A career change story: from teacher to tech

Posted on May 25, 2019

Abby Jones presentation on career change

What do sign language, Python, and socializing with geeks have in common?

They’re all things Abby Jones taught herself!

A few days ago, I heard Abby share the story of her career change from classroom teacher to software architect. It’s a fascinating story full of lessons.

What can you learn from Abby’s story and apply to your own life?

A big career change: from classroom to corporate

Abby began her career in special education. In her first job after college, she had one deaf student. It bothered her that while she could greet all of her other students, she couldn’t easily communicate with this kid. So, what did she do?

She taught herself sign language!

And she fell in love with the language. She went back to school for a Master’s degree and became a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearingher first career change.

She enjoyed this work. Still, she hit some major burnout after about 4 years.

Craving something totally different, Abby started spending her evenings and weekends learning the programming language Python. She didn’t know anything about programming, but she was sort of the gadget guru in her family, so she thought, why not? This little project grew bit by bit as she took online courses, bought more books, and built websites for her friends. It really took off when she immersed herself into the local tech community, where she found her stereotypes crumbling in the faces of friendly, generous dudes. (OK, the gender stereotype mostly held true.)

When did she know she wanted to program professionally?

She realized, “I’m excited to go into my office Saturday morning and do this. I think this is what I want to do!”

It was another year until she made the jump. She wanted to wrap up a few things with her current students and their families.

Once the school year was up, she explains, “I had just finished the best two years of my teaching career. I finally felt like I was making a difference. But I was still ready to go, ready for a new challenge.”

YES! This is the dream, isn’t it? To leave on a high note?

Abby made the big leap into career change again, this time to an entirely different industry. She joined Mutual of Omaha where she’s worked for the past 3 years. She continues to learn and move up the ranks, from Technical Specialist to Technical Solution Architect.

How did she do it?

I saw a lot in Abby that helped her on this journey to a career she loves: jumping into a curiosity (programming) without needing to know where it was leading, an inspiring vision of her future (generally taking on the form of cool stuff she could build), gratitude for her current work, the decision to commit fully in that final year of teaching.

Another consistent theme to Abby’s story was community. This is a theme that comes up again and again when I get to hear people’s stories in any depth. I wonder if it’s not just helpful, but necessary.

When you tell the story of your life, what role does community play? How many of the best things in your life wouldn’t be possible without communityyour family, a loving friend, a generous colleague?

Her success at Mutual seems to have a lot to do with her willingness to accept roles and projects that she didn’t feel ready for. She shared,
To feel ready and be ready are too very different things. Don’t wait until you feel ready!

Abby wrapped up her story with a reference to this quote…

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Thomas Edison

PC: Tech Omaha