Here's a bit of a career-oriented question I've been pondering for a while.

Have you thought about making a radical career or lifestyle change away from programming, some time in the future? If so, what? Or even better, have you or someone you know already done this?

The way I see it is this:

  • Programmers like challenges
  • Many start out young in the business
  • You can become pretty well off financially in ten or twenty years

So, having started young, you eventually find less and less challenges. The money's not an incentive anymore, you've got quite a bit of that. You really do like those challenges, so what do you do? Do you become a bonsai tree master? Do you start a Rottweiler kennel? Maybe you want to become a rockstar. Tell me :)

Note that I do not want to hear about programmers going to IT-management, I'm interested in dreams and stories about going AWAY from the cubicle. I know I'm not the only one with these thoughts. :)

Edit: Some pretty cool answers so far. Bonus points for extreme changes. The Zen Master formerly known as Lead Dev? Do tell!

+11  A: 

It's seems to me like it's time for you to start a startup ;)

You seem to know the business, it's not a completely alien thing, but it would be very different. Just an idea!

Rafa G. Argente
This is pretty funny actually. :) I've been working for a full four months in IT. It's not that I'm unhappy, I just have this feeling that I'm not going to be "in fo' life" :)

We do need more good startups not run by moguls with not IT experience ;)

Maybe you could retire and surf the stock market?

( well, seeing money is no longer an object, nothing could be more thrilling than the potential to shaft yourself by throwing it all away! )

Kent Fredric
I think we need a +1 Funny.. but that doesn't affect rep, just position status :)

Probably become a forest ranger or something like that. A life admist trees and greenary - away from all those cramped cube! Or something exctiting like traveling to different places, bungee jumping, treking etc etc... A life away from this city and tight work schedule! A complete change in lifestyle! (BTW I do love my work)

+5  A: 

I had a colleague who is a good developer but he dreams of him self as a bartender so in a talk he told me that he loves and dreams to work as bartender but he took a programming course and he became a developer but his plan was to quit development job and to work as bartender sometime in the near-future.

+1 from me on that... seems like lots of programmers I know want to be bartenders - all the challenges of tight schedules, changing requirements, and customer wackiness... but getting to see people in the process, and pick up tips :)
And it would have absolutely nothing to do with with the fact that a lot of programmers are incapable of picking up women... ;)
The only problem is that you earn about a 1/10 of what you would have as a developer...I have a friend who bartends on the weekends for extra cash...
Omar Kooheji
depends on where you are... and what night it is; anywhere from $8-100/hr is "normal"
Well I don't know his reasons but he loves the bartend work. As for me, I would work on a OSS project as our fellow developer in this question asked so it is still programming :D

Not quite optimistic:

Well I started out to become a High School Teacher but it seems that the administration found better use for me among the digitaly illitetate secretaries, and now I have to hear all the time questions like "why isn't my computer working ?" and beeing females they have their way in making you believe that it's your fault. The only plus? is that 95% percent of the staff are women, a complete testosterone free environment.

+3  A: 

If I'd have enough money to be able to stop working for a living I'd do so immediately. But I don't think I'd stop programming. I'd like to be able to do OSS projects full time.

If I need another challenge I'd probably seek it in the domain I'm making software for. There are lots of interesting fields where you can learn a lot of new stuff while still making use of your programming skills like bioinformatics, signal processing etc.

great! This is always on my mind!

A friend of mine used to be a sysadmin and programmer, but felt like working more with people. After some years of studying, while still working on evenings and weekends, he's now working as a nurse and is feeling very good about his new career. He is still programming though, but only on things he find fun.

Programming can be "just a hobby", because then you can work on what you want, not what you're told to do.

Claes Mogren

If you have experience and money isn't an issue anymore, become an Angel Investor, the world needs more of them to help the young developers with good ideas.

