From Scientific Lab Job to Trendy Tech Worker - Here's How He Made The Switch

Updated May 14, 2021 4 min

“The job search process can be isolating, so just having someone who I could turn to for advice and encouragement in itself made the process so much less frustrating.”

Meet Senior Software Developer at The Home Depot, Michael Chambers! After many years in science and academia, he desired a change.  So, he hung up his lab coat and partnered with Placement to set a plan to launch a new career. After working with his Career Coach on an effective job search strategy, he was able to break into the tech space.  Here, Michael shares his story.

You’ve been in the academic world for most of your career pursuing a PhD in biochemistry and working in computational biology and genomics.  At some point you decided you wanted to make a change and pursue software engineering.  How challenging was it for you to pivot and swap out your science hat and don a coding hat?

It was challenging in some ways. I spent much of my time in academia creating software and dealing with data and databases. So my day-to-day was fairly similar to that of most software developers. The difficulty I had in my job search was explaining the kind of work I was doing from a technical perspective without getting into the details of the problems we were working on, which were specific to genomics. I think the popular perception of a molecular biologist is that we spend most of our time at a lab bench doing experiments, when in fact we mostly spend time at our computers.

You mentioned prior to Placement you had little to no experience crafting a resume, talking to recruiters or developing interview skills.  What kind of support and guidance did you find from your Placement Career Coach to strengthen all of these?  

My coach assisted with every step in the process. For my resume, we worked on the content and styling. Coming from a data background myself, I particularly appreciated that we used a data-driven approach to really optimize my skill sets. In regards to recruiters, we worked on many things such as developing templates for the initial outreach, crafting my sales pitch, refining my talking points for phone screens, as well as what to expect in those conversations. My coach also arranged for mock interviews with recruiters and hiring managers who provided detailed feedback on how to improve the ways I presented myself. Because I pivoted into software development from a non-traditional career path, it was particularly important to get across why I was seeking something seemingly so different from my previous work, as well as how my unique background was actually an asset.

How did your Career Coach help you in communicating that you had the skills to career pivot?

At the beginning of the process, we spent time looking at the potential job titles I'd be seeking, and how the typical requirements for those titles lined up with my strengths as a candidate. I had a notion of the types of positions I'd be applying for, but I didn't know what titles were the best fit. We decided my skills most closely aligned with those of a backend engineer, so that's an area we focused on. 

We know that networking is a key component to finding opportunities.  How did your Career Coach work with you on that critical step?

One thing I really underestimated going into the process was how important LinkedIn and my network would prove to be. My coach spent considerable effort overhauling my LinkedIn profile with me, reinforcing the importance of a professional headshot, and then working on how to interact with people in my professional network as well as recruiters. Ultimately, nearly every job lead we pursued was sourced from LinkedIn, either from people I knew professionally or recruiters who found me. 

Many individuals find themselves ill-equipped to succeed during interviews.  How did Placement assist you with this?  

We conducted extensive mock interviews and discussed strategies to explain my career pivot in a way that was clear and understandable. We covered strategies and interview techniques to highlight my skills. Many of my interviews were coding challenges or take-home projects which my coach guided me to achieve the strongest output. 

Where do you work, and what do you like about your job?

I was hired as a contractor in the IT department of The Home Depot, and have since been promoted to a Senior Software Engineer. It has been an amazing experience! The team was very welcoming and despite my lack of familiarity with the corporate environment, I was still able to contribute effectively to our goals from day 1. In many ways, it's similar to what I was doing previously.  The only difference is now is I work with supply chain data instead of genomic and clinical data. 

If you could be the spokesperson for a PSA for Placement, what would you say to people who are thinking about partnering with Placement for their job search?

It was an incredibly informative and beneficial experience for me. The job search process can be isolating, so just having someone who I could turn to for advice and encouragement in itself made the process so much less frustrating. Additionally the skills I gained in navigating the process not only helped me get the job and salary I wanted, but they will also undoubtedly be of value during whatever future career moves I decide to make.