It is never too late to do the right thing, says a cheerful Rajeshwari Victor - the Chennai-based author of ‘My Life My Choice’ - during a recent interaction with Business Line. “All my book respondents (2 women and 8 men) made career changes at 40-plus years of age. They have shifted from corporates to politics, teaching, social sector, entrepreneurship, childhood passion, etc.”
She cites examples such as of R. K. Misra, who moved from an IT career as a software entrepreneur to politics, and of Badri Seshadri, the founder of cricinfo.com (web portal disseminating cricket information) who moved to setting up a publishing house.
Reminding that technology is an enabler, Rajeshwari’s message to techies is to view the IT industry as a stepping stone with a potential to enable things in other sectors. Our conversation continues over the email, on the theme, ‘Mid-life career choices by IT professionals.’
Excerpts from the interview.
Are there factors special to the IT industry that drive professionals to make mid-life career choices differently than in other industries?
IT industry in India is on a steep growth path. Hence, the industry dynamics are quite different. There are factors - like long hours at work, work-family imbalance, sedentary nature of the job, need to stay continuously ahead of the learning curve in one’s domain - that make it quite stress-prone. Of course, the positives include a fairly lucrative pay (which means that you can achieve your lifestyle goals faster), and a learning environment (grey cells are constantly active).
A combination of these may push IT professionals to move out of their first IT careers faster, especially if they had not chosen the field based on their passion. After having achieved their lifestyle goals, they may want to try other careers at a fairly younger age.
Would you like to list a few telltale signs of an IT professional going through the pangs of the mid-life career phase?
Fatigue at work, job hopping, falling ill frequently could be some. These are particularly specific to the IT industry as they are direct outcomes of the factors stated in the previous answer.
While in the initial stages, these may not be apparent, as time goes by, these do become acute. Especially around mid-life, if these signs appear, then it is most definitely a signal that the person needs a shift. The problem they will however face is that they will hardly find an option that would match their pay/lifestyle needs. So, exiting around mid-life may also become a challenge for an IT professional if one goes by just salaries and pay.
What can IT companies do to help employees manage the mid-life career phase?
Nothing much, except to be aware that such a thing can happen, and plan for attrition and replacement accordingly. Also, having a mentor internally may help as they can recognise signs early and talk the employee through this crisis. The HR department plays a crucial role in all this - as training and developing a new employee is always more difficult than retaining an existing one.
Do women professionals in IT tend to handle the mid-life career phase differently than the men do?
Well, women, if married, may not be the only breadwinner in the family; that takes away a lot of pressure from them in terms of providing financial stability to the family. In such cases, they may take a break from their career.
If they are not married, given the specific dynamics of the industry, they may decide to stay single for a longer time - till such time their career goals are met.
Also, women are tuned to multitasking more than men are. Hence, when a crisis like this hits them, they may tend to take succour in doing alongside home- or children-related work, which would enable them to deal with the stress at workplace better.
Considering the demand for domain expertise in the IT industry, do you see people shifting to IT from other sectors, as a mid-life career choice?
IT is a tough one to break into, during mid-life, since domain expertise is needed. Also, around mid-life people tend to get back to their first love in terms of career choices. And if IT has not featured in your interest area before, then it is too competitive an industry for a novice to start off at mid-life. Hence, it is quite unlikely that demand for IT as a first-time mid-life career option will emerge.
Your suggestions to IT professionals in their mid-life phase on the steps they can follow when making their next career choice.
First of all, enter any industry after understanding your passion and strength areas as much as possible. And this applies to IT as well. In IT, given the high salary and perks, people tend to overlook their own fitment into the industry. And this catches up with them later during mid-life.
Second, be aware of such a trend. Talk to seniors in your own company, especially those who exit, to understand why they are doing so. This will give you some pointers on how to handle your career in the light of the challenges you may face later.
In case you are evaluating a career change, you may want to do the following:
1) Make a list of things you always wanted to do; and act on them to understand them better. Acting is important as it gives you a real-life flavour of what may or may not work for you as an individual. Only by experiencing it, you can get a feel of whether it can be a career option for you. For instance, if you have always wanted to be a teacher, enrol in a nearby school or college for taking part-time classes. You will get exposed to aspects in the job other than just ‘teaching’.
2) Study your parents and their hobbies. Many times, our parents’ unfulfilled /latent interests happen to be our predominant passion areas. For example, one of my friends took up writing as her second career only to realise that she was taking forward her father’s unrealised ambition of becoming a writer himself.
3) Look at your own childhood for any deep impact areas. These are definitely indicative of where your heart may be. Another friend of mine, for instance, was always taken in by sports during school, but was never allowed to pursue it full-time due to academic pressures. But now that he is independent, he has started a sports academy for training school children.
4) List out aspects of your jobs till date that you have really enjoyed doing. This is very doable. All of us have areas that we have really enjoyed at work, and these need to be taken forward in our next careers. For example, if communication is something that you enjoy, then your next career needs to have several doses of that.
Overall, view all of this with a sportsman spirit. After all, our career journey is supposed to give us an idea of who we are as individuals.