Robert Gould
+48  A: 

Please - go into Politics

Seriously. There's far to many Lawyers. Humanities and generally Tech Illiterate people running around making laws. We really need ex-techs in influential positions who can make and guide policy and law.

For example, here in the UK we're about to push along our infrastructure replacement as part of the anti-recession measures. The politicos talk endlessly about Schools, Hospitals and Roads - all very laudable but for a fraction of the money to be spent we could require the whole country to fibre and up broadband speeds by an order of magnitude. Think of the economic boost that could give us - but do we ever hear a politician suggest it?


So please, consider politics.

Pretty cool answer. I've been thinking a bit about this one actually. Don't really know how to "get into" politics though, maybe I should find out! I have been completely apolitical my whole life though, might be a bit of a tough change ;)
This could be a tough challenge. Don't all developers hate politics?! Company politics at least...
Everyone hates politics... even the politicians.
You could start by volunteering at a local level for a political party that you support. It may not be intellectually challenging, but you'd get an inside view of what politics is really about.
Eric Ness
You could look at what Sean Tevis did. Fascinating story.
Bravo! Very well said!
Manrico Corazzi
"Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job"
+5  A: 

I started programmin when I was 22 years old, and now I'm in my mid fourties. I have grown from COBOL programmer to CTO of an internet startup and resized back to Delphi programmer and software architect.

A few years back - 2001 to be exact, when layed off after a bankrupcy of an internet startup - I started to think about a second career. Somehow I did not find any satisfaction anymore in programming automation software for firing ranges or internet bots that got abused for sex.

As I was always involved in a charismatic evangelical church here in Switzerland and had a minor in biblical Hebrew whilest at university, majoring in CS, I started co-pastoring a small church.

Yes, it is perfectly right that we programmers like challenges, but we do not like the infeering of the surounding "real world" during the solving process. We love the way computers are almost purely logical and most problems are solvable, given enough time and ressources. This is profoundly different when working with people.

I am now a teacher of the bible, building foundations into people at church. Like programming, it's a process. Like project management, it's different stake holders. Like being CTO, there is an aspect of fitting future, present, and past. And there is a common ground. But it is much more rewarding - to see a life changed, to see young and old get a handle on their problems, to see them find self value, to see relations fixed...

My finances are pretty much gone. Other people were help with it. Well invested!

I must admit, as a pet passion or hobby I help an international network of churches with computer problems and websites. We are even thinking of building a IT apprenticeship program (2 days of school, 3 days of work for 4 years) with a university in Canada.

I'm in the midst of the transition. It has been ongoing for almost 5 years now and will be fulfilled mid 2009. By then I will be fultime minister, where as of now I still have a contract in programming to sustain me financially.

Looking forward, but also enjoying the here and now.

Ralph Rickenbach
That's one of the most interesting career changes I've heard! +1 :)
+1  A: 

I have a friend that became a cook.

He wasn't really in the world of programming. He was more in the area of IT systems. But one day he got bored and now he's learning the secrets of being a professional cook.

Cooking professionally is a lot like programming. It's not making one dish at a time, but instead making several dishes for several people all at once, with a defined process and regular tasting (like unit testing).
Robert S.
+23  A: 

I've often thought of just giving it up and becoming a construction worker. Seriously. It might be considered a mindless job to some, but most of my friends that are in the skilled trades are the happiest people I know. They go to work every morning, and when they leave work, they leave work. They don't even think about work at home; and if they have to work after work hours, they get paid extra.


  • You get fresh air and actually see sunlight during the day.
  • You stay fit because you are essentially lifting weights all day.
  • They get paid quite well; generally ranging from $20 - $100/hr based on what they do.
  • They get 3-4 months of paid vacation a year (unemployment); and they can still work and get that 'paid vacation'.
  • They get leftover construction materials for free.
  • Overtime pay.
  • Chicks dig them.
  • They don't do a job that only they are qualified to do, yet everyone else thinks they could do better, faster, and cheaper.


