Hi hi hi,
This is moving from the scared to share folder into the Nike just do it check. Please note, I’m still on a journey and sharing what has helped so far. A special thanks to my community - they have my heart and I am eternally grateful for helping me get this far in my career and life journeys
Speaking of moving - I recently got the push from Will Davis to finally write about how I changed career courses and it paid off (so far).
Why is that people dont talk about taking a step back in their careers to position themselves for better opportunities in the future?— Will (@UXWD87) July 26, 2022
Sidebar: I’ve had many an interaction with Janet Jackson’s eldest child online and we met once. It was one of my favorite hours of meeting someone offline this year - Will’s spirit, light, and view of the world is enlightening and refreshing (he said so many things that resonated, I criiiiiied ok??). Will is always open to coffee chats and/or discussions about UX and Product Design opportunities so get on it and find him on LinkedIn or Twitter
So you can see how this was scary to talk about. We don’t typically do it. To start, here’s a recap of my journey.
- 2015 - entry level data analysis and reporting role in global mobility
- 2018 - went back to school for more data analytics and economics training
- Also 2018 - transition to a data research role
… buckle up, it’s about to get wild below
- All 2020 - A bunch of data engineering contract and intern work, but make it free a.k.a volunteering
- Fall 2020 - (yet another entry level role as a) data analyst
- Also Fall 2020 - started building community with BlackTIDES and my tech big sisters
- Again Fall 2020 - started a data science fellowship
- Feb 2021 - promoted to senior data analyst
- Apr 2021 - data science teaching contract
- Jul 2021 - transitioned to data operations and engineering lead and manager (yes all of it in one lol)
- Nov 2021 - life happens, and a Sia is not working
- Dec 2021 - data engineering curriculum developer contract
- May 2022 (to present) - data engineer
Let me just say that throughout this hodge-podge of a journey, it ended up working out inspite of the circumstances. I also join the corny choir of “it all helped me grow into the Sia I am today”. So where exactly did the pivot start? 2018.
Due to things out of my control, I had to leave my job that year. It was the first time in a few years I had been forced to pivot because of immigration laws (first arrived in the U.S. in 2011). I decided to make this next decision about what I wanted life to be instead of just taking what came in front of me. You see, as an immigrant, I had defaulted to the mindset of being grateful and letting things be what they were. We are conditioned all the way since the trans-atlantic slave trade and colonial times to be grateful when we get a seat at the table which is so sad. That’s how I lived up until then in the U.S. You let me in? Thank you! You allowed me a permit to get jobs? I appreciate you! Even though after two degrees, I’m forced to use cleaning and catering as a stop gap so you don’t kick me out? What a relief!!
I subscribed (and still do) to hope and gratitude and often. Being thankful is not necessarily a bad thing, but as I note in the below thread, being complacent is. So on I went!
Alright miss Ashley!— Don't Forget BG ❤️ (@siawayforward) October 17, 2022
The most important one 1st
if something I can control is making me happy, I let it be. A lot of times, we try to keep changing it to be happier and then when it doesn't work how we think it should we get less happy. But we were already happy! Tuh 1/?
There were two dimensions I considered - self and outside of self. This goes back to your mindset. Framing your priorities and ability to change things by being aware of what you can and can’t control is always a great place to start. I only control what I can to start!
So what am I optimizing for? I love this question! Learned it from thee Saron Yitbarek. It’s the first thing I asked myself (not as eloquently as Saron put it, but you get the idea ). No one but you can answer this question. Don’t be mad when you ask a mentor what to do and they say “I can’t answer that for you”. Because they can’t. You should know your reasons and no one else!
For me, it was wanting to be at a place where my skills were valued beyond my immigration status and to have a GREAT manager. Not good, not passable, GREAT. I wanted any hiring manager I came across to have to really think about not hiring me. It could be many more specific and different things for you:
- faster growth for your career than currently possible
- your interests changing
- being able to work for a specific company
- new life changes influencing how you work
- needing benefits that fit into your lifestyle or situation (e.g. I needed a work visa at some point, not all employers offer this in the U.S.)
- financial situation
- mental health
I’d like to come back to chasing great management. Let me tell you half my work problems disappear whenever I have a great manager. I had a job where I would have panic attacks because everything was high stakes. So yeah, it makes a big difference. If you have the luxury or privilege of more stable finances, remember your career is not tied to your self worth so look for someone who will remind you of your human qualities while appreciating your work. But I digress (but also if you take away one thing, make it this )
Make a list of these things that you want to be better and think about what happens if you don’t try to change them. Write that down too - a year, 18 months, 5 years from now. Can you live with that version of you without regret? Well then you have your answer about if you’ll do anything about it.
This part is all about where we draw the line of compromise. We don’t always have control of external entities. Yes, Sia - we know Ok, but you can still evaluate these based on what you want for yourself and decide when it’s worth exploring a career track.
