Help me think about the next step in my life

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Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by LookingInward »

Hello, I am a late 20s person from Europe who works part-time at a low-skilled job and is nearing completion of a masters in Financial Mathematics (FM). I also have an undergraduate degree in Economics and a post-graduate degree in Finance.

Previously I’ve worked full-time as an IT consultant, in R&D at an asset management company and in operational risk at an investment bank. I stopped working full-time in early 2018 due to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorder and possible Asperger’s. But even before then it was obvious my health was deteriorating and I actually got fired from my second job partially due to these problems. Since then I’ve slowly working (or at least trying to) on my health, which has improved substantially but not as much as I would like. So in early 2018, with way too much time in my hands, I decided to get the part-time job to partially offset my expenses and also decided to go back to school to study FM.

I took the latter decision for multiple reasons. I was tired of doing work that was not very technical or quantitative. While working on my health I realized that I don’t do well with work that is subjective, unstructured or involves little interaction (for example doing a lot of reading, specially with no clear goal). I did a little programming at previous jobs and more during the masters and I can say with some confidence that I enjoyed it. But going back to the FM masters: it is very technical, I was fascinated and curious about it plus it has an excellent track record with regards to employment prospects. I also considered “going back” and doing an undergraduate degree in computer science but decided that it was just too long (minimum 3 years).

So with this “introduction” out of the way let’s get to the heart of this post. I don’t know what to do after I finish my masters. Of course I could just apply for jobs related with what I am studying. However, I think I really want to try working in the technical side of IT. I will admit I don’t know much about the different aspects and careers in IT but I find it interesting. Every time I was doing non-technical work I just wanted to understand and do the work of my technical colleagues. I think it both better suits my personality and aligns well with my long term goals of increased freedom and flexibility (IT generally pays well and you can do a lot of work remotely). I have this idea of maybe becoming a free-lancer but I can understand that is not realistic in the short-term so working in IT inside a company is probably my best bet. Regardless, another objective of mine is to be able to work less than 40h per week. I think it would be great for me, specially health-wise.

I know IT is a very big field and I honestly don’t know specifically what I want to do inside that space. However, I do know that I don’t like or care about dealing with UI or graphical/design aspects.

I guess I will finish by asking direct questions to help people structure their answers around (but if you want to talk about something else I wrote, be free to do so):
* First of all, what technical areas within IT do you think would suit me? If it’s not much of a hassle, please provide a brief description of what people actually do in those areas.
* Is it realistic to start working as a technical IT freelancer and learn as I go? Or are the odds very slim?
* Alternatively, if I decide to take the safer route of nailing a technical IT job, what should I do to put myself in a better position to attain that goal?

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by ertyu »

you should work for hugh hendry on st barts :lol:

i am only joking a little bit, but that is the first thing i thought of.

here's what it means in actual serious terms: i think you should work for a hedge fund. many people who run hedge funds are big picture thinkers who are good at sales and who need people to take data, model it up for them, or figure out how to program a particular application. (hugh hendry is a guy like this which is where this whole idea started. he was talking about wanting to hire a technical guy to compensate for his own lack of technical skill in the area).

usually, this would mean working with few people who all know each other, so it would be easier to be forthright with your mental health concerns, should any emerge.

Disclaimer: I do not work in IT so wait for the advice of people who do and weigh it more heavily than mine.

Whatever you end up doing, good luck!

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by unemployable »

ertyu wrote:
Wed Sep 09, 2020 8:40 am
i think you should work for a hedge fund.
Not a terrible idea but I wouldn't hang my hat on it if I were OP.
  • They're nowhere near as prevalent in Europe as they are in the US. Much of what you see in Europe is offered by the big banks (and similar institutions such as insurance companies), surrounded by big-bank culture, or are the European offices of US-based managers.
  • Peak hedge fund was around 2005-10. For a number of reasons, which belong in another thread, they're not as prominent as they used to be, and I don't feel like they'll be making a comeback unless a bunch of things about the industry change.
  • As a full-time employee for a HF you should expect to work more than 40 hours a week, not less.
  • Telling someone to just go get a job at a hedge fund like it's Burger King undersells the difficulty involved, although that may reflect my own foibles.
That said, like everyone else they need coders and programmers. For actual security analysis and trading they will probably want more first-hand market experience, unless you're OK starting pretty low or in the back office.

You may be able to get in via contract work or as an outsourced service provider.

source: worked in and around hedge funds

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by LookingInward »

I just want to thank the people that have answered so far. I will be monitoring the thread and think about the suggestions.

Regardless, I am very hesitant to work in a place like a Hedge Fund. The ideas that come to mind when I think about that segment is stress and long hours. But I guess there are exceptions in everything. I will keep an open mind and look for what's out there. But in the future I really need to be careful where and who I work for. Unfortunately I am not very resilient when it comes to mental health.

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by Dream of Freedom »

I'm not the right guy to weigh in on your career. I just hope you get your mental health sorted out.

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by Crusader »

Why don't you try to teach yourself coding and see if you like it? There are a ton of free online resources available, not least of which is:

As you work through these courses, keep your code in GitHub to show it as a portfolio. Then, prepare for an interview using something like: ... -interview

And apply to a bunch of programming positions.