  • Sometimes they have to work outside when it's cold or rainy.
  • They get dirty.

My dad was really upset with me for becoming a programmer. He wanted me to become a carpenter, plumber, etc. He used to always say, "if your toilet explodes at 3am, you can't outsource that." :)

John Kraft
The "stay fit" part is double-edged though. Then again, us developers do a pretty good job of breaking our bodies, so it can't be much worse;)
Someone's been watching too much office space.
Jason Baker
+1 Jason - I love Dietrich Bader's character in that movie.
John Dunagan
Amen, brother! I don't know how many times I have looked out my window going...gee, those guys get to build and destroy stuff all in a day's work.
Someone's been watching too much office space. +1
Gary Willoughby
point 7 is enough for me =D
I believe you'd get your ass kicked for saying somethin' like that.
Erik Forbes
And the best part is when you leave your job you can smash your printer in slow motion! :D
Artur Carvalho
Well, I had a number of close elderly relatives who were in the construction industry. Had - unfortunately they're now all dead having been stuck down by industrial related diseases. Personally I'll take my chances with a computer screen - better than loosing you lungs from dust or similar nasties.
+1 for your dad's comment on "outsourcing" :-) That made me smile!
+4  A: 

A family friend did the IT thing (programming) for close to two decades, then decided to go for owning and running a wine store.

He travels regularly to pick up wines from various places mostly within Switzerland. He makes enough of a living with that not to have to supplement his income with random IT jobs, despite the fact that wines are generally a lot cheaper in Switzerland than in the US.

He seemed very happy and content the last time I saw him.

+3  A: 

Me, I started a swimming pool company. It was something completely different, and it ended up failing, but I learned a lot about how to start a business and what is needed to keep a business functioning. It was an interesting change and got me away from the programming field for a while, but I am now back programming and trying to rebuild my finances right now. There is a lot more to the above description, but it would take forever to get into it.

Interesting. Too bad it didn't work out.
+1  A: 

I became a bartender and enjoyed it very much! I could prep a cocktail and talk about working with logarithms in .NET, at the same time. The hours were killing me so a year later I went back to programming where I get to sit all day.

logarithms? what the heck are you talking about
Mark Lubin
+2  A: 

I occasionally toy with the idea of learning smithing and spending my days pounding on metal. It's a lot like programming - you go off into your (optionally dark) cave, stare at something glowing (monitor vs. forge/hot metal), and practice an arcane mix of art and science to craft (potentially) cool things for people that they can't create themselves - but you work more with your hands instead of it being so heavily cerebral.

Dave Sherohman
i like that! except i'd prefer glass work.
+1  A: 

I think if i were not to further my career in the world of development I would like to pursue my interests in the sciences, particularly physics. I would also like to try my hand at writing a sci-fi novel someday.

Mark Lubin
+1  A: 

I have several ideas of what I want to do when I am know longer interested in programming.

Become a beekeeper(already started this on a small scale)

Become a teacher

Start a small business being a Locksmith

I will let you know in another 10 years or so which i go with :) Gotta get the kiddoes out of the house.

+7  A: 

Pilot - just think of all those switches and flickering lights! How could any self-respecting geek resist?

This is actually a job I'd like to try one day. However, as far as ass-sittery goes, I think piloting actually 1-up's IT-jobs. There's not much to do but sit and fly. :)
+2  A: 

I'm presently apping to law schools. Evil, I know! But programming has begun to feel mundane, and my now 8 year old startup has sadly begun to plateau.

There are many things you can bring to the legal profession with a technical background. A better understanding of licensing, contracts, property, etc. You've seen the tangible parts of all the abstract stuff many law students have not. I also have a pretty strong opinion on some of the absurdly non-novel patents coming out of the system.

Be sure to use version control for contracts/laws.
+2  A: 

I'd Considder being a Roadie, I used to do some freelance stuff to pay my way through university but my longest tour was two days as I couldn't really leave the city and be away from my classes, some of the people I worked with have been on tour with some pretty big bands.

