Diverse Paths Lead to Second Careers on IBM i
Mark Irish, Shelli Peck and Tony Turetsky explain how restarting their careers on IBM i led to expanded community and opportunities.
By Brett Martin10/01/2020
Not everyone new to IBM i is a fresh-faced graduate in their early 20s. Many find success and fulfillment by pursuing IBM i positions as a second career.
Sometimes people leave successful, lucrative jobs to move into an IBM i environment. This was the case with Tony Turetsky, IBM i software developer at appliance retailer P.C. Richards & Sons, who was enjoying a career in sales but wanted a change.
“I had been in some form of sales since I was 15 years old. The burnout is real: long hours, especially on weekends and holidays, inconsistent paychecks, high pressure to perform, plus the headaches of any trouble that might arise after the sale is completed,” he explains. “I wanted to not only change careers, but also improve my lifestyle.”
“The best part of this job is that I get to use my brain every single day. Programming is an amazing mixture of creativity and solving self-made logic puzzles.”
Taking a Major Career Leap
Some career journeys take a major unexpected turn. For example, Mark Irish was working toward a Ph.D. in anthropology, then switched to become a developer. Irish is now working as an IBM i software developer for IBM.
“The University of California, San Diego, had a ‘cyberarchaeology’ initiative to revolutionize the field of archaeology through technology,” Irish says. “To be part of this initiative, I took a number of computer science (CS) undergraduate classes as a graduate student. I was enjoying CS much more than archaeology. There were a hundred other little reasons that I started to see CS as a much better fit for my skillset and lifestyle, and I began to explore how I would go about making the career change.”
After a year of internally debating whether to pursue the Ph.D. or get a bachelor’s degree in computer science, his wife helped him make the decision. “She told me I’d just have to choose, and in that moment I had sudden clarity that computer science and development was what I wanted to do,” he says. He landed a job with the help of a college lecturer who happened to be a manager at IBM.
Turetsky’s career path was different. He attended a coding boot camp, loved it and decided to pursue development.
“A coding boot camp is not for everyone, and I recognize I was very privileged to essentially pause my life while learning to code,” he says.
The boot camp was a fast-paced, high-stress environment with an extremely heavy workload. The curriculum's rigid structure kept Turetsky on track while allowing him to explore specific areas that were of interest.
“The appeal is not only the roadmap of what to learn. They taught me how to rewire my brain to learn new and often daunting technical skills,” he explains. “Another huge benefit is being with like-minded people. The program is designed to be hard. There were moments when a task seemed impossible. The emotional group support and being able to put our heads together to solve a problem got us through where we might have individually given up.”
“It can be easy to work on something for months, then be unsure whether anyone is using it. So getting feedback is very rewarding.”
A Road Filled With Surprises and Rewards
Irish’s main responsibility in his current job is open-source software enablement for IBM i.
“I port packages to work on the system and ensure that everything works as a developer might expect it to,” he explains. “I also develop integration pieces, like database connectors, and give presentations at conferences on open-source software as it relates to IBM i.”
His favorite part of his job is when IBM i users tell him they’re leveraging the software he ports and the connectors he creates. “It can be easy to work on something for months, then be unsure whether anyone is using it,” he points out. “So getting feedback is very rewarding. Interacting with users face-to-face is one reason I love the conference circuit.”
Shelli Peck’s journey took her from a consulting firm to vice president of business development at ProData, a leading provider of IBM i utilities.
“We had a booth next to ProData at a COMMON conference. There, I met the ProData owners. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were looking for someone to lead business development,” Peck relates. “Two weeks after the conference, they called and asked how things were going at the firm. I said, ‘Great!’ They said, ‘That’s not what we wanted to hear. We’d like to hire you.’ That’s when discussions began.”
She currently oversees sales and marketing, working to develop growth opportunities. What most surprises her about her career journey to IBM i is how connected people in the industry are.
“It’s so fun to run into people who knew you when you were young or at different times throughout your career,” she says. “Networking is so important in the IBM i world. It opens so many doors to new opportunities.”
Working in a fast-paced industry is another driving factor for many developers. A steady stream of new tools, languages and problem-solving solutions keeps the industry on the forefront of innovation.
“The best part of this job is that I get to use my brain every single day. Programming is an amazing mixture of creativity and solving self-made logic puzzles,” Turetsky says. “It’s incredibly rewarding when your program compiles with no red errors. Seeing code run that I created from nothing is a wonderful feeling.”
“It's so fun to run into people who knew you when you were young or at different times throughout your career. Networking is so important in the IBM i world. It opens so many doors to new opportunities.”
Expert Advice for Switching Careers
There are countless paths to becoming a developer. Those who have made the journey offer proven advice for anyone thinking of following in their footsteps.
“Pick one of the free resources available on the internet to get started learning to code and follow through to completion,” advises Turetsky, who started with Ruby. “It doesn’t matter what your first language is because the fundamentals are similar across the board. Pick a path and don’t be intimidated.”
The next step is deciding what kind of developer to be, he says. This can include building games, websites or computer programs.
“Research the industry. What’s the pay scale, the culture and the job openings?” he says. “Then pick a language that suits that field and do another tutorial from beginning to end. You’re going to have 1 million questions, and that’s OK. Learn why something works rather than copying and pasting the answer.”
People shouldn’t pursue a career in development because they think it’ll be easy money or because they’re looking for a career change, Irish says. They should do it because they love it. This will make people much better developers.
“Once you decide development is what you want to do, give it 110%. Make a GitHub and post any side project you’ve been working on, even if you think no one will care,” Irish says. “The fact that you worked on something outside of your job or the classroom will be impressive in its own right.”
Peck’s advice to anyone considering switching careers to become a developer is to be prepared and be ready to seize opportunities. “Work hard every step of the way. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” she says. “Be prepared!”
Overcoming the Fear Factor
Changing careers can be scary. There’s rarely a perfect time to do it, there can be a lot of self-doubt, and walking away from a steady job when there are bills to pay adds to the stress. Yet for many, like Tony Turetsky, IBM i software developer for P.C. Richards & Sons, the switch is well worth the time, investment and fear.
“I had gotten married just two weeks before the code boot camp started,” he says. “We were in the process of buying a house. Making the decision to leave a job I was good at and not have a steady income for four months while I diverted every bit of attention to learning how to speak to a computer was hard. Looking back on it now, I am so grateful that I did it.”
Brett Martin is a freelance writer based in Shakopee, Minnesota. He’s been writing about business and technology for more than a decade.