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Considering a Career Change: Coffee, Coding, and CDLs

Zac enjoys exploring their career options and providing advice for others in the same position.

Why Change Careers?

I'm currently in a season where I'm evaluating whether I am less excited about what I used to do, or just less excited about where I used to do it. Is my discontent related to the career, or to the job I held in that career?

One of the metrics I'm using to evaluate that is my passion for the development in my career. When I sat in an interview for a possible career change, the interviewer hit the nail on the head when he described leaving a field where I am an expert and entering a field I know nothing about. That thought both scared and excited me.

I measure progress. I measure my personal development. I measure my ability to develop other people. It's possible I couldn't see anywhere to go in that field anymore. It's both scary and exciting to think about a new field. I'm not sure yet what I'll do, but here's the lowdown on three fields I'm looking into.

I've always liked coffee.

I've always liked coffee.

Option 1: Coffee

A coffee chain you might have heard of was the first to respond to my inquiry. I've always appreciated coffee and what coffee does to create environments. This coffee chain has been the location of countless meetings I've held with people. When I have traveled across the country, this coffee chain has been an known quantity in a sea of the unknown. I feel at home here. In fact, I'm sitting in one of them right now.

Despite my love for coffee, and for the environment created by coffee shops, I knew precious little about what goes into making coffee. I got to spend a few hours in front of an espresso machine and marvel at the combination of science and art that goes into making a quality drink. It is both a matter of learning recipes and developing skills. Drinks need to be made to standard, and delivered on time. There is far more happening on the other side of the counter than I would have guessed.

Entry-level positions are exactly that, entry-level. However, this company has earned its reputation as a place that takes care of employees. The manager I met with described his role has helped his employees down whatever path they choose. If they are working here for a time before moving on to something else, he wants to help prepare them for that. If they want to pursue a career with the company, he wants to prepare them for that. I really appreciated that mentality.

And there are plenty of other perks if the lower starting pay isn't a deal-breaker for you. For now, I'm excited to learn more about the coffee business and get an education in a field I knew precious little about before. I love the people connection. I love the commitment to process and standards. I love creating experiences for people. This seems like an opportunity to do that.

If learning new languages makes you feel like this, coding is probably not for you.

If learning new languages makes you feel like this, coding is probably not for you.

Option 2: Coding

My dad is a programmer. One of the first business cards I remember seeing of his said his title was "Senior Software Developer." He currently works for a government agency that still uses a programming language that isn't taught in schools anymore. My dad wonders if there will be a shortage of programmers in this language, as no one new is learning it, but he doesn't believe these huge organizations will get away from it in time.

I found an online tutorial that looks like it will take a pretty deep dive into coding. The first "100" level project was about designing a website that would let people create an account with a company, and then use that account to order food from restaurants and get drivers from this company to deliver the food for a fee. I would have guessed the "100" level project would be about how to make a dancing baby appear on the webpage.

Impressively enough, despite what sounds to me like a highly aspirational first goal, the tutorial starts with basic enough information about HTML and CSS that I felt like I could follow along and learn. I've certainly had moments where I got lost, but navigating back and recovering information wasn't too difficult. I've also picked up a few programming for dummies books, and I'm interested to see how they do or don't pair with what I'm learning online.

You may have noticed "coding boot camps" sprouting up online. What I've read on the topic suggests that companies are finding that graduates with computer science degrees aren't coming into entry-level jobs with the technical skills they need to be successful. To some degree, this isn't shocking in a field that changes as fast as programming and coding. University-level programs would struggle to keep up with the latest information.

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This is a struggle you may have experienced at the university level regardless of field. Sometimes college curriculum is focused on learning theory to the detriment of learning how to use and apply and be successful on the job. I certainly found this to be true of some aspects of my first career. There are whole sections of books in the genre of "Things they don't teach you in college about . . . " In fact, I hope to write one someday.