It was great excercise and you meet the most interesting people...

Omar Kooheji
+2  A: 

I worked as a programmer for five years out of school. Most of the time I felt like I wasn't being challenged. I thought that maybe I was in the wrong career and needed a change.

I had always wanted to join the Peace Corps, so I went and taught computers in a rural setting in India. While I was over there I also did some training to become a meditation teacher.

When I got back to the States I looked around at a variety of careers to find something different because I had already determined that IT was "wrong" for me. In the end I realized that IT is actually a pretty good match for me, but I need plenty of challenges to keep it interesting.

I guess the take away message is that before you make any big changes, first figure out what you are looking for. A lot of times small, conscious changes are more effective in getting where you want to go. A great book on this is Working Identity.

Eric Ness
Teaching more people to work with computers in India?? Noooooooo!! :)
John Dunagan
+1  A: 

Ultimately some day I would like to switch to a mechanic in an auto garage, or as an ambulance driver.

1) Mechanic - fixed system, has debugging tools, a computer that tells you whats going on, full documentation. With OBD-2 and newer cars, its much easier to work on cars. Plus, when someone brings it in and you have to charge $1,800 for a check engine light, client generally pays it because they NEED the car. Now if I wanted to charge $1,800 for a CMS for their business, oh no, that's too much. Full of challenges when you have quirky electric systems, or that noise that isn't throwing a sensor out. Plus projects are generally short, you find the problem, you fix it, you move on to the next vehicle.

2) Ambulance Driver - I have a lead foot, I'm aware of the surroundings around me, and I'd love to be able to drive on the wrong side of the road in traffic through red lights. Ok... I want to help people too. I don't know, for some reason I really want to become an ambulance driver some day. I'd even do it as a volunteer.


I have a friend with a PhD in linguistics that started a software company that never really got off the ground. He's a plumber now. Debugging pipes is more closely related than you would think.

+1  A: 

I've thought about the leap to something else many times. Gardening is particularly appealing. Universities are great places for gardening jobs because they want to look good and have reasonable budgets. I doubt if I will do it though, at least in the near term. I'm 25 years out of college, two kids in high school, a mortgage, and aging parents. There is a term for where I'm at... salary slavery... not because I'm suffering, I make good money, but because the obligations grew as rapidly as the income. Check back with me in nine years with the kids are both out of college. You may find me digging in the dirt of my local university.

+6  A: 

I've often thought of getting my masters degree in Math sometime in the future and just teach high school math. Sharing knowledge with younger people has always been fun for me, it might be fun to do as a career.

Ryan Thames
I've had a lot of thoughts about going and teaching math in high school. I do some freshman teaching as part of being a graduate student, and I really like it, and I see a real need for some quality math training in my current students.
Paul Nathan
I came close to doing exactly this before I took the programming job I've got now. Maybe in a few years...
Erik Forbes
If you want to study math, do it as soon as you can. It is very tedious, and as you grow older, you will want to invest that energy less and less.

Sports journalist or broadcaster.

I eat that stuff up in the off hours, I love to write, analyze and argue, my voice isn't shot (though that wouldn't impede me in this field) and I'm usually up that hour, anyway.

The problem on the broadcaster side is that most of those guys have to be selling commercials when they're not on the air, and I'd probably suck at that.

John Dunagan

I always dream of becoming a professional golfer, I'm not really talking about the PGA tour but maybe the Nike tour or one of the other smaller circuits. I could spend 36 holes a day on a course if life would permit it.

The other place I would consider is teaching, I'd love to teach highschool math. I dream someday that I can leave the cubicle life behind.

Andrew Jahn
+3  A: 

I've always thought of becoming a psychologist... I even started looking at schools a few times but then I'd be back in school for another 5 or 8 years before I got my PysD...

