It's odd. I don't know if it's the field of work I'm in or not, but a high percentage of folks that I know reasonably well all seem to have what I call a "backup career plan" in mind.

Some of them are actively working on their plan--going back to school part or full-time, getting additional training, etc. Others haven't made any concrete moves yet but seem to talk about it more and more.

There's this [usually] unspoken sense that they don't want to still be doing this when they're 40.

Are my techie friends unusual in this respect? Or is this fairly widespread?

And before you ask, yes. I'm one of them. I have a backup career plan too. This year I hope to get my commercial pilot license. Then in a year or two I hope to become a certified flight instructor (at least for gliders--don't know about power planes quite yet, but that training should pick up in the fall too).

I don't know if I'd ever try to make it my "day job" but I really do enjoy it and figure that if I ever do get really sick of this stuff, it'd be nice to have something else interesting and fun to fall back on.

If I was really dying to get out, I'd be an instructor already. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at July 06, 2004 08:09 PM

Reader Comments
# Andy Baio said:

Funny, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I want to work with computers until I die.

on July 6, 2004 08:18 PM
# Danne said:

I think the uncertaintly that comes with so-called high tech jobs causes people to have the "what else" mindset.

on July 6, 2004 08:29 PM
# Dan Isaacs said:

Of course, I always have the option to teach, as I was planning to do before you got Marathon Oil to shove a bunch of money in my face. Well, what seemed like a bunch of money to someone planning on being a teacher, anyway. :)

I plan on teraching in some capacity when I retire from my revenue generating engagements.

on July 6, 2004 08:41 PM
# Dan Isaacs said:

Just not teaching English, obviously.

on July 6, 2004 08:42 PM
# incognito said:

Anyone who knows me, knows I am always looking at an "exit" strategy or another way to get a big bag of money. My current problem is that I don't have a bag of money to make bigger.

on July 6, 2004 09:15 PM
# Seth Finkelstein said:

I think the recent tech-wreck made it clear to many people that a backup career plan is extremely advisable. There may not be an option as to whether to keep doing tech work in the future. Or at least it's important to keep an eye out for what can't be outsourced at much lower wages.

[My backup thoughts for a while were "lawyer", but I've found that path doesn't really fit me.]

on July 6, 2004 09:46 PM
# Kalyan said:

Funny you mentioned that.

In couple of months I think I'll be good enough to have a backup career in photography. ;)

I do not work as passionately as I used to a year ago.. why ? many things around me.. the people you work with.. the kinda stuff you get to work on.. etc etc. Once you cross the point where you get so disgusted with things, its tough to get back.

on July 6, 2004 09:58 PM
# Josh Woodward said:

I probably *should* have one, but I don't. I don't personally have a lot of faith in the future of the web in its current form. I think that it's going to become a Flash-laden piece of crap before long, and I won't really want a part of it by then. Might as well enjoy the ride in the meantime, though!

on July 7, 2004 05:36 AM
# Chris said:

I have always been working on a backup plan due to the fact our companyís business model in Internet based. As labor gets cheaper and cheaper more people are taking your work, duplicating it and selling or giving it away so businesses that are Internet based donít have a bright future. Even companies like Yahoo are not out of clear when it comes to future growth.

Real estate investment is a great way to go. My wife and I have been reading books on this topic from Robert T. Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad - Real Estate Riches: How to Become Rich Using Your Banker's Money)

Good luck and Iíd appreciate you bogging on your findings and progress.

on July 7, 2004 06:12 AM
# pmp said:

People think about alternate plans because people are burned out. Long hours and tight deadlines coupled with a smidgeon of financial independence makes you think about an easier/different life.

on July 7, 2004 08:41 AM
# chad said:

But are people's backup careers still computer-oriented? My current dream is to quit and open a pizza place.

on July 7, 2004 09:06 AM
# Jaxn said:

I opened a retail store about 6 months ago with my father (another techie) and my wife. we buy and sell teenage clothing (Plato's Closet of Cool Springs).

I don't know if the store is really my backup plan, but i do know that I don't want to do this stuff forever. I just keep an open mind and watch for interesting opportunities.


on July 7, 2004 10:06 AM
# justin said:

You're seriously luckily than most Jeremy - flight instructor, book author , and possibly freelance MySQL consultancy are all options as a fall-back for you should Yahoo go pear shaped.