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by GreenGentleman »

I've been in back-end IT for the past 3 years through a traineeship after I finished my Biology masters.
After the traineeship I started at a big company (not comfortable sharing which one ;)) where I've worked for the past 3 years.

I'll share my experience and try to answer your questions, hopefully it helps (warning long story !). ;)

Studied biology and during my masters I ended up using matlab, R and a modelling language. Each of these I enjoyed working with and liked the problem solving. After my studies, I didn't want to do a PhD or work in a lab (my two options at the time) so I decided to switch towards coding.
I looked at the different possibilities for a traineeship and picked one that aims to place people at companies. There's others who do IT consultancy where you can eventually end up at a company. The idea of consultancy, travelling, switching teams and topics stressed me out. Reading your description on mental health I'd strongly suggest working for a non-consultancy company.
To get into the traineeship I needed to get selected by people with little IT experience. I ended up stressing my experience with coding during my masters as a reason for doing the traineeship. I like to think this helped. They also wanted us to do a small project to show aptitude, and show it to them. Pick something you enjoy so you can easily talk about it.
The last part of the selection process was some IQ tests, I found this rather stressful.
After being selected we were plopped in a hotel for a 2 week intensive training program, during this I interviewd and I got to start right after I finished.
Not sure how to proces works these days and if these traineeships still exist.

Many of my colleagues also have a non-IT backgrounds so starting from a different background is certainly not uncommon.

Suitable areas:
In my experience most IT work is focused on web/app development and the necessary back-end systems to support these.
In very broad overview you have web developers (javascript/html/angular/react/etc), app developer (android/apple) which handle how the web pages/apps are displayed. Many of these tend to be variations on forms or displaying information. Here you tend to work more closely with designers and business teams. Developments of new languages and techniques also tend to happen rapidly so you'll be constantly learning and starting anew.
After this you end up in my field, which is a connecting layer with other services. This layer translates more arcane back-end systems to readable language for front-end developers to connect to. Business logic and validations also happen in this layer. Languages for this are things like java/c#/python. These developers are usually a bit more removed from the business side of things and (in my experience) have a less stressful job.
Below this are the more arcane layers like SAP systems which I don't have much experience with so I can't comment on.

My suggestion would be back-end development if you prefer less change and a slower pace.
Front-end development if you'd like to work more closely with business and a faster paced cycle.
There are tons more IT related jobs; microsystems, SAP, devops, security etc. With these I have less experience and I don't know how easy it is to get started.

IT freelancer or regular job
I'd also suggest starting at a regular IT job and later transitioning towards freelancer (if you want). This is the usual route for freelancers as it allows you to build up connections and gain experience.

Good luck in your search !

Edit: Doing your own project (no matter how stupid/simple it is) to see if you like the work and can deal with the not knowing something and still pushing ahead, is very helpful. The strongest skills for IT are handling frustration, dealing with uncertainty and asking questions when your stuck. Many of these I still need to practice. :D

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by zbigi »

(Hi! I'm new to the forum BTW).

Warning: a MAJOR rant coming ahead. Bear in mind that this is my subjective take on the industry, but I suspect it's shared by many (esp. seeing how much burnout is being there in tech or at least how much people discuss it).


I've been working in IT for the past 15+ years, so I can fill in some details for you.
Roughly, the major job roles are:

1. Software developer.
You'll be writing code in Java, C++, Python, JavaScript or any of the other major programming languages.

In in a big company, your job will be mostly about making tiny changes to big and likely old systems that no one really understands very well, as well as integrating with other systems within the company, which most likely don't work as expected (or, better yet, no one really knows what to expect of them). The job is very process heavy, meaning there have to sign-offs (plans, discussions, code reviews) for every small change you make, testers need to write tests for your changes and run them in a centralized environment etc. The process makes work progress very slowly and makes it full of obstacles and waiting (multiple times per day you'll be waiting for somebody else's response or approval before you can continue with your work).
The above is currently my work life now and I hate it with passion. From what I'm seeing, the only people who seem to somewhat enjoy it are either very young (they haven't had a chance to burn out yet) or rare cases of guys so passionate about coding, that they can stomach the shittiness that comes along with the job. Everyone else is checked out and apathetic. Some people are openly jaded (you generally don't get fired for that, at least not in Europe - from my experience, US companies care more about workers pretending to be excited, so people conceal more there). The major plus of the job is that big companies can pay very well and don't expect a lot of output for you. Also, the overall responsibility level is rather low - even when you create a bug, most of the software we write is nonessential (to say the least), so there's no big deal. Often, it's 100% "no blame culture", meaning that you never blame the person, but try to learn from mistakes and improve the process.

As a software developer in a startup, you should have more autonomy and be less limited by process (the startup doesn't have money to waste on such bullshit), so the job can be more fulfilling and less frustrating - esp. in very early stage startups (the bigger ones have enough investor money to burn to essentially ape corporations and adopt all the rotten bureaucratic "best" practices). The drawback is that the pay will be less (often much less) and they will expect you to work hard. Nothing wrong with hard work per se, but, at least in my opinion, working hard as a developer is another recipe to burnout - the job is just too intense and stressful to do it with no slack for long periods of time.