Not sure I can do the school thing again... On the other hand, I'm ony 26. Time is totally on my side.


P.S. I just accidentally found this (right after I posted this). My pay would actually go down overall but it would be fairly close... Not sure whether I'd like the work more or less... vs.

Frank V
+3  A: 

I few years ago I joined an MMA gym and realized that sitting as much as programmers do slowly destroys your body. My semi-ridiculous dream for the last couple of years has been bicycle couriers in a city center somewhere. Staying active outside, talking to cute receptionists, sounds real nice. The only problem is money. Salary slavery like someone above has said, already. Bicycle couriers make peanuts compared to us. Still, the idea of ducking in and out of traffic, enjoying the sunshine (and the rain). What a life!

Yeah, the body thing is a huge factor for not wanting to stay in IT for life...
+1  A: 

Without a doubt, my "second choice" would be a teacher.

The joy of seeing the look on someone's face when they figure something out on their own (with a bit of help), combined with a continually-replenished source of questions to help prod me out of my own mental ruts, is incredibly tempting.

The roadblocks involved in actually becoming a teacher mid-career, plus the financial realities when you get there, are incredibly good at bringing me back down to earth (and my code).

Tim Lesher
+1  A: 

I have always wanted to become a teacher; either teaching CS at a college or math/sciences in a high school. I love working with kids and believe that the ultimate goal is to pass on what your have learned.

Otherwise, if I really don't need to work for the money, I think I would be either a professional bass fisherman, professional poker player, or a professional billiard player. Why not spend my time doing something that I do when I'm not at work now?

Matthew Ives
+1  A: 

Something, anything that would involve much more physical excercise, as EightyEight has ably described.

As a former bricklayer-turned-C++ programmer, I am coming to the realization that being sat on my backside all day is a slow, but sure means of suicide and destroys vitality. I have a lot of happy memories of the construction industry, but it can hard, and prone to layoffs. Having said that I was always able to find work.

For the past year I have started an gardening on a large allotment, getting my hands dirty doing hard physical labour. This I find to be a great de-stresser, just thinking of anybody that has irritated me before plunging the spade in.

Yes I am a salary slave, so if money was less of an object, I would probably work for myself, doing something gardening/building related. Not long now...

+1  A: 

At work the running joke is that programmers will eventually be irrelevent with declaritve "programming" tools and code generators. I called dibs on the Wal-Mart greeter job. Another guy responded you can have that, I want the Best Buy greeter job because of the discounts on consumer electronics, computers, etc.

There has also always been something intriguing about saying, "Would you like fries with that"?


Brian Behm

Since college I've had 4 or 5 different careers:

  • Sea kayaking guide
  • Rock climbing instructor
  • Range manager (for a gov't agency)
  • Geographic Information Systems technician
  • Programmer/Analyst
  • Software Engineer
  • IT Consultant
  • Property management and construction company owner

As a goal-driven individual I tend to reinvent myself often. Though I will probably stay in software engineering and IT for the long term, the field itself changes rapidly enough to remain interesting. On the side, I'll always have my personal projects and hobbies to keep me occupied. Mental stimulation at work, physical stimulation outside of work.

+1  A: 

Something that I find challenging and enjoyable is my part time career in the Army reserves. After sitting at my desk all week, spending the weekend sleeping in the mud and carrying weapons is a welcome change. The way the Reserves are setup in Canada, it allows me to spend as much or as little time working as life allows.

I could easily leave tomorrow for a 6 month tasking on either coast. I could put my name in for a course and go spend a month learning a particular skill. I could sign up for a tour and spend 6 months workup training and 6 months in the sandbox. Or, I could simply work for 3 hours one night a week, and one weekend a month. It's entirely up to me.

My boss half expects me to, about once a year, go on a one month sobatical and engulf myself in the big green machine. Then come back to a whole set of new challenges that have piled up on my desk while I'm away.

Cory Dee