What that means for the coding field is that there are tons of jobs in this emerging market, but also tons of applicants. Folks who are looking for a career in this field need a way to set themselves apart, and the best way to do that will continue to evolve. Getting your foot in the door somewhere and demonstrating real-world experience, and doing so with the least amount of debt to pay off seems to be the most reliable choice. Once you've separated yourself from the pack, earning potential is very high in this field.

I have much to learn before I could even think about a career, or even signing up for a boot camp. For now, I'm evaluating how much I enjoy learning the new language, and my passion and drive to keep going. I love figuring out how to make what I write in one language look when I open it in a browser, for example. I love the self-directed way to learn it. I love the problem-solving nature of it. I love the creativity of it. You'll be surprised how many things can be solved in a variety of ways and the only difference is preferences.

OptionBiggest ProsBiggest Con


The people connection, creating experiences

low starting pay, need at least a year to consider it a "career"


Creativity, current surge in jobs, earning potential

steep learning curve, tons of competition for jobs, tough to find best preparation


Travel Itch, Quickest path to career earnings potential, least competition for jobs

isolation, keeping up with regulations, traffic

Driving jobs are plentiful, do you have what it takes?

Driving jobs are plentiful, do you have what it takes?

Option 3: CDLs

I worked for a local shipping company for a few years while I was going to college. I started as a temp in their warehouse, before moving to part-time on call for "specials." These are time-sensitive smaller shipments that needed to move fast. The company could charge higher than normal markups, making these a necessary part of their business.

I didn't have a CDL—a commercial driver's license—and this job didn't require one. I drove cargo vans and on up to the type of box trucks you might rent from a U-Haul with your normal license. I got a glimpse at the amazing regulations on an industry that America absolutely needs. The amount of freight that still moves by truck is staggering. I believe we are several decades away from all that shifting over to Amazon drones.

While performing a necessary service to the nation's economy, truck drivers are expected to keep their machines in perfect working order, to never be above maximum payload, to always have proper paperwork for what they are carrying, to take the proper routes, to deliver on time and then wait for a customer who isn't on-time for them and to do all that safely. Drivers log miles, hours driven, hours not driven. Drivers are subject to Department of Transportation medical exams.

So why choose it? Over The Road (OTR) drivers can see all 48 states. After a 4-week course and CDL certification, drivers can make up to $40,000 in their first year, and be on their way to $50,000 or more in a few years. As drivers have left the industry because of the hardship of being away from family. the industry has adjusted. More and more companies have to be mindful of regular time home just to compete. The number of daily route jobs (that is, drivers are home every night) is up—although be mindful that OTR drivers still report more income.

CDL experience also seems to make you hire-able for a variety of other fields. CNN recently ran an article about high-paying waste management jobs. One employer cited few applicants with the necessary CDL, and fewer with a clean CDL (one point of caution about entering this field is that marks on your driving record affect your career options).

The number of available jobs in this field varies with the economy. When more people are buying more things, more stuff needs to get moved. The surge over the last few years has meant there is plenty of work out there. To date, my biggest question about this field is how stressful it actually is. There is so much regulation. I regularly find the mistakes of other drivers to be irritating. Do I really want to be on the road 8–11 hours a day? Even the travel itch in me is reminded that many sites point out that while truck drivers may see every state, they are not there on vacation.

About Me: I also tried to get my Camel Driving License.

About Me: I also tried to get my Camel Driving License.

It's Ok to Feel Uncertain About Your Future

I have gone from panicking about the uncertainty in my future to thinking it is pretty normal, although I will probably start panicking again later.

If you've got anything to share about any of the fields I described in this article, or about a career change you made, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Zac Stringham (author) from Illinois on August 25, 2017:

I've heard of it, but never looked into it very closely. Thanks for the heads up!

Zac Stringham (author) from Illinois on August 25, 2017:

I'm avoiding going back to school if at all possible. I don't have any regrets about what I've been doing, but I have told people that if they are starting down my road, they might look into an education certification that would qualify them for more things than my initial education did.

