Fed up with a dead-end job and a salary that doesn't cover rent? Make a fresh start! These sunny career paths will shine on no matter how stormy the economy gets.
COMPUTER SOFTWARE ENGINEER
Remember those whiz kids in high school who aced algebra and calculus? They’re now making a mint in today’s economy, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t strap on your pocket protector and join them. A computer software engineer designs new software and hardware using math and engineering principals. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts rapid growth in this industry over the next decade—no surprise considering people practically glue their iPhones to their ears these day.
Nate Cook is a freelance web-applications developer who works long term with advertising and design firms (312-259-0087, natecook.com). He’s been in the industry for more than ten years and started out building websites for a design firm and doing programing for an e-learning company. Cook—who then segued into usability testing, interface design and programming—says the industry is thriving, but adapting to new technology is crucial to success. “Being able to evolve makes a big difference in how you can look for employment and look for different jobs to do,” he says.
Starting pay for a salaried position with a small company might be in the mid-40s or 50s, while lead engineers or managers at larger companies can easily make a satisfying six figures. Many software engineers go the start-up route and become their own bosses or take freelance work and charge anywhere from $60–$150 an hour.
This career is for you if…
You love computers and don’t mind sitting in front of one for innumerable hours each week. “Programming is really problem solving, so finding ways to solve a problem better, finding a new way to define a problem that opens up a solution...those are very creative things,” Cook says. But he warns that drudgery and tedium are par for the course on some days and that as a freelancer, he sometimes misses those water-cooler moments.
If ever there were a DIY career path, this is it. Cook entered the workforce ten years ago armed with a degree in music, although he also took computer-science courses in high school and college. “Once you get out into the world, one of the big challenges of this field is that things really move quickly, and there’s a lot of change even when you’re just doing one job,” he says. “Learning to learn on an ongoing basis is really key.” He suggests learning both online and considering a course at a local college.
Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Education Studies offers an Introduction to Computer Programming evening course for adults both in the fall and winter. Students need to be working toward a degree or certification. To register, fill out an Academic Plan form at scs.northwestern.edu.
Fall classes at Digital Bootcamp (1400 W Hubbard St, suite 210, 312-633-3000) kick off at the end of August with some beginning as late as October. Basic bootcamp courses offer a general overview, whereas enrollment in the more extensive eight-week version is designed to give students “power-user” status.