Originally published to Forbes- December 14th, 2021
Thinking about leaving your job for a new opportunity? Here’s why two young professionals made the leap—and how it’s going.
So much has been written about the scramble for companies to staff their business after a stunning 20 million Americans left their jobs this year. How to retain current employees and attract new ones, the importance of a vibrant work culture, the pressing need for employers to offer flexibility—I’ve covered all of this myself from an employer’s point of view.
But how does the Great Resignation/Reshuffle look from the other side—the employee side?
Did it pay to quit and pursue a better opportunity elsewhere? Are there equally good reasons to leave a job as there are to stay? At the end of the day, was it worth it? I connected with two young professionals, Zechariah Deckert and Hannah Kohr, who both, at different points during the pandemic and its aftermath, decided a change of career was in order.
From chef to tech
Deckert began his career as a dishwasher in a small California town before working his way up to an executive chef role. After five years of long hours, inconsistent schedule and less-than-ideal pay, he finally decided he’d had enough. “My career change came from frustration and burnout,” says Deckert.
But he also had reasons beyond the short-term challenges. “Looking towards my future, I wanted to live a happy life with a family,” he explains. “Examining the life I could have as a chef made me realize it would be quite challenging to have the life I wanted if I continued to work as a chef.” This realization spurred Deckert to enroll in the coding bootcamp Hack Reactor. When he graduated and took a job with Forage, he doubled his previous salary.
When I asked Deckert how he knew tech was the right career for him, he admits he didn’t. “I took an educated guess that I could do it, and that I would like it enough to make a living with it, and that living would be better and healthier than my current situation.“I followed the opportunity, I bet on myself and my love of technology and learning, and fortunately I was right.”
In search of stability
Kohr, who earned a BA in Anthropology in 2014, spent the next seven years working as an Intercultural Trainer, Manager of Guest Services and Library Assistant. “I was luckily able to work in interpersonal cultural communications for a while, but I do not think my degree necessarily prepared me for the real world,” she says.
While she loved her field, Kohr acknowledges its downsides. “I wanted a stable, well-paying career in a growing industry where I knew there was room to grow,” she says. So in May 2021, she decided to enroll in a Tech Elevator bootcamp. “I knew getting into technology meant I would be constantly learning since the industry is constantly changing—which appealed to me.”
Today, Kohr is putting her newly acquired skills to use on the product side of technology. “I love getting to be the bridge between the really heavy technical aspects and the front-facing side of things, translating what needs to be done,” she says.
“Getting to communicate with others every day is very rewarding and aligns with what I did prior to getting into tech.”
Lessons for employers
Deckert’s experience in the hospitality industry is a case study illustrating why workers are fleeing that field in droves. Alongside the arduous schedule, low pay and physical demands, job insecurity also makes it hard to build a career. “I had been working as a chef for 5 years, and in my last position I was suddenly let go without warning. This is not an uncommon story in the hospitality industry and that kind of uncertainty long-term can really impact someone's well-being,” he says. “I decided to try something different.”
The moral of that story? Employers that want to retain employees must pay attention to the conditions in which they expect their people to work.
Of course, nothing’s perfect and there’s plenty of room for the tech field to improve. The industry’s gender-based pay inequities and unequal opportunities for women could have deterred Kohr from pursuing coding. “There is definitely a struggle to be taken seriously as a young woman in this field,” she says.
The lesson here? Recognize and start solving the inequities that may be preventing women and underserved communities from entering your field.
Employers also need to create a purpose beyond just the paycheck to attract and retain younger workers. A case in point is how Deckert feels about the positive difference his new career allows him to make. “I'm lucky enough to work on a product that I believe in and that is making an impact,” he says. “The opportunity to be a part of building something that creates access for those who wouldn't otherwise have it is incredibly fulfilling.”
Thinking about resigning? Here’s some advice
If you’re toying with the idea of resigning to pursue a new career path—especially in tech—Deckert and Kohr have some advice on how to do it.
First off, don’t think that there’s only one route to land a job in a new field. “There are many paths to start a career in tech,” says Deckert. “Mine looked like not finishing college and completing a coding boot camp at Hack Reactor/Galvanize. In my experience so far, I have worked with engineers with a 4-year CS degree, others who are completely self-taught and others in between.”
Clearly, college is not the only way to prepare for a rewarding career. Even Kohr, who completed her degree and worked in that field for several years, has mixed feelings about her college experience. “Being in a dedicated learning environment like a university, you’re exposed to people from all walks of life. I went to an urban state school and had the opportunity to be around retirees, young adults and older adults who went back to school after working for a few years,” she says. “On the other hand, I wasn’t learning tangible things on how to exist in the real world after graduation.”
Secondly, making a major career change is much easier when you have a strong network of people who care about you. “My advice would be to really tap into your support system,” says Kohr. “Right now in the world we live in, you have so much room for growth and opportunity. Specifically, when you’re going into technology, it’s such a fundamental shift in the way you think…so you definitely need to recognize your support system before taking the leap.”
Third, realize that as quickly as things are evolving, you will never fully arrive. There will always be more skills to master. “I hope to continue to upskill myself and work in tech,” says Deckert. “I am excited about a few upcoming technologies and hope to keep learning.”
Finally, don’t make your career change any more stressful than it has to be. “Wherever you are on your career journey, be kind to yourself,” says Deckert. “Learning new skills is challenging, and you will make mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities, learn from them and keep moving forward.
“So if you are interested in a new career, start. Start however you can, it's ok to figure things out along the way. Just start.”