Getting Uncomfortable: Changing Your Career

A career change for almost anyone, is one of the most uncomfortable things they can do in their lifetime. We’re not talking about changing your job, being an accountant at KPMG and then going to be an accountant at Google is not a career change. Being an accountant at KPMG and then being a Software Developer at Google is a career change.


My story – from chemical engineering to marketing:

I graduated highschool in 2007 with 100% certainty I chose the right program to study in university, chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo.

I did well – got high grades, landed high-paying co-op jobs at companies like Petro-Canada, and was involved in a bunch of extracurriculars in the department.

I’m forever grateful I chose to go to Waterloo because of the co-op (internship) program, I got to experience what doing real chemical engineering work was like. Although I was stubborn at first, I slowly realized chemical engineering was not for me. This was a tough pill to swallow, I had completed about four internships in chemical engineering roles and invested 2-3 years of sweat and tears into tough engineering courses.

At this point I didn’t just drop out of chemical engineering and jump into another program. I knew I had enjoyed the marketing aspects of extra-curriculars I had been involved in so I started exploring it more and looked for volunteer opportunities to learn more about marketing. This brought me to the non-profit organization Nspire Innovation Network, I started doing marketing there and continued to find it excited me.

As the next round of co-op applications came around, I didn’t apply to engineering jobs and applied to all business jobs. A combination of my quantitative background, extra-curricular experiences in marketing, and history of being a high performer helped me land a job at Microsoft as a Business Management and Marketing Associate.

It was a great experience and set me up to get my subsequent internship at Facebook in their Canadian office which was focused primarily on ad sales and educating brands on how to market on Facebook. I did well enough to get a full-time offer, and spent about a year and a half there as a Media Solutions Specialist in the sales org, educating clients on how to market and advertise on Facebook.

There I learned I didn’t want to be in sales forever and was much more excited about growth/marketing. I also already knew I wanted to go to a start-up at some point since my time with Nspire. From that, my plan was to leave Facebook, gain more relevant experience in marketing, and then go to a start-up eventually to do marketing.

I landed a job at Kobo, who was actually my client at Facebook, as a Digital Marketing Specialist and learned more about digital marketing from some very smart people. Finally, this set me up for the role I’m in now, which is managing user growth (marketing) at the start-up Figure 1 – which continues to live up to my dream job expectations 🙂

Myself and the other co-ops working at Petro-Canada in 2009, refinery in the background!
Myself and the other co-ops working at Petro-Canada in 2009, refinery in the background!
Leaders of Nspire
Leaders of Nspire
Facebook - A company of builders
Facebook – A company of builders

Excuses you will make, and how to deal with them: 

1. I need to pay the bills and buy food!

I’m not saying you have to quit your job today, as per my story, I didn’t just drop out of my program when I started realizing it’s not what I wanted to do. Your path to the career change will greatly depend on your risk-tolerance, which is a function of multiple factors -e.g. are you living at home? do you have an expensive lifestyle? how much savings do you have? etc.

Find ways to develop skills and test out careers outside of your day-job, this can include:

  • Taking a part-time course at a university, online (e.g. Coursera, Udemy, Codecademy, Khan Academy), or other types of bootcamps (e.g. Bitmaker Labs, Brainstation, TradeCraft)
  • Volunteering or working part-time for non-profits and start-ups
  • Read up on everything in the industry, meet-up with people who work in it, and get your hands dirty testing out any common tools used
  • Finding roles internally within your company that you can transfer to and test out

Once you’ve gotten a taste of it and like it, you can delve into it deeper until eventually you’re able to land a job in the field and quit your existing job!

2. I already invested so much time and energy into this career, it’s too late!

It’s never too late. I won’t sugarcoat it, it’s not easy to take a paycut and a more junior role when you switch careers, but in the long run it’ll be worth it because you’ll be doing something you enjoy. On the other hand, if you stay in the career you’re in now that you hate for the next 20, 30, 40 years, you will most likely regret it.

You’ve invested a lot of time, money and energy into your current career, but is that a good enough reason to invest even more into it indefinitely when you don’t like it? It’s not, invest in a new long-term career that you’ll find fulfillment from.

3. I don’t even know what else I’d want to do

You hate your career but have no idea what career would be right for you. The first step is to eliminate everything you know you don’t want to do and look at what’s left. Talk to people who have careers you’re considering and learn about what they do day-to-day. Take on volunteer or part-time positions in relevant roles. Then just trust your gut and try one of them, if it turns you don’t like that too, change again. You want to iterate quickly so you can get to the right one as soon as possible

4. Why would any company choose to hire me over someone who has spent their entire career in this new field I’m trying to break into?

A variety of reasons, if you can show you are able to learn fast independently, do whatever it takes to deliver results and hustle more than the next person, that’s already half the battle.

Experience and technical expertise are important, but soft-skills and culture fit are just as important. Technical skills you can learn on the job, being a hustler can’t be learned.

When I got my first marketing job at Microsoft I beat out people who actually studied marketing and business while I was a chemical engineering student. I believe a key to this was that I had consistently demonstrated I was a high-performer, from ranking #1 in my class to being the President of the chemical engineering society.

Building a network will also help you greatly in landing that next job, as having someone vouch for you can make all the difference.

If all that doesn’t work, aim for a more junior role and work your way up.

5. Maybe my current career will get better as I become more senior or get to work on different projects

Most people are lying to themselves when they say this. I don’t doubt that careers can vary greatly depending on your seniority and projects, but the core of it is usually the same. If I’m a digital marketing coordinator, digital marketing specialist, digital marketing manager, director of digital marketing or VP of digital marketing the roles vary greatly – but you’ll still be thinking and looking at similar things at the end of the day. If your true calling is software engineering, you won’t get that at any of those levels.

The question that makes it obvious: 

Should you change your career, or do what you’re doing now, that is draining the lifeforce out of you everyday, for the rest of the one life you will live?

2 thoughts on “Getting Uncomfortable: Changing Your Career

  1. Great write up P- La La. It’s great to know we have taken similar paths. I went from a science undergraduate (well obviously not the top of my class cause i fking hated science) to going into finance competing with business students with more knowledge and experience than I had for the same job. You’re right, it’s not easy, but mostly its the drive within to be better/work harder and always being the underdog to become the top dog is what makes the difference!

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