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Jeruba's avatar

If you didn't end up working in the field you trained for, how did you acquire the knowledge to work in your field of employment?

Asked by Jeruba (41917 points ) July 7th, 2011

•  She majored in English and got a job as a computer programmer.
•  He has a degree in criminal justice and ended up working with autistic children.
•  She studied law at Yale and now teaches dancing in Brazil.

Many young people assume that their education is supposed to be on a straight line with their careers, but that actually seems to be the exception more than the rule.

What did you train for or take your degree in, and was it the field you ended up working in? If not, how did you train for your position—and how have you satisfied the inclinations that made you choose your formal education?

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14 Answers

funkdaddy's avatar

I just started doing it. It sounds simplistic, but that’s really it.

I checked out educational offerings, found they weren’t as good as what was available for free online, and just dove in. The key for me was to stop studying and start solving real world problems as motivation.

WestRiverrat's avatar

On the Job training.

Cruiser's avatar

I studied Communications in College (Radio TV and Film) and found myself with an opportunity in the Waterproofing trade distribution field. I learned by the seat of my pants. I got every book on the subject, every trade magazine I could get….there was no internet to fall back on. I also bought every competitors product I could find and played, experimented and learned.

Some things are best learned by doing!

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I changed my major three times while attending college. When I left and had no clue what I wanted to do, Mom told me to get a job in the hotel business and find the right fit. That is what I did. As usual, she was right. I loved it.

Over the years, I have witnessed several people start working at a hotel straight out of college with a hospitality degree, and many of them didn’t last more than a year. It makes me wonder if school guidance counselors still exist, and if so, if most have a talent for it.

geeky_mama's avatar

Oh @Jeruba I lurve you for this question. This has always been the topic I wanted to write a book about some day.
The path we THOUGHT our lives would take and what we studied for..versus how we ended up doing the job we do..or how our career ended up very different from our degree path.

I have a degree in Diplomacy & Foreign Affairs (political science essentially).
I intended to work in the Foreign Service. As instructed, my senior year in college, I took the Foreign Service exam, scored perfectly and awaited my call for an interview in DC.
Then the testing center called (from some place in Texas) to say the machine literally broke in the midst of scanning my test papers and the machine somehow ripped my test on the last page.
Good news tho, my score was perfect, bad news—just the personality section could not be scored. Not to worry—I should still get the interview.

Then came the call from DC: “We’re not going to interview you as a candidate because your test is incomplete. Yes, we know it’s due to a machine malfunction in Texas, but..try again next year.”

I needed a job before next year. So, I ended up working in Japan.
Then I ended up being a robotics translator
Then I ended up being a software translator.
Then I ended up being a software “expert” and learning programming.
Then I ended up being a geek.
With a BA in political science…but skills to write C++ code and PL/SQL. A wanna-be diplomat with UNIX admin skills.
I never ended up taking the Foreign Service Exam again. I lived abroad without it and made more money in the private sector. Not sad in the least – it all turned out good.. but, it sure didn’t go the way I thought it would.
And most of my coworkers would never guess my degree was political science. I work with a bunch of computer engineers and math and physics genius types…I love what I do, but would never have picked this for myself based on what I thought I was good at…

bobbinhood's avatar

@geeky_mama How did you get those jobs without the experience or education to begin with?

geeky_mama's avatar

@bobbinhood: I got those jobs from having the ability to speak another language. My degree wasn’t in Japanese, but my ability to read a schematic in Japanese and put it in English got me hired.

The software gig followed as a result—and when I showed an aptitude for things like DBA administration (and then took a few classes) I “grew” into various technical jobs.

thorninmud's avatar

I trained and worked as a chocolatier for about 15 years. Some years back, the place I was working for hit a rough patch, and I had to find a new job. Chocolate jobs are rare, and I didn’t want to retrench to the bakery or restaurant world, nor did I want to transplant my family to more likely job-hunting grounds.

I stumbled on a job ad for a technician to fabricate custom rehab equipment for the disabled. They wanted someone who was familiar with lots of different fabrication processes and had a flair for design. As unlikely as it seemed, I had actually taken several shop classes so that I could make my own chocolate equipment rather than buy the expensive European stuff. I had even designed many new tools and machines out of sheer necessity. It even turned out that everything I knew about molding chocolate gave me a huge leg up, because this job involves making molds of actual people for custom wheelchair cushions.

There has been some specialized knowledge to acquire, of course, but I’ve absorbed that from working side-by-side with all of the PTs and rehab engineers on staff here.

