Making a career change can be a daunting task, but sometimes it’s necessary to find an occupation that provides a better work-life balance and perfectly compliments your aspirations. That’s exactly what happened to me. After working as a radiographer/mammographer for several years, I decided to entirely switch gears and pursue a job in IT. I mean, how hard can it really be? Copy and paste, right? RIGHT!
It wasn’t an easy decision, but I knew it was the right one for me. The idea of being able to work from anywhere in the world, having more freedom in my work life, and flexibility with my own time was too appealing to ignore. So, I took a leap of faith, traded in my radiography markers for a laptop, and started my journey into the world of IT.
Getting started in the world of IT
With the guidance of skilled IT professionals and mentors in the field of data engineering, I was introduced to the data engineering domain and set on a path to learn more about it. I was soon overwhelmed with the ever-changing world of IT. I stuck to the 4 P’s - Planning Prevents Poor Performance, and decided to earn my AWS Cloud Practitioner certification. I can tell you, sitting through a proctored exam, where even blinking is probably deemed cheating, is no joke. This was a great way to gain some basic knowledge of AWS solutions before diving into my new role.
In radiography a chest x-ray looks the same for each patient, depending on positioning. You always need to see inflated lungs visualizing 5-7 anterior ribs. This is the criterion for a good inspiration chest x-ray - provided this is clear, it’s the same across the board. In the IT field there is no one-stop shop for different client environments as they are bespoke and each solution cannot easily be replicated across different customers.
Instant gratification was off the cards and simple problems took me much longer to grasp, like setting up AWS profile configuration in the bash terminal. At first, I was so confused - who is bash and why is she taking over my terminal? We all start somewhere, and that was certainly true for me!
Technical challenges and learning new skills
At the start, I found the technical challenges to be quite daunting. While I had some basic computer skills, such as SUM(A2,A3) type excel skills, I quickly realized that to build large scale solutions in data engineering and succeed in IT, I needed to learn much more. I found myself learning new things every day. I found learning new languages, especially SQL, to be enjoyable, and was particularly drawn to the problem-solving element of it. I also started to learn Python (not a snake in the Pythonidae family as it turned out), a programming language which was a bit intimidating initially. However, I soon found it to be a powerful tool for automation and scripting.
Learning all the different types of command-line interfaces (CLI) was like trying to navigate a maze blindfolded - I felt like a lost mouse in a digital labyrinth! I remember spending hours trying to figure out how to navigate directories and mount subsystems on the Windows Subsystem Linux (WSL) with Windows mounts. At the end of each day, every little win was worth the effort.
Employment within the industry
After one month of certifying, getting familiar with IDE’s and some light coding, I was fortunate enough to find a startup company, Cloud-Fundis, that was willing to take a chance on me. Despite my lack of experience in the field, the company offered me the opportunity to learn and grow in my new role, and I quickly realized that I loved the work.
I was put to work, and exposed to the DevOps side of the business, and started building Infrastructure as Code (IAC) using Terraform for AWS. This was a steep learning curve, but with dedication, excellent mentors and practice, I was able to improve my skills and be a part of four successful Terraform code based projects in only four months.
Throughout this time I often remind myself to do what I can, where I am, with what I have. To be self-sufficient. It is a comforting thought when I feel like I’m not making much progress.
During my time at Cloud-Fundis, I was encouraged to do another AWS certification, by my new team, the AWS Developer Associate. It was a bit of a stretch for me as I had only been in IT and exposed to AWS Services for three months at that stage, but I figured why not? Taking risks and accepting the possibility of failure is a fundamental part of achieving success. Without taking chances, personal growth becomes stunted. With the commitment of a month part-time studying, and what felt like a never-ending cycle of AWS exam-induced PTSD, I finally summoned the courage to face my fears and take my second AWS certification exam. The stress was so palpable that I was certain my keyboard would crumble under the weight of my trembling fingers. But lo and behold, I emerged victorious, my triumphant screams echoing through the halls of my house as I received the coveted certification. I may have shed a tear or two (or ten) in relief, but hey, that’s just the emotional rollercoaster of an AWS certification.
Weighing the good with the bad
One of the biggest adjustments for me was transitioning to remote work. As a radiographer, I was used to working in a clinical setting, often running around to different theaters and ICU’s, with a team of people. Now, I am working from home and communicating with colleagues and clients virtually. This meant that jeans and a t-shirt is considered formal wear in my new day-to-day life and the need for scrubs or proper uniform disappeared. It was a big change, but one that I quickly adapted to.
The truly remarkable surprise was how many physical challenges there are in IT. Without the built-in breaks that come from a commute or walking to different parts of an office, it can be easy to fall into the trap of working for hours on end without moving. It’s no secret that the sedentary nature of many IT jobs can lead to problems like back pain, neck strain, and eye fatigue. In fact, there are times when I believe that prolonged sitting should be accompanied by a warning label, considering how many hours we spend glued to our chairs.
Some challenges I faced initially was that my hand would cramp from using a regular mouse for extended periods. Being from a medical field I knew carpal tunnel was looming. I often joked that I needed a new mouse that would help me avoid the dreaded “mouse hand”. Before long I received a gift from our CEO to remedy this: a trackball mouse. I have never been as excited about a piece of tech as I was about that trackball mouse. It has changed my life; but I digress.
Naturally, as with any profession, there are pros and cons to working in IT. As a software engineer once quipped, “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature”. So while the physical challenges of being stationary for hours on end may be a downside, the problem-solving and creativity that comes with working in IT is definitely a feature worth celebrating. I’ve also learned to fight off these pesky physical hurdles by taking mini dance breaks and investing in some fancy ergonomic gear.
In conclusion, my journey from radiography to IT has been a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes the ride would hurl me back to the earth and I would find myself struggling, and then before all doom set in, the ride would rise and adrenaline, hope and new horizons would be waiting for me. Such is life too. The only thing we’ve got to do is get on, strap in, and enjoy the journey ahead. I’m glad I took the chance to follow my passion and make a change. A crucial point to keep in mind is that skill can be learned with the appropriate attitude and mindset.
It takes courage to leave a stable career and pursue something new, but it can lead to a more fulfilling work-life balance. With dedication, and the right opportunities, it’s possible to transition from any career to IT, even if you’re not technically savvy at the outset.