2. Devops.
You'll be writing automation scripts and setting up environments (servers etc.) which help software developers and automate the SE processes I mentioned above. The scripts are mostly coded in Bash and they glue together a variety of tools for managing code. So, naturally, apart from bash you need to know these tools.
Devops is currently a pretty hot role which can pay more than Software development. Also, thanks to not being subject to the process (these guys co-create the process but are not fully subject to it, go figure), maybe it's less frustrating? On the other hand, as a devops you'll often be responsible for production servers (aka the ones used by real users) and there's real responsibility there, which will produce real stress.

3. Software developer in test (SDET).
You'll be writing small programs which test the software written by software developers. From what I've seen, it's mostly done in Python.
The role is similar to Software development, but comes with less pressure and less stress, at the cost of less pay.

4. Server admins.
You'll be administering servers and other kind of infrastructure. This role is being gradually phased out by both the move to cloud (way less admins needed there) and by merging with the Devops role, which automate server administration.

5. Network admins.
You'll be responsible for company's network. I know little of this job, but have heard it's stressful (any screwup has a major impact on the company and results in senior people knowing you by name...).

6. Business/system analyst.
You'll be gathering requirements (via conducting meetings, workshops, getting requirements written and approved) from business users on how the system that is being developed should work. This can be kind of a chill role actually (I was an analyst for some time in the past), but, probably because of that, is currently being phased out in favor of Product Owner.

7. Product Owner.
Like Business/system analyst but with soft management duties thrown on top - i.e. in practice you're in charge of the group of developers who are coding the system (except you're not their boss, so you can't really make them to do anything... - the modern matrix management in its full brilliance).
Lots of stress, lots of coordination. As in any management role, brilliant people skills and memory required (during meetings, you have to quickly recall the state of dozens of issues that you're currently trying to make progress on). Can be done without much technical knowledge, although such cases can be pretty comical to observe ("an ignorant in charge of a group of experts" type of humor). In practice, this is probably most typical case, as companies prefer to have business administration types for the role, as they are easier to find than CS guys and gals with necessary soft skills.

8. Scrum master.
This is the jackpot role for people who have very high social skills and very low tolerance for effort. As a Scrum Master, you're supposed to enlighten the team on the ways of the Scrum methodology (which is the de facto standard way most big companies develop software now) - you're sort of a permanent trainer assigned to the team. Except that there isn't that much to the methodology and you end up doing nothing most of the time... It's an epitome of a bullshit job. Only recommended if you're really ok with being a parasite, taking full advantage of corporate inefficiency.


That's the typical roles you'll encounter in companies and in their job adverts.

My general advice is to go into IT only if you're naturally interested in programming OR have very high social skills. The former is something that will to some degree offset the frustrating day-to-day realities of the job, while the latter could allow you to jump away from coding and into analyst/management roles (you don't need seniority for that, there's a 26 yo Product Owner in my team - he's just super super social and a brilliant talker). Also, a major character trait that is necessary for any IT work is resilience to frustration. You just can't be the "short fuse" kind of guy, as there's plenty of triggers daily. You need a good command of your emotions or, even better, little to no emotions in the first place :)

Overall, my opinion on IT is that it's an excellent way to save up a lot of money quickly, esp. if you go where the high-paying jobs are (aka don't stay in the sticks, if a move to Silicon Valley or Switzerland can get you 5 times more..). You'll pay with your sanity for that, but at least you won't sell it cheaply...
Last edited by zbigi on Fri Oct 30, 2020 3:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by Lemur »

@ zbigi

As a consultant...pretty spot on from what I've seen in the DC area from several projects I've been on.

The idea of the 'code monkey' with no social skills is really starting to fade out... Ones benefits greatly when not only they know how to work with and maneuver data but how to use it to tell a story.

In contentious situations with clients/customers, you need enough skills to Kanye West yourself out of situations. Listen to the Rogan / West interview for a prime example. My Grandfather calls this 'doubletalk'.

Entry-level work you can think in blue-collar grind it out and hard work style. Anything above that to middle management involves the art above.

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by zbigi »

@ Lemur

Yep, that's my experience too. At a senior developer level, you're essentially a bureaucrat who codes and the coding is incidental at times (I have days or even weeks when I fight the bureaucracy to get access to some system or data and write zero code during that time). As in any large organization, if you're good at playing the games and navigating the maze, you'll job will be relatively easy, if unsatisfying. All in all, it's proper Dilbertesque hell, as described and despised by generations of engineers before us.

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by Scott 2 »

@zbigi - that's a good overview. I'm approaching 20 years in IT myself.

One point I'd add - some roles assume after hours availability. Most typically - devops and admins. This can really suck. There will be promises made about automating those problems away. In practice, I don't see it happen.

I guess I might also add a security and compliance role to your list.

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Re: Help me think about the next step in my life

Post by LookingInward »

So I'm back after a few months :D

Some good feedback here. Thank you all =). I will be start looking at the job market soon and will also start studying some computer science.

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