I was lucky that my current boss had the imagination to hire a chocolatier for a rehab clinic job. It really turned out to be a perfect fit. Very much the same thought processes, even the same motivation, really: making something that will bring some comfort into someone’s life.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@thorninmud Hurry up and get to the 10K mansion, would you? And bring your chocolate factory with you!!

filmfann's avatar

I got a radio broadcasting license, which got me a job as a ship to shore operator with the Phone Company. I was transfered before my first day over to long distance and prison calls.
What I do now is the result of many years of On The Job training.

mrrich724's avatar

1. You get lucky in an entry level position, and learn with on the job training (as others said)
2. You know somebody so they get you the job.
3. You end up doing what you’re passionate about (which is not what you studied). You spend time studying or learning something at work, but you don’t realize that those “hobbies” you have, and all the time you spend on your free-time learning about said hobbies is actually studying, and learning, and working toward something. So even though you didn’t work for or pay “the man,” to learn something you end up being an expert and having the credentials to do what you want rather than what someone told you to study/do. (did that make sense?)

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks! I asked this question because so many young people seem to get stuck on the idea of “I want to do x, so what should I major in?” or its reverse, “I’m majoring in x, so what kind of job can I get?” And of course there’s always “I don’t know what I want to do—so how can I decide on a major?”

I say major in whatever you love, whatever inspires you, with whatever teacher inspires you, and no matter what the subject matter is, you’ll acquire knowledge that will benefit you all your life. Your education is for your life and not for a job.

@thorninmud‘s story is a perfect example of how skills can transfer from one field to another. So is @Cruiser.‘s So is @geeky_mama.‘s

When we look for work, we do best by seeking opportunities that use our abilities, offer us growth (which does not necessarily mean promotions—it means increase in knowledge, skill, and personal strength), and don’t threaten to stifle us too much. Most jobs don’t have a direct counterpart in education. Many people’s paths seem idiosyncratic—it happened that way just for them and no one else can copy it. So there’s not a lot of point in trying to map it all out precisely. Rather, stay open to possibilities.

Thanks for providing such great specifics to illustrate the principle.

ETpro's avatar

It’;s a long story,. @Jeruba, but you asked, so here goes:

I majored in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. I threw in the engineering because I got married while in college and didn’t think I could work my way through advanced degrees. Without a PhD in my area of Chesapeake, Virginia, the only work available for a chem major was as a fertilizer company formulator (they all reeked so terribly it was hard to drive up toward one without puking) or as a paint formulator. Neither activity sounded very interesting to a guy who wanted to wear a white lab coat, invent new things and tinker in the lab with other scientists.

Also, in high school, I had taken everything up through advanced drafting, and loved the plain and solid geometry and other math it took to figure out how to draw up a set of blueprints for a new idea or widget.

With that background, after I went nto the workforce, I always ended up on a drawing board and soon realized that electronics firms working in the nascent field of semiconductor development loved my combination of understanding chemistry and how to design process equipment to make lots and lots of little tiny things very rapidly.

When the miniaturization drive hit with the advent of a new component design and the associated circuit board assembly technique dubbed Surface Mount Technology (SMT), I moved into developing robotics to handle, sort, test and assemble SMT boards. I first designed the robots, then moved into supporting the sales engineers with technical backup, answering customer questions, giving technical presentations to industry groups evaluating the adoption of SMT, and training new customers’ engineering and maintenance people on how to set up, adjust, and maintain their new robotics. I ended up the first President of the Surface Mount Technology Association {SMTA).

When the US electronics industry began massive off-shoring of electronics assembly in the mid 80s, I saw the handwriting on the wall, and set up a consulting firm aimed at helping companies miniaturize their products or new inventions.

I had a couple of partners in crime. An engineer with a Masters from MIT but with the most brilliant engineering mind I have ever met. He was so bright, he often fooled people into thinking he was dumb. They would ask him a question expecting a ballpark answer, or something like “Yes, it’s probably feasible.”; or “No, I don’t think it can be made to work.” He would just stare at the person who had asked the question as if he spoke no English and had no idea what they were talking about. But after several minutes of staring, he would rattle of the entire solution including values of all the components in the circuit. He calculated the entire design of the module in his head!

And I had a professor from Old Dominion University He was not all that good at innovative circuit design, but he was a screaming genius when it came to the math required to calculate reliability factors and the mean time between failures (MTBF) of the new designs we developed.

The World Wide Web concept had just been developed by Tim Berners-Lee of CERN, and was being deployed around the USA. At that time, it was mostly used by scientists and engineers to search for suppliers of exotic new materials of components. Naturally, our company spent many an hour searching for new SMT devices, unique multilayer boards with burred and blind vias, and you name it. It occurred to me that if I was constantly surfing the Web looking for suppliers, other engineers were probably out there searching for a consulting company exactly like us. So I taught myself HTML and built my company a Web site.

First friends who also owned small businesses contacted me asking who had done my Web site for me. When I told them I did it myself, they got me to quote doing one for them. Before long, it was not just friends, but complete strangers contacting me for a web site.

At the same time, the big project my consulting firm had been working on for two wild years wrapped up; and I found I liked the creative demands and the artistic requirements of Web deign more than the consulting I’d been doing. My two genius partners also had other opportunities pulling at them, so we disbanded the consulting operation and I’ve been building Web sites ever since. What little I know came through study—a few books, but mostly online—and through osmosis.

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