37, considering career pivot, need advice

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37, considering career pivot, need advice

Post by mpklub »

Fellow bogleheads, I primarily lurk on these forums and am grateful for all the great advice to be found here. But I really could use feedback from this community on a career situation I find myself in. I apologize in advance for the long post.

I find myself at a career crossroads and could use some of your advice on whether or not my plan makes sense or if there are other more viable options to consider. I am 37 and have spent my entire career in financial services in risk management types of roles. I would love to transition into more “analytics” or “data science” type of work. I am not sure how viable that is based on my experience and what I may need to do to bridge the gap.

My first four years of experience was spent in insurance claims management. After that I went back to grad school and got an MBA from a school that was top 25, top 30 at the time. It’s slipped since then and is now more of a top 40 or so school.

Since finishing my MBA in 2010 I have spent the last decade in banking. The first four years were great. I worked at a large bank everyone would know managing a reporting and analytics team in one of the lines of business. We were a small group in a niche area, but I loved leading the team and pulling data and reports together. I had a number of analysts on my team that were more technically skilled than me, but through my time working with this team I learned how to write basic SQL queries (pulling data out of databases, some joining, things like that) and how to navigate databases, primarily Access databases and Business Objects. Some stuff out of Oracel databases. My team also automated a large quantity of our reporting using VBA scripts in Excel that linked Excel to PowerPoint and Access which allowed us to do a ton of other work and get great exposure throughout our line of business. This was by far the best job I have ever had. I left primarily because I was underpaid (had people working for me that made more than me) and we got reorged under a sociopath who made everyone’s life a living hell.

Ever since I've left this job I've found my work less fulfilling and have just kind of coasted. I think the time for that is probably over tho (as I have laid out in more detail as to why below).

My next job was at another bank and I spent 4.5 years there. The job was a risk policy/governance role that was more geared to program management and governance of our modeling program. The larger team I was a part of was a modeling team, but I did not get involved with the technical work. I did work with some of the quants to ensure our work was aligned with our regulators and I also acted as a liaison between the quants and the business in a lot of cases since the quants often had difficulty translating what their work meant from a business perspective. There was also some analytic work around metrics and reporting, but it was very basic stuff in Excel. I also did some work building an application with Access and SharePoint to manage the inventory of models in the company. But outside of that the job was primarily program/exam management. I left because the job and team were incredibly dysfunctional from day one and I felt like I was losing my sanity. I won’t go into details, but from a mental health perspective I had to leave.

That brings me to my current role that I've been in my current role for 18 months. It's another risk role at a financial institution. Pretty heavily removed from data/analytics work. The company is struggling. We've fired two CEOs since June and have laid off about 10% of our workforce since late October. There continues to be continued efforts around cutting operational expenses. I like my team and boss but have serious concerns about this company beyond a year or two. There are some positive changes on the horizon, but there is a ton of uncertainty around whether or not more jobs will be cut, will the company be able to turn it around, etc. I am not feeling a ton of urgency to leave this job and my plan had been to stay here for several years, but I also realize the uncertainty of things based on what has been going on since June.

This current situation has caused me to think about what my next move should be professionally. I don't really like the work I am doing these days. Since I left that first job where I managed the reporting and analytics team I have liked my work less and less. I have basically been coasting since 2014. I make good money so it’s been easy to do. But with my current employer struggling I have started to look around at positions I am qualified for and most jobs I am qualified for just bore me to tears. If I have to make a move, this feels like it would be a good time to pivot into something I am more interested in if that is indeed viable.

Most jobs I am interested have more of a focus on data, but I also know that my technical skills are not where they need to be in today’s job market. Many of the jobs I am interested in are tied to business intelligence/analytics/data science and want folks with either stronger technical skills or masters/PhD’s in statistics or something similar. From what I can tell there seems to be really two camps of data science/analytics/business intelligence jobs - the really technical ones that are pure math or coding, or the ones that want you to have some functional technical skills (SQL, Python, Tableau, etc) but more business based. I know my technical skills are not on the level with PhDs or folks with masters degrees in statistics. I have an MBA in finance, but not quite the tech skills. The extent of my technical knowledge would be with SQL, Access and Excel. I realize that doesn’t quite cut it today for most of these types of jobs.

