Back in 2017, I left the Navy with the amorphous goal of “get myself involved in tech somehow”. 4 years on, it’s useful to take a moment to reflect on my journey so far. This allows me to determine if I’m on the right track and make adjustments if necessary. I try to be as transparent and objective as possible, so you can get the unvarnished truth.

Industry & Job Scope

I never expected to be working on managing tech projects back when I applied to my employer. Thankfully, my bosses were willing to take a chance on me and my interests. I’ve really enjoyed the past 3 years learning about and implementing new technologies in career services. However, I wanted to be more involved in a standing product rather than small-scale projects.

Earlier in June, my wish was granted – somewhat. I had transferred to the project team managing my agency’s headline product. Due to manpower rotation considerations however, I am not a product owner yet. Instead, I will continue project management (albeit for the standing product) and transit to the role next year. Although I am still interested in career development, I have second thoughts about whether a product owner is the best way to contribute.

After 4 years in the civil service, I think a general lack of technical ability is holding back faster technological adoption. Most of us are project managers who don’t know how to code nor understand how new technologies work. When faced with technical problems, we can’t troubleshoot or build, so we leave it to experts. This doesn’t feel right to me. Each of us needs to be technically trained so we can add value and accelerate the projects we manage. I hope to be able to do that for my company.

Skills

In the month prior to leaving, I took up the Data Science Specialisation on Coursera to learn data analytics in R. I thought it was a way to quickly level up my skills for greater employability. Afraid that the capstone project would be too difficult, I did not attempt the last module. This was a lingering regret which I tried to drown out with excuses like: “It’s not applicable to my work” or “I’m too busy with my new job”.

2 years in, the learning bug bit me again. As I shared in a previous article, I was looking for Master programmes in a technical field. TL;DR, I was rejected for my first choice so I went for an entrepreneurship degree instead. Although I have learnt a lot, I still wanted to learn more technical skills.

This led me to take up take up Udacity’s Deep Learning nanodegree programme. Despite the challenges, I was glad to overturn my earlier regret to complete this course. Although I’m no expert, understanding and challenging the recommendations of IT vendors is progress for me. Since then, I’ve completed another course in Python, and am in the midst of learning Web Development. My aim is to attain the mastery of a junior developer/software engineer to address the gap I described above.

Besides hard skillls, I feel I’ve grown a lot in presentation and confidence and people skills. I used to be really nervous and self-conscious when making presentations, but am more calm now. In fact, I find my stage fright has transformed into a kind of excitement to share with others. When working with others, I am also better able to grasp their interests and perspectives. This has helped me attain consensus or compromise to move projects forward.

Employability

4 years ago, I was in a hurry to find any job so that I could make ends meet. My strategy was to find the “employer of least resistance” and apply there first. I thought it was easy to cross over from the military to civil service since many ex-soldiers make the transition routinely on retirement. Puting this perception to the test, I applied exclusively to government jobs. Lo and behold, after >30 applications, not a single reply! Popular misconception debunked.

Fast forward to 2020, and things have improved significantly. For the first time in my life, I was contacted by recruiters and headhunters on LinkedIn for potential opportunities. Although most positions didn’t match my experience or goals, I still pursued them to keep my job hunting skills sharp. In fact, one of them resulted in an offer, which I rejected as the risk-reward ratio didn’t make sense to me. I will continue to build my network, connecting with interesting people to open more doors and opportunities.

What about you? Have you taken time to review where you are on your career journey?

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