end goal, I want to help you take that new step and begin your journey of reshifting your career. I will discuss some important options to consider and recommend some steps for building out a new career path.

This guide at a glance:

When to change software specialities

There are many reasons that you may choose to change IT specialities in your career, and the reason behind your transition can drastically change the way you approach a shift. This is a big decision, so it’s important to understand your motivations.

Let’s look at three common reasons that someone might want to switch their career specialities and discuss some outcomes of each.

You’re experiencing burnout

Some people want a career shift because they are burnt out with their current role or company. Burnout is real, so don’t ignore the signs, but do think strategically.

The challenge here is to seek a job that really meets your needs rather than rushing into the next thing. Oftentimes, those with burnout jump at the first opportunity to try something new instead of planning strategically.

If you find yourself in this boat, consider your options before making a sudden career change. A shift in career speciality can be risky, so if you’re burnt out, consider a safer option. Perhaps look into other companies with similar roles or adjacent occupations that utilize the skills you already have.

You’ve lost interest in your speciality

Sometimes, we lose interest in things that once excited us, and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe a new technology has come out since you first became a programmer, and it really interests you. Or maybe you’re just bored with the language and tools you’re using.

If you fall into this category, the main challenge is about eliminating knowledge gaps. After all, you want to work with new technologies, so you need to learn them! But before making a sudden shift in IT specialization, first consider ways to integrate new technologies with your current tasks or workflow. You can also request training at your current job for a new technology and make a case for why it’s essential.

If that isn’t an option to you, it may be time to start filling your knowledge gaps on your own, which we will discuss later.

You want to increase income potential

Fact: some technologies and IT specialities pay more than others. According to StackOverflow’s 2020 survey, for example, data scientists make an average of $58k annually while frontend developers make $49k annually. There is nothing wrong with wanting a higher salary, especially if you can master the skills to take you there. And some specialities, let’s face it, don’t necessarily propose higher salaries for the future.

The challenge here is to seek a speciality shift based on income potential, in other words, the potential salary you could make with a certain speciality down the line. According to Dev Skiller, a front end developer can earn $87,564 after accruing 10-19 years of experience, while a data scientist with only 4-8 years of experience can earn, on average, $128,750 annually.

If you are unable to negotiate a higher salary at your current role, or if you don’t see much payout down the line, it may be time to forge a new path.

Note: Keep in mind that you’ll likely be starting at a lower level, but your salary will grow over time, so you’ll need to be patient.

Consider switching roles internally

Switching IT specialities doesn't necessarily mean you have to start from scratch. This may not be possible for everyone, but those looking to switch IT specialities could consider moving roles within your current company. It is okay to ask your manager for chances to try out another IT specialities or field, though you may have to argue your case a bit here.

The benefits to this are security. You can retain the benefits, familiarity, and security of your current place of employment while still branching out to new ventures. A solid organization that is invested in its employees should welcome a transition like this.

If you are not yet comfortable requesting a shift in your role, you could start by advocating for ongoing learning opportunities. For example, if you want to transition from web apps to machine learning, consider a reskilling initiative on how to use ML in your companies' web apps. This way, you learn new skills and demonstrate a dedicated interest in new topics.

Consider a smaller company

Bigger companies do offer a wide variety of opportunities, but smaller companies are often on the lookout for a jack-of-all-trades developer who can wear multiple hats and develop new ideas on the job. If you want to switch careers but don’t have the flexibility to re-learn a new technology, then consider looking into a startup or small company.

A smaller company may provide you with the chance to develop skills or topics outside your area of expertise.

On top of that, applications to technical roles at smaller companies tend to be less stringent in terms of formal experience and requirements. Since roles at small companies and startups shift more regularly, they are more interested in a person’s potential than finding an exact match to a role.

This way, you can gain more experience with new technologies, fields, and specialities on the job and build a portfolio as you go. You'll also get to experiment with multiple roles to see what suits you best, as there is more flexibility.

Fill your knowledge gaps strategically

No matter how you choose to switch career specialities in tech, there will be things to learn. But filling your knowledge gaps should be done strategically, since it requires a lot of time investment. Here is some basic advice about learning strategically:

  1. Research: Don't just jump into the first thing that interests you. Start by asking people who work with certain technologies how they learned those topics. Read detailed career roadmaps to understand what you really need to master to make the transition.
  2. Leverage your current skills: Some technologies are easier to learn off of others. If you already know C#, for example, you can more easily learn Python in tandem. Or, if you want to learn JavaScript, learn it alongside a popular library like React to double your skills.
  3. Find time to learn at work: If you are switching roles internally, consider re-skilling initiative within your company. This way, you don't have to spend time outside of work learning the skills you need. Check what programs your company has and advocate for one that meets your needs.
  4. Build things and get certificates: If you are trying to get a new role with a new company, you should learn in a way that you can prove to a new employer. You proof that you've learned new skills, so I recommend either contributing to open-source projects or taking courses that offer accredited certificates.

Take the first step

Transitioning to a new software speciality is a great option for many developers, and an exciting one! Have the confidence to forge a new path. The first step to take on this new journey largely depends on your end goal, but filling knowledge gaps will be part of any plan.

I recommend starting with a curated learning path to aid your learning. This way, you can explore new fields, skip sections you already know, and leverage your current programming skills. Educative offers over 15, hand-crafted learning paths aimed at career development, including React for Front End Developers, Python Data Visualization, and more.

Explore a new IT speciality and learn the skills you need to get there with hands-on practice and real-world projects. By the end, you'll be ready to jump into a new tech speciality and reach your goals.

Happy learning!

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