This Udacity graduate undertook a major career change to become a Software Developer, after 30 years in other industries!
Richard Morgan is a long-time Texas resident and a graduate of our Full-Stack Web Developer Nanodegree program. Richard recently started a new career as a software developer after 30 years working in other industries. He was able to relocate to his favorite part of Texas—College Station. He’s loving his new company and workload, and his family is loving life in their new home. It’s a dream come true for Richard, but achieving it took an incredible amount of hard work, and he had to overcome many challenges along the way.
What Richard achieved can teach us all about the commitment and strength of character you need to learn something completely new. His example shows us that you can determinedly overcome obstacles by refusing to give up when things get tough. He certainly taught us much about our own Udacity mission, showing us the challenges our students face, and the support they need to overcome them.
First, a little more about Richard’s backstory. Richard used to manage a Harley-Davidson dealership. He once ran a marketing company that sold novelty signs and was ranked amongst eBay’s Top 100 sellers. He has been married for over 30 years. He’s a father to two wonderful children. He’s been in a touring rock band. He’s even a casual game developer.
There’s something else you should know about Richard. Right out of college, he ran a software company for a period of time. 30 years later, that early experience would prove very important to Richard’s story.
Contemplating Career Change
When Richard closed his marketing company in 2015 and began searching for a new challenge, he started tentatively exploring how he could reenter the world of software development. He started researching Unity, a development platform he discovered was going to be used with Microsoft’s holographic computer, HoloLens. The potential he saw in this technology was motivating:
“I started teaching myself how to use Unity in my spare time, and wanted to practice my skills. I found a user group that was looking for new members to participate in development, so I joined, and started developing with the aim of getting some practice working on new software.”
When Career Change Happens Unexpectedly
Richard envisioned this group of developers slowly gaining experience through quietly developing games amongst themselves. It didn’t work out this way. Their early creations gained the attention of Richard’s friends in the oil industry, who believed Unity had commercial applications. Richard’s group found themselves very quickly fielding multiple requests to create commercial applications for companies in Texas’ oil fields. Suddenly, their skills were in real demand, and they were even being paid for their efforts!
Richard was excited by these new opportunities, but he also had to be honest with himself that his own skills weren’t ready for the challenge.
“I realized that my development skills were weak and I wasn’t ready for the kind of projects we were working on. My previous software development experience was decades out of date. I really lacked the skills to contribute and make decisions on product development, so started looking around for training.”
Skilling Up For New Opportunities
Richard discovered a number of seemingly viable options for enhancing his skills, prompting long deliberations with his wife on which path best suited their needs. He needed to learn new skills to become a better developer. His course of study also needed to fit in with his family’s life. Additionally, any commitment of his time and their finances meant there needed to be a clear and achievable final goal to make the effort worthwhile.
“There were many courses and bootcamps out there; some really expensive, others too technical for my skill level. What I really liked about Udacity’s offering was that it focused on the topics I’d need to know to make a living. It really was the only program with a direct focus on jobs, and this was so important for me and my family.”
A Hard Truth About Lifelong Learning
It was a winding route to the the world of software development, but Richard nonetheless carefully mapped out his future path with clear-headed assurance. He knew what he needed, he knew what his family needed, and in Udacity, he’d found the learning provider that would enable him to make it all happen. Everything felt right.
At least, it did until it was time to actually start the program. That’s when Richard had to confront some cold, hard truths
“I’m 49 years old and I found retraining my brain to learn something new was a challenge. The business I had been in previously had all become so routine that I hadn’t really pushed my brain to understand new things in a long while. I had to completely rebuild my thinking process, and it was—at times—really painful.”
Fortunately, Richard had a long and successful work history, and drawing on that experience got him through. He understood the importance of hard work and a job:
“The program was really challenging and there were definitely times when I felt like I’d taken on too much. I spent a lot of time really making sure I understood everything. What kept me pushing forward was that I could always see I was building a whole range of development skills, and I could see how this would help me find a job afterwards.”
Overcoming Recruiter Bias In Pursuit Of Mid-Career Career Change
Despite the hard work, the moments of doubt, and the challenges he faced, Richard successfully completed the program. However, there were more hard truths to come; mid-career professionals who want to move into a new industry often have to overcome cynicism and suspicion from recruiters who aren’t used to handling older candidates with varied career histories. While it might not be fair, Richard found that the onus was on him to explain why he was making a career change, and what relevance his long work experience had to the developer roles he applied to.
“At times, it was really frustrating to convey a background as long and varied as mine. Often it seemed as if recruiters were only interested in my most immediate developing experience, and would ignore everything else I’d done.”
Telling An Effective Career Story
This was a hard lesson to learn, but once he understood it, Richard knew what to do. As he applied to jobs, he learned effective ways to showcase the communication skills and the commercial acumen he had developed over his 30-year career. He became adept at demonstrating that his far broader set of skills was an asset that other candidates simply couldn’t offer. All he needed was the right audience, and he found it with a company called ClaimPilot in College Station.
“As soon as I started interviewing with them, I think they saw the potential in me to be able to train to do the development, as well as being able to interact with the end-users of their software to understand their needs. This was a real added value for them!”
ClaimPilot offered him a role as a software developer, and Richard and family happily relocated to College Station to take up the opportunity. He’s still developing his skills, learning new systems at work, and continuing to develop games in his spare time.
“Everyday I’m so thankful, it’s been so worth it. Since moving to College Station, our kids are happy, my wife is happy, I’m so happy. I feel so fortunate to have found a job and an industry that I love.”
Congratulations Richard on your new role! We wish you and your family well as you settle into your new life in College Station. Your story is a wonderful illustration of the value of hard work and perseverance, and of the new opportunities that come when you’re prepared to add to your skills and learn something new.