Career change

Stock car

Credit: sutherlandje,

It used to bug me when an adult age 30-plus describes a career quandary as “what do I want to be when I grow up?”  Not the career change part. It’s the “when I grow up” phrase that grated. Until I met Wes Hill.

Yes, he uttered that once-dreaded phrase when telling me his story. But then I heard how he turned a boyhood passion into career success by  creative leveraging of accrued skills and life experiences that, at first thought, seemed unrelated.         

Wes had done a little bit of everything to earn a paycheck, from working at a gold mine in New Guinea to painting buses for Seattle’s King County Metro Transit. For weekend kicks, he raced stock cars.

But in 1999 he decided he wanted something different. He wanted a true career—a profession—doing work that deeply engaged him. What that work was, he didn’t know.

On blind faith, Wes enrolled in a “computers for dummies” course (his description). He didn’t realize he’d taken his first step toward marrying passion and profession. Today, he is president and chief instructor for Automotive Adventures, LLC.

It’s a far cry from painting buses—and much more lucrative. Car manufacturers including Hyundai send him all over the world to facilitate meetings with distributors. Jaguar has him stop at their dealerships on the West coast to provide sales training on features, functions and benefits for the customer.

At night he takes consumers for test drives (at the end of the ride, half of those customers write a check on the spot). Other clients include Hummer and Rolls Royce.

You might think Wes has a dream job. And even he couldn’t have guessed the doors that continuing education would open for him. But look closer and you see how one step at a time he’s built on accrued skills and life experiences.

That first “computers for dummies” course? Wes leveraged it into a computing internship at Eddie Bauer and then into full time employment there.

When he saw his department transitioning to a project management model, he enrolled in a certificate program to learn those skills. Within three weeks, he began to apply on the job what he learned in his classes at night.  

On the strength of those new skills, Eddie Bauer made him a manager.  Then came 9-11 and Wes was laid off in the aftermath.

Wes was volunteering with local car clubs, teaching high performance driving skills. When Acura hired him as a professional driver for a press event, he couldn’t help but analyze the event plan through his project manager eyes. His suggestions about time management, identifying stakeholders and more were so helpful that word got around. More work came his way.

Wes soon realized that he could double his professional driver pay by hiring on as an event facilitator or presenter. But how to formally break into that role? He enrolled in a certificate program for corporate trainers.

Today, 80 percent of his work is as an event facilitator. “The certificate program helped me make the leap into the next job category,” says Wes. He earned a credential but more importantly, the program gave him the language to describe problems and solutions.

Take the Hyundai sales training program, for example: Hyundai had planned to use photos in class rather than gathering students around a vehicle. But after Wes described learning styles and why many people need to touch the buttons to learn and remember, Hyundai made vehicles available. The course earned rave reviews as a result.  

Wes also credits the certificate programs for teaching him about business development and promotion. “The concept of creating Automotive Adventures as an LLC came from an instructor,” he says. “That’s one more benefit of learning from instructors who work in the field.” 

Career change can be daunting.  The path might unfold in surprising ways, as it did for Wes.  “You don’t have to be comfortable with change – you just have to work with it,“ he says. “Courses and certificate programs help people make transitions and know that opening up new paths is okay – they help people feel comfortable with change.”

Hey, liberal arts majors: there may be a new career for you in high tech. Don’t worry; it doesn’t require heavy duty programming or analytical skills. And your years of French or Russian? They’re an asset (when did you last hear that?). Ditto your love of world travel. Even better, it builds on your interest in how people live and learn across the globe.

Software localization is a little-known but growing profession: Companies from Microsoft to Getty Images need help in adapting products or services for use in different languages and locales. And you may be better positioned than you realize to break into this expanding and well-paying field. 

I’d never heard of the profession until University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education (where I worked at the time) launched a certificate program that welcomes career changers as well as techies. I was intrigued. Could I, an English major and PR professional with everyday computer skills, segue into localization? I went to Microsoft’s Carla DiFranco to learn more. DiFranco, a senior localization professional, serves on the certificate program’s advisory board. 

“Language experience and knowledge of other cultures is helpful in understanding a lot of the concepts of localization right out of the gate,” said DiFranco. “But IT experience is not necessary, especially because there are project manager roles as well as software engineering positions.”

In addition to language translation, localization professionals address details such as time zones, local currency, national holidays, images and colors (for issues of comprehensibility and cultural appropriateness), gender roles, and geographic examples. Varying legal requirements can be an issue.

Localization may even require a comprehensive rethinking of software design or presentation, if the way of doing business (for example, accounting practices) or the preferred learning style (such as focus on individual vs. group learning) differs substantially depending on locale. The range of factors involved makes the job fascinating—and also opens it up to professionals of different backgrounds.  

As for tech background: If you have command of Microsoft Office products, good web research skills, and a little aptitude for tech learning, you can pick up the rest on the job, says DiFranco. Experience with basic HTML is “nice but not necessary,” she said. “It’s a soft way to enter the tech industry.”

If you’re considering a career change, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2009 report calls localization “a rapidly expanding specialty.” It forecasts that through the year 2018 “there should be demand for specialists in localization, driven by imports and exports and the expansion of the Internet.” 

DiFranco agreed with that assessment. The job outlook for localization professionals is “not bad, actually,” she told me. “There are positions available for project managers as well as software engineers, on the vendor as well as the client side.” 

She estimated that salaries range from 60k to 100k depending on the company and experience level. “The problem is that there are very few localization training programs in the U.S., so it’s hard to find folks that can start in a junior position with a little assistance, right away.”

To learn more about the fundamentals of  this profession and whether it might be for you, you can register for a free on-demand webinar, “Localization 101: Getting Started with Localization” presented by Lionbridge.