Unfortunately, there are a load of techies , myself included , who because of family commitments (i.e. we've got kids!) , find that our spare time is taken up by the youngsters. Not that i'm complaining, but it does limit ones options.

I do have a backup idea though - learn a European language, and go open up a bar or cafe in Italy or Spain. The hard bit is the learning the language, so I guess it's back to school at night for me over the next few years.

Or if you're into real estate, the best bet at the moment in Europe is real estate in Spain , southern France and Italy - because of severely high house prices in the UK compared to the rest of Europe, Uk residents are snapping up Mediterranean property in droves.

Add to that , the abject failure of pensions in the UK, and you have a heck of lot of people buying property in the Med for retirement and financial investment reasons.

on July 7, 2004 12:52 PM
# Pete said:

Hey, bought your book and was here getting a copy of mytop for a box. Saw this post about not wanting to do this when I'm 40 and I had to laugh as that's when I started doing this. When I was 20 I was living and working in diverse parts of the world spending money and breaking out of jail and what not. I just started to settle down in my late 30s. Heck, I didnt' have an idea of what I wanted to do back when I was sprout like you and your cohorts. But I can say that writing apps and solving puzzles is a never ending challenge I enjoy. I certain don't enjoy repeating what I did but I never do which is apparently different from what I find a lot of people do. I do different things every day, it may look the same but I find different (and I hope better) ways to do things all the time. I worked at a c-a-s-i-n-o (questionable content, hah) once (actually a few of them). It was great fun, almost like playing. But it really was the same thing every day. A pattern of the same players and different bets and I could certainly move faster and calculate faster but it was essentially the same thing every day. Whereas in the IT world it looks the same every day but it's not.

on July 7, 2004 05:19 PM
# TheFarmer said:

pmp is right; it's the burnout. plus, face it, most of the shit we do is fairly mundane and repetitive. you might work in different markets and on different projects, but ultimately it's all the same - the same unrealistic deadlines, the same lousy management, the same cost-cutting future wherever you look. once you realize you're not changing the word with your keyboard, the game's over.

on July 7, 2004 10:28 PM
# Doug Cutting said:

I used to have backup plans. But now that I'm actually forty I've given up on them. I like hacking and expect I'll keep doing it for while. If someday I burn out, I'll figure something out then. Ironically, having kids makes me less likely to plan and better at taking things day by day.

on July 8, 2004 07:50 AM
# Dirk said:

Sure, I got several backup plans. But somehow they have all to do with the Internet.

Do you really think anything else has a future? :)

on July 8, 2004 09:49 AM
# Egor Egorov said:

I do live sound engineering. :) This is my backup career plan.

Nice term (backup career), btw.

on July 8, 2004 11:16 AM
# Morgan Schweers said:

No, I don't... Although it's probably not the smartest thing to not have one. I've been developing software for 25 years, since I was 10 years old and first got paid for a program at 13. I can't imagine doing anything else.

If I end up having to, it will be a very, very difficult life change.

It's the only thing I love doing that I can get paid to do, and if you're not doing what you love to do, you won't be truly good at it. After 'living the dream' of doing a job I truly love, what else would compare?

Not being able to program for a living is a depressing and scary thought. Nearly everyone ELSE I know, mind you, has a backup plan. :) I just never could imagine a life without programming.

-- Morgan Schweers

on July 8, 2004 02:40 PM
# Manish Jethani said:

I'm a programmer. My backup career plan is to rob people on the highway.

Especially other programmers.

on July 8, 2004 03:15 PM
# said:


Your back-up plan should be to marry Susan Decker (no pre-nup of course)....

on July 9, 2004 03:56 AM
# Brooks Hagenow said:

Funny, I am a programmer going for my private pilots license in my spare time. Haven't thought of it as a back-up plan though.

on July 9, 2004 02:12 PM
# Jamesday said:

Commercial pilot isn't a really good backup plan. Very cyclical and low starting wages (10-30,000) for a decade or so. If you want to learn more about it, though, you might look or ask over at AVSIG. Good people.

on July 9, 2004 07:54 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Hm, I don't plan to be a commercial pilot for a living. ;-)

on July 9, 2004 10:00 PM
# Eric White said:

If you're really interested in seeing what your backup job is actually like, check out Vocation Vacations. They allow work to pair you up with someone currently doing your backup job. It sounds like a cool concept.

on July 10, 2004 09:29 PM
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