Considering a Career Change: Coffee, Coding, and CDLs
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.
Is my discontent related to my job or to my field?
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.
Its about the coffee, and far more than the coffee
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.
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.
Coding is like learning a new language to solve problems
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
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.
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!
Does one of these fields interest you?
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.