Let’s say you are considering pivoting because your interests have changed. What can you do about that? You could learn a new skill or seek opportunities to explore and use skills that sound exciting to you. This was partly the case for me in 2018 after getting to the crossroads.
- I had been using (and well versed in) SQL at that point, but most of my job was still being done with Microsoft SSRS and Excel automation and visual basic application scripts
- I knew there had to be a better way to do all this tedious stuff
- I couldn’t control the fact that my job changed and I had to move with no income
- I wanted to acquire skills that would make sure no one would say you are redundant
- I went online and looked for graduate programs in data analytics, artificial intelligence, engineering, or economics - it wouldn’t guarantee roles, but it put me in an immigrant pool that had a smaller barrier of entry
- Of the programs I decided to apply to, I made sure there were enough electives so I had the freedom to learn skills that would bump my resume even more. I was also not going to be making money, so all these programs also needed to have a path to free education.
- I ended up going to UNLV (which if you attend, take a class with Dr. Han-fen Hu. She’s the best professor/teacher/instructor I have EVER had in all the countries and levels I’ve learned in). I selected to go there because it checked four boxes (the most out of my list).
- UNLV offered me a graduate assistantship
- I could teach, and work as a researcher for published work (diversifying the portfolio, ha!)
- get a stipend (enough for a one room rental in Vegas plus no state tax?? yay)
- had three elective classes, two of which I used for an internship and a project that’s on my portfolio
- and most importantly, free tuition
I used the list about my needs to see what options out there fit the best. That’s really it - lots of research, but that is the whole deal. Some other examples from my journey:
- If you want to go from a start up to a bigger tech company to expand the bounds of your intellectual horizons, follow a few people working there, learn about the interview process, look for opportunities at your job that allow you to work with skills that you would need to use at that company (or take a course). It may be a few hard months before the light shines on you, but again - make the list and make the decision about what you’ll tolerate from future you!
- You may want to change career tracks from a manager to an individual contributor or vice versa, find the roles you want to go into, practice the skills you’ll need, maybe someone you manage can help you! See the first example
- At one point I wanted to change cultures from working with horizontal data teams to working for an engineering organization with data roles. I couldn’t find that coming back to a company where I’d enjoyed the people (out of my control), but I was able to go back to my list of dream managers and work with them to take the next step.
The takeaway here is: find the things that are as close to your “want” list as possible. Evaluate the amount of time and effort it will take for you to adjust or adapt and use that as your gauge for whether or not you’ll make the move.
This is about to be a little tangent, but it encompasses a large component of your worldview when you’re in the trenches during your transition (if you decide to do it after the above). My low self-esteem deserves a dishonorable mention for making the stories I just told you a much slower process. Between 2020 and 2022, I could have articulated my skills and experiences better to get more senior roles. There was a pandemic, immigration laws were changing during an election year, and I defaulted to “happy to be here” mode. But I’m learning. So it may not take you over seven years to get to where you need to be, but also don’t lie. You’ll get caught at some point. But I digress (again).
It is mentioned a lot that your network is your net worth. I get the spirit of this statement, but hear me out for a moment.
This is not always true in application. Yes - you should always network. But build community, a group of people who you would be friends with if you met in another universe. You know like Joy and her mom when they were rocks in “Everything Everywhere All At Once”? Just Be A Rock? That’s why you should network. Just to be in community, go through boring Tuesdays, high highs and low lows - life and all, with those people. I admit this is scary and vulnerable to try; but literally tying your network to just your career is a dangerous game for your self-esteem. I also noticed how people have been very transactional with me depending on the job I’ve had (or didn’t have, even today). In the earlier years, I would sometimes question why people associated with me when I couldn’t do anything for them but cheer as a result of this way of life in my professional network.
If you’re a superior being, you don’t have these insecure feelings - I aspire to be like you! For the rest of us, just be mindful about this. You want to get to know people who treat you the same no matter what. They remind you of your greatness when you only see it through the lens of your income generating abilities. They affirm you on an oft ignored part of the transferrable skills on your resume - the human ones. I always put mine on there, and on my LinkedIn. You will know who you’re getting before you understand what I can do. We’re never changing this way of introducing ourselves ever. It reminds me to work on me too.
In lieu of a smooth transition out, thanks for reading this if you’ve made it this far. I hope it helps you think through how to plan a transition if you’re considering one. If nothing else, please know that you are not alone in that lonely place where only you know where you’re going and no one - even those close and loving to you - understands. It is hard, but it’s doable. I’m rooting for you, and if it’s data related and you have questions, I might be on the bird app.
Be kind to yourself, count your small wins because they add up, and remember it’s a marathon. It’s all about the journey, if you’re at the destination, you’re in a coffin so keep going and take breaks (ahem Golden Girlssssss or UNHhhh on YouTube)!