How Software Developers Can Switch Industries

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If you’re a frustrated developer who loves building software (and technology in general) but hates the job, you may be happier working in another sub-industry. Making a leap into a new pond can be challenging, but it’s more than possible.

“While there’s typically a preference for industry-specific experience,” said Doug Schade, principal consultant at WinterWyman Technology Search in Boston, “in an ultra-competitive market, employers overall have become more and more lenient and strong candidates are able leverage their skills to get what they want.”

Use What You Know

Taking a look at your skills and understanding how they match up with what employers want is a first step toward making a big change.

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If you have strong computer-science fundamentals, for example, you understand how data structures and algorithms work—something that becomes invaluable when discussing your potential worth with an employer in a new sub-industry. “For instance, if one is writing algorithms as a quant developer, it may translate well for writing algorithms in AdTek,” Schade added.

Portable Skill Sets

While recruiters and management may first seek out candidates trained in a specific platform, those potential hires aren’t always the best fit for the position.

David Yang, placement coordinator and lead instructor at the Fullstack Academy of Code in New York, suggests that developer skill sets are often portable across many different domains. “Every industry large and small is being transformed by technology,” he said. “The key thing you have to be cognizant of in making a switch is considering the business domain of the industry you want to go into, and understanding how technology fits into that domain.”

Identity the Field

In some business sectors, domain-specific experience is critical, e.g. financial services and healthcare, because of their security and compliance mandates… But even those fields can be cracked.

“As you begin to identify that you want to make an industry shift and decide where that might be,” Schade said, “take a look at the job descriptions to see what companies are requiring. If there are certain things that you don’t have, ask yourself if you can build those things elsewhere before you begin applying.”

Study the Industry

Candidates who want to make the jump must realize that the jargon, language, and technology stack in their targeted sub-industry could be radically different from anything they’ve experienced before; knowing key players is often the best way to get started.

“For example,” Yang said, “if you want to go from retail to healthcare, there will be new regulations that you’ve never had to deal with. HIPAA alone prescribes a whole set of recommended data transmission and storage regulations.” He recommends that job seekers start with Meetups and get an introduction to the business by listening to other members’ discussions. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, and make a point of learning the technology. “For instance,” he added, “the Web 2.0 world consistently uses open-source software but other industries usually have powerful incumbents.”

Prove Your Worth

When it comes to proving you have proficiency in a new technology, experience deficits can often be overcome with side projects. “Let’s say it’s a Java developer position in financial services and you’ve been in Web development in e-commerce,” Schade said. “You should show that you have strong Java object-oriented skills by demonstrating your code through a GitHub account or other project. If they want more, offer to take a test to corroborate your abilities.”

Benefits of Being a N00B

For employers, there are perks to hiring candidates who’ve left one industry for another. Doing so shows that you’re highly motivated, can navigate complex change, are flexible, and have an abiding interest in that field.

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3 Responses to “How Software Developers Can Switch Industries”

  1. I tried -exactly- that … Tried to sector-shift from extreme tech/aerospace and with an IT background as well to move toward the health field (which is obviously heavy in IT as well as big-data analytics). Bothered to get an MPH for credentials and sector-specific content. Rejected at even an entry level IT EHR positions. First and foremost, walk down to the office of some right-sized org and find out *exactly* what it is they are looking for in your landing zone *before* you heavily invest in sector-shifting efforts.

  2. I sector shifted from biomedical research to IT, but it took a long time (5 + years). I first went back to school at a tech college for a year, got a few (worthless) certs, but more importantly I got some good training on core skills like SQL, MS Server, Oracle, etc. I then found a ‘trained monkey’ job at a fortune 500, really just took anything since I had no IT experience. Then I moved to another company doing development (got very lucky), they did healthcare IT apps. From there it was pretty easy, I had the buzzwords and the tech knowledge. One thing lead to another, and I haven’t been unemployed in 4 years. I know I’m very lucky, but I also work very hard. I do freelancing at Elance and have my own client base. I work nights and weekends on my own business, which gets me the skillsets and experience needed (all of my jobs have come from experience obtained doing freelance work). It’s been a long hard road, and i’m not done. I’m still doing the same thing, and at this point I can quit my FTE job and just do consulting if I wanted. I will 1000% agree transitions are HARD.