Gabriel Simoes
Gabriel Simões

Gabriel Simões

I want to switch careers. So what now?

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Gabriel Simoes
·Aug 10, 2020·

7 min read

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I want to switch careers. So what now?

Switching careers is not something new to me, I’ve been there before for several reasons. When I thought I had finally settled down, I found myself in a situation where I actually needed to change, for the sake of my mental health and my family.

PIA23302.jpg Model of human exploration in Mars, one of my childhood dreams. Source: [NASA]

I am 33 years old now and my professional journey started out when I was 17 and got into the Statistics program in a renowned Brazilian university — Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As a child, I always loved science — I was one of those kids who knew all the possible species of dinossaurs, all the geological timescale etc. — but, for some reason, it faded out during my teenage years, but in high school I found myself in that situation of having to choose a career to follow, and I developed some strong interest in maths and physics. Based on this interest, I decided to apply for the Statistics program and got approved in 3 out of 3 universities I applied at that time.

I know, it’s horrible that teenagers have to choose what they allegedly want to do for the rest of their lives (LOL) in one year. But there I started my Statistics program (there was no such a thing as Data Science back in 2005), and my first experience in the university was with a Chilean professor teaching calculus in Spanish (no effort made to speak in Portuguese, yeah, I know) and I felt deflated — and believe me, youngsters, there were no YouTube tutorials 15 years ago to help you out. I’ve always been a very intense kid, and that felt like the death of a dream. I used to think university would be an amazing experience, with great professors, memorable classes, but that was none of it. It was just boring, bureaucratic, with a lot of egoic professors, and content-wise nothing felt connected to anything.

In 2007, there I was back to that same university, but this time as a Geography student. In the beginning of my journey, I had a crisis and took a break of that course, and got into a private university in the Economics program. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to afford it for more than one semester, so I got back to my Geography program and graduated as a Bachelor.

3327241302_4be8070bfb_c.jpg My Alma Mater, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — Source: Omar Uran

By the end of my graduation, I started teaching Geography in some schools in Rio. It was an amazing and terrifying experience. I really enjoy teaching, writing, sharing and building knowledge with people, and there I had the chance to do it with my pupils. But it was also terrifying: low wages, physical strain, hours of commuting — often to more than one place in the city, on the same day. Also, by the time I left, the teaching environment in Brazil was starting to get rough, and it wouldn’t be long until I was accused of “communism” for bringing up human rights-related topics with the kids.

My first career switch

In January, 2015, I took a 3 weeks-long trip to Europe and when I got back, my boss called me and set up a meeting to fire me. I was in shock. I wanted to leave, I was planning to leave, but I had forgotten to plan the afterwards (silly kiddo…). I didn’t know what to do and I was 28 at that time. I felt voided like a blown-up balloon. And then depression made its first appearance in my life and debilitated me for a few months.

I could finally get back on my feet when a great friend of mine invited me to help her setting up in Brazil a non-profit she had created back in San Francisco while doing her masters. That was my first contact with tech. Our core business was to teach technology to kids from the favelas and those were amazing and positively exhausting 6 months. In the meantime, I started looking for my own path and ended up enrolling myself on a specialisation course on translation (Portuguese/English).

After leaving that tech project, I was trailing the scary freelance path as a translator. It took me a while to get my first opportunities, but a few months later I was offered a Project Manager position for technical translations (again, technology crossing my way!) in one of the biggest translation companies in Brazil. There I thrived. I managed a team ranging from 4 to 8 people plus the contractors, worked on several challenging projects for big companies.

On the side of this job, I became the sole linguistic consultant in Brazil for a big French company. I had the most valuable chance to work on several exciting localisation projects, specially for the big pharma industry. I was happy and satisfied with my work, for the first time in my life. I was making money and working with stuff I enjoyed, how better could it get?

But then, the economic crisis was soaring in Brazil. In 2018, I got married and, as I am a Portuguese citizen, my wife and I decided we would try to settle a life somewhere else, in Portugal. But, despite all the planning, the dream turned out to be a nightmare. I couldn’t get a job that paid more than the minimum wage (600 euros) and that virtually wasn’t enough for both of us. My wife wasn’t allowed to work until her paperwork was resolved, and the Portuguese institutions managed to take the longest they could. Also, we had several personal issues that aren’t proper for this post.

I started working as a chef. To be a worker in Portugal is really hard, at one of the places I worked it was common for the staff to do 12–19 hours-long shifts (seriously!). It’s insane. I often left home at 8 am and returned after midnight. It started taking a toll on my mental health, and depression knocked again on my door.

When we were about to give up and move back to Brazil, my wife spoke to a friend who was in the UK. Turned out her husband is the head chef of a pub in Edinburgh and was desperately in need of someone to join his team. Two weeks later, I was in Scotland, working as a chef again. That was a very good experience, I could finally breathe again, in my first month I made more money than in all the other 4 months in Portugal together. I could rent a place and reunite with my wife and our cat. And was entitled free beer at the end of my shift.

My second (and ongoing) career switch

The work in a professional kitchen can be REALLY hard, I’m not joking. Back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, these are some stuff I still have as souvenirs from that time just to remind me of what I want and need to do. Remember that when you walk into a place to eat, those guys are real warriors. Be grateful.

By the end of the year, I just felt like I had to move on with my career. Translation from/to English and Portuguese didn’t seem like it was something on demand in UK, so I started thinking obsessively about what I could do now. Than one day, just randomly googling, I had kind of an epiphany: TECH! Why not?

Then, I started looking for online courses to give me some minimal foundation, like IT support etc. In December, I ended up being offered a position as a Helpdesk Analyst at one of the biggest players in the electronic payments industry. That’s a little far from my goal, indeed. I provide tech support, but I actually eagerly want to be a Software Engineer. But, well, what a change, uh?

But, yeah, still I spent my new year’s eve working 14 hours in the pub, that’s life, I know.

On the upcoming posts, I’ll talk more about how I am managing (or trying to) my career switch now through learning Python.

Thank you for reading all the way through! :)

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