Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

How To Change Career (and why you probably should)

I know someone who works in local government but wants to be a historian. I know someone who works in science but wants to be an author. I know another scientist who would like to be a photographer.

Like most people, they don’t change. They don’t change what they do for a number of reasons. Some are practical, some are emotional. I’d wager that the majority of people out there are not in the career they want to be in. I’m sure all of them can justify to other people, and themselves why they shouldn’t change their career, even though deep down they know they have the wrong one.

Few of us have grand plans for what we want to do with our lives aged 16 (when many people make educational choices that will determine teir future careers). I wanted to be a special effects cameraman, Then a heavy metal guitar hero. Then a computer games designer.

I ended up working as a boat builder, for no more illustrious reason that I happened to be sat next to a kid at college who worked there at weekends and we became friends. I’m sure some of you reading this have ‘fallen into’ a career that way, and it’s never one you would have chosen as your life’s goal, back then, let alone right now.

Of all the reasons to change, the most depressing one is the fact that it would mean a drop in your standard of living in the short term. “I get good money as a senior cubicle sweeper, why would I quit it to be a lowly paid actor doing bit parts in daytime TV?” sounds very reasonable in the short term (and assuming you won’t actually be a successful actor), but when it comes to career, thinking short term is madness. So it might take you five years or ten years to get back to where you are now in your new career, don’t you owe it to yourself to make the best of your life? Do you really want to be sat there aged 50 wishing you’d given it a go?

I quit my boat-building job and was unemployed for eight months, doing the odd manual job when it showed up. Eventually I got a job as an IT hardware engineer for £11k a year. it was hell. Within a year I had a better job for a company in the city for £16. they promoted me to about £22 as I recall. After 2 years I left there to work for an IT training company for £30k, then eventually (after doing an MCSE in my spare time) I got a job as an IT consultant for £48 then £55k. Things were suddenly much better than they would ever have been building boats.

After getting fed up with all that I changed careers again, having taught myself C++ from mail order courses and evening classes. I got a job at Elixir for about half my IT consultant salary.

Ouch.

Then after 2 years I went to lionhead and earned a bit more, then got a bit more. Then I effectively changed career again to run positech and effectively halved my salary again.

Ouch.

Now I work for myself, and I’ve climbed back to where I was before, only this time I have my dream job and no boss. From boat-builder to computer game designer took me twenty years and 3 career changes. It’s not exactly easy.

But it can be done. And if you are sat there thinking your dream job is far too removed from what you do, remember that you read the blog of a guy who used to nail boats together all day and now programs computer games. If I can make that career change, you can make yours.


13 thoughts on How To Change Career (and why you probably should)

  1. A very inspiring story, especially for me right now.

    I’m currently working a corporate software development job. The pay is cushy (especially for me, who just got out of college), and while I enjoy some of the coding I do, a lot of it is a drag. It’s not until I started working a job that what I really wanted to work on was games.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m starting too late, after hearing of people who are already making full games at a young age. But if you can make this transition over 20 years, surely I have plenty of time.

    (Right now, I’m just saving up money in preparation for making the leap to indie developer.)

  2. Great inspirational post Cliff! I imagine it’s not easy each time to switch careers, especially when you need certain skills to make the switch.

  3. Excellent advice, but even with an great example of how it can benefit your life it’s something that the majority of people won’t do for the same reason that people eat nasty TV dinners, don’t go to the gym when they’re unfit, or watch X factor instead of reading something interesting. The path of least resistance is the main motivating factor for most people, and in general people fear change enough to make excuses whenever the chance to escape from a dull life presents itself.

    Inspiring story!

  4. I like your story a lot! It takes a lot of guts to switch careers.
    I work in databases and want to either write full-time about video games or write poetry and perhaps fiction full time.
    I’m working on both goals, too. I am focusing on the latter for the moment, however.
    And yeah, at best I’ll halve my salary if I go to school for writing once again, but I’ll be making invaluable connections and probably publishing work I wouldn’t otherwise be publishing.

    I’d like to design games, too, but I don’t have the patience to learn how to code.
    Also, I want to be a rock star. And an astronaut.

  5. Ha, if you switched careers in Kudos 2 your now expensive friends would ditch your poor ass.

    Thank you for the inspiring story. As someone who’s done several career and location changes, I strongly recommend mixing it up. Change is fucking exhilarating.

  6. I’ve done something not too dissimilar…

    Started off studying medicine thinking I wanted to be a doctor. Changed my mind halfway through, quit and did a CS degree, thinking I wanted to make games. Finished the CS degree, and went straight into a job in financial IT. After doing that for nearly 3 years, I felt reinvigorated to push for the original goal, started making hobbyist games on the side and took pretty much a 50% pay cut to get a developer role in a major UK studio.

    So, all in from the decision to try to get into the industry, to actually getting in, took 7 years – not that it should have taken that long, I just felt the need to get a CS degree first and then I got sidetracked for a few years :)

    So my journey went from medicine to game development, via corporate IT! And hopefully in the future probably something not too dissimilar to yourself, I’d love to go indie :)

  7. I disagree that the reason people don’t change careers is short sightedness. A ton of people want to be authors, historians, actors, rock stars, pilots, but there are comparatively few paid positions in any of these.

    Plenty of people write passable books/poetry but cannot sell enough to make a living (or maybe can’t even get published). Plenty of people get good degrees in history (or other arty-type subjects) but the number of paid academic positions in such fields is tiny. Plenty of people with acting qualifications end up doing something else because acting is so competitive. Plenty of people have the ability to be a pilot, and maybe even a private pilot’s licence, but getting a job as a military or commercial pilot is insanely competitive.

    Meanwhile there is huge economic demand for dull, practical jobs like IT engineers, science research on pharmaceuticals, administrators, accountants, etc, and so this is what people end up doing.

    I’d say indie game development is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of number of people who want to do it versus jobs available. So well done on doing what you want to do, but I don’t see a general rule.

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