Making a Major Career Change: What I Wish I Knew Before
Recently, I sold my business. Goodbye Target Parking!
And now, I’m starting again as a techie.
It’s not the first time I’ve made such a career leap. I’ve had a portfolio of business interests, floated a company on the stock exchange, and built a number of companies. I’ve been a waitress, a banker, and a CEO. And, of course, having started all my businesses from scratch, I’ve also been a photocopier, coffee maker, finance director, cleaner, IT help desk, and stationery department head, too. Most recently, I co-founded EnterpriseJungle with my brother last year, and the business has evolved so substantially that we made the decision that I join full time.
I can often be heard saying it doesn’t matter what the sector is: If you’re dynamic and innovative, you can find your feet in any industry, in any country, and at any age with a bit of effort, hard work, and smart networking. And while I stand firmly behind those words, I admit that it is disconcerting coming from being a bit of a know-it-all to a place where I have a lot to learn. And fast. In fact, being at the helm doesn’t mean I’m immune to the challenges presented by a world with a new language, rhythm, and network.
In some ways, it’s harder. My move to tech marks the first time I’ve been in a business where a team of highly skilled engineers are building something in a language I have never heard of, let alone seen. I can get by in a host of modern languages, but when the engineers explain the architecture, the stack, the back end, the front end—I have to defer to someone else to check it. For me, I am fortunate that those “someone elses” include my talented brother, but ceding control of something so important has been another learning process I have had to undertake.
Are you, too, considering a big change? Here’s my advice. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a challenge: I get it. I’m going through it. But also remember that it’s an incredible opportunity. I’m invigorated by how much I am learning and can tell you it is both empowering and exciting. When I first coded in Python last year, I felt like I had climbed Everest. It was something I never thought I would be able to do, and the sense of achievement was phenomenal. Have I made mistakes? Yes. Do I find myself wondering what people are talking about from time to time? Yes. But it just drives me to learn more.
On that note, don’t forget that in your interviews, as much as your potential co-workers are interviewing you, you need to interview them right back! Your new team and infrastructure are critical to helping you learn and smoothing the path of change, and you will need to rely on experienced and educated colleagues as I do in my new role (which in your case, is unlikely to be held by your sibling!).
What gives me comfort? Alongside a strong team, my brother and I bring such different skills and networks to the table. So, while I still don’t speak the language, my lack of deep tech has ensured the company can formulate very viable sales pitches in language everyone can understand. If a company can’t explain its product in accessible language, it’s going to have a problem going to market. You, too, will likely have skills and experience that will bring a fresh perspective to a new position or industry, as I have done in mine.
So to those contemplating a change, I say it’s invigorating and exciting. It’s normal to be nervous, to recognize a gap in skills or knowledge that will take some time to address, and to have to cede some elements of control due to knowledge gaps. But the skills, the relationship building, the strategic thinking, and the habits you applied yesterday are still relevant today: Indeed, it is the experience you have, coupled with your willingness to learn, which is most of value in your new role.
Oh, and if you run into me in the next few weeks? Yes, I do probably still know the best places to park, but go easy on the acronyms and tech speak please. I’m still learning how to differentiate my APIs from my BLTs.
Photo of birds migrating courtesy of Shutterstock.
Emma Sinclair is a serial entrepreneur and the youngest person in the UK to take a company public, Mission Capital, having done so at 29. An ex-investment banker and recipient of multiple business awards, she now runs Enterprise Jungle, a company that connects you to people you should know, but don't. She writes about her professional idols and a business column every week for The Telegraph’s Wonder Women section. Follow her on Twitter @ES_Entrepreneur.More from this Author