So I look at this and figure I need to bridge the skills gap if I want to make a serious run at an analytics/data science/business intelligence type of job. Here is what I am looking at doing to make this pivot, and I want to see if this makes sense (or if others have ideas):
  • Build up coding skills so I have a baseline level of technical knowledge. Specifically with a focus on SQL and Python. I already have a working knowledge of SQL and some experience writing queries. But I wouldn't call anything I can do too detailed. I can write queries joining tables, but usually need to confirm I wrote the syntax correctly when it comes to joins. I figure SQL and python are worth investing in from a skill standpoint. I am primarily doing this through YouTube videos and Udemy courses since I can link those to my LinkedIn profile
  • I am considering two potential certifications - the Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP) and/or Certified Analytics Professional (CAP). Here are the links to their respective websites (CBIP: https://tdwi.org/cbip?m=1 and CAP: https://www.certifiedanalytics.org/). They seem to be well respected and the goal would be to leverage these certifications to close the technical gap in my resume/skills that I would not have compared to folks with masters degrees and PhDs in stats or other fields. I am not clear on if they actually are well respected or if they would be worthwhile.
  • Possible second master’s degree/graduate certificates. Georgia Tech offers an online master's degree in analytics. This runs about 10k believe it or not. Seems a reasonable price. I have considered this too because of the fact that Georgia Tech is a well respected school. The program is entirely online and for what it's worth, I am in the midwest. A local university where I am offers graduate certificates in analytics related courses (machine learning, analytics, data mining, data visualization). To me, it would either be do certifications referenced in the bullet above (CAP/CBIP) or do a degree/graduate certificate like this. Not both.
  • Networking. I want to focus on networking with people in this space. But I honestly don't know what organizations to connect with or where to start. Would welcome ideas here
So that's basically it. Does this plan make sense? Is it feasible? Are there things I am forgetting or overlooking? Are there other things I should consider? What types of jobs should I realistically be pursuing?

A couple other points I am considering from a work/life standpoint:
  • My wife is currently going to school (2 classes a semester) to become a nurse practitioner. She will ultimately end up with her doctorate. We are paying what we can as we go, but may have a year or two when she graduates where we will need to pay off some debt. She has three years to go so I am trying to approach this realistically as right now our focus is on her upgrading her career.
  • Financially we are relatively fine. We have about 375k in retirement savings, 4-5 months in emergency savings. We have been focused on paying down my student loans (which were 120K when we started our massive paydown effort) and will have that paid off by May of this year. At that point we will build up our emergency savings more, but have slack in our budget based on the cash flow that will open up from this alone.
  • I stated above that I’ve basically been coasting since 2014. Part of that is because of the work culture I've been in at my last two positions. There is little ambition and largely been more of a focus on avoiding work or avoiding responsibility than working hard. This is better at my current job, but I find this type of environment frustrating. I’d like to work in a more ambitious environment if possible.
  • If my plan to make this type of transition is sensible, is there any value in moving to a HCOL area for job opportunities? We currently live in a major midwest metro that is still LCOL. I’ve done quite a bit of job searching the past few years and while there are opportunities here, there are definitely more in other areas. If there was enough of a raise associated with a job, my wife would be on board with relocation.
I welcome any and all feedback on this as I really feel my career has veered off track. This, combined with the state of my current employer I'd like to use this an opportunity to really position myself to move into more data driven work going forward. Plus, it just seems like this is a field that will have solid employment prospects going forward. The work, to me, is much more interesting and actually makes me want to advance professionally. Not just coast.

Sorry for the long post, but any feedback is welcomed and I wanted to make sure to provide sufficient context for what I am thinking of doing. I will check this thread to follow up if there are any other questions, but probably won’t be able to respond until the weekend. Thank you in advance to anyone who has feedback. I greatly appreciate it.
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Re: 37, considering career pivot, need advice

Post by ohai »

It seems that your best/most likely scenario is to eventually find some other job that is related to your background, but with better stability and non toxic work environment. Most people just end up doing whatever career falls onto them.

If you want to change to a different nature of job, such as something more technical, formal qualifications will probably be necessary. If you do not already have a technical degree, then an MS (full time or part time) from a reputable university will be helpful, as you mentioned. I have never heard of the CBIP and CAP things that you mentioned, and I doubt most people have either.

I think this infatuation with "data" fields might pass eventually. I know data is important, but it seems that almost every person lately who is career frustrated is starting to say they want to work with "data science". Don't let the current fad turn you away from other suitable opportunities that might be around.

Obviously, your job search will be more successful if you have geographic flexibility. If you can bring wife along, that's better. If not, a lot of people do temporary relocation from family. I personally commuted coast to coast every weekend for more than one year while sorting out some job stuff.

Regarding moving to HCOL area - yes there will be vastly more career opportunities and your world will likely be bigger in some ways that are hard to realize at this point. However, there are a lot of compromises too and a lot of people might not think it's worth it. It depends on your situation.
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