Zac Stringham (author) from Illinois on August 25, 2017:

Sorry it's taken me a while. I think I still am surprised to learn I have to approve comments. Thanks for continuing the conversation. You ask good questions!

Zac Stringham (author) from Illinois on August 25, 2017:


Kierstin Gunsberg from Traverse City, Michigan on August 23, 2017:

The camel driving life looks tempting, Zac! Have you looked into medical billing and coding? I looked into the program which is fairly short, before deciding to go back to school. If I didn't have small kids though I would definitely do the medical billing and coding program through Andrews!

Salty Sam 54 on August 23, 2017:

Zac, Hope you don't mind a quick followup. Have you thought about going back into education to gain new qualification and use them to start your new career.

Not sure how it works in the US but in the UK adult education has been a big thing for many years. You can study in a wide range of subjects even up to postgraduate level. Often these are part-time. So a degree would be six years not three, but universities do take mature students on full-time courses.

It may not suit you but who knows, your dream career maybe just sat there in the syllabus of your local collage.

Salty Sam 54 on August 18, 2017:

Thanks for the reply, Zac. Passion for what you are doing is good. But when it gets to the point where it becomes all consuming then, yes, you do need to look elsewhere to have a more balanced life.

Just to show solidarity with everyone here. I too am looking at a career change. I am looking to set up an online business. And my partner is just about to launch her own business as well. Do you think there is something in the air, or is it the time of year. Or maybe our age.

To follow on from your marriage metaphor. Are you leaving your job or is it more like a divorce? Only I've been through both and I don't remember leaving my job involving discussions about who gets the kids. :)

JewishFund on August 16, 2017:

Great post!

Zac Stringham (author) from Illinois on August 16, 2017:

@saltysam54: Thanks for contributing! I love the feedback. I've been fortunate to call my passion my career for the last decade or so and I agree that its great to be passionate about your work. That said, when your vocation is your passion, you live your vocation. I was married to my job for a long time. And when you become less passionate about it, it is still your work.

Perhaps I need to find something steady that I enjoy that pays the bills and plans for the future and also gives me the free time to pursue my passions non-vocationally. I'm honestly not sure, but that's the question I'm asking.

@linda: Thanks for sharing! I can't imagine what its been like to have something for 21 years and then have to figure out what else to do now. That sounds really hard. Please feel free to come back and share what you've learned along the way. One thing I'm thinking about is driving CDL while I learn how to code. In some ways it may be putting off the decision, but a man's got to pay bills too :)

@manpreet: Thanks for jumping in! When I was researching for this article I was encouraged to learn that changing jobs and changing careers is common enough that people can't even agree on what constitutes a "career change" and what's just a "job change." It was helpful to know what what I'm dealing with isn't unique to me.

Salty Sam 54 on August 16, 2017:

Okay, Zac, so which one is your passion? Which one would get you out of bed in the morning? And what is it you want out of this new career?

From the pros and cons I would say coffee. The starting pay may be low but if your aim is to make it a career then consider it as part of the cost for your training. And of the three it is the one which fulfils your desire to work with people and avoid isolation.

With so many people going into coding your chances of making it a career and not just a job are much less. Yes, they keep saying the pay is good. But once the market is saturated that will decline.

As for CDL. You say in the pros for coffee that you like connecting with people and the cons for CDL the isolation. I think this excludes itself. Also, is CDL a job rather then a career. A career requires progress. As for travel wouldn't working in the travel industry be a better option? For the travel aspect, working with people and having a career structure.

And if it was me I would think about the possibility of running my own coffee shop at some time in the future. It gives you a chance to put all you have learned into practise and to have more control of your life.

Please let us know what you decide and why you took that path. And the best of luck with your future.

Manpreet kaur sidhu from india on August 16, 2017:

this is really appreciable work by Mr Zac. Somewhere related to my life.

Linda Courtney from Bloomsburg, PA on August 15, 2017:

Hope you figure out where you want to go with these three totally different career paths. After having lost my job of 21 years a couple years ago I have been thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life too. So many choices and which is right for me?

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