Thanks everyone for taking the time to read this article and responding. I'm glad I have inspired so many of you.
@MysteryJimbo - it's nice to know others have a similar success story. Yeah the pay cut is the killer but I was lucky, my wife was (and still is) very supportive which meant we could afford to take the pay cut temporarily.
@OldCursor - agreed. Definitely less stressful working for yourself - no office politics 🙂
@aspiring_dba - I think @OldCursor may already have answered this but for me it is a mixture of recruitment agencies and contacts. My blog and LinkedIn profile are critical to this.
@PravS - I'm glad my article has motivated you to start planning your own career change. We spend a large part of our lives in work so I think it's important that we are happy doing what we do. Sometimes you have to take that initial pay cut but play the long game. You don't want to be the richest man in the graveyard after the stresses of the job you hate drove you to an early grave.
@Abrar Ahmad_ - thanks for responding but I am not quite sure what a more detailed breakdown of my career breakdown would add to this discussion. Perhaps you could elaborate? You can find more detail on my career on my LinkedIn profile if you are interested.
@lbodine - From DBA to hairdresser would definitely be a complete reversal of my situation. Perhaps you could write a similar article about your experiences - seems like there might be an appetite for such a story.
@steveNogradi - agreed that user group meetings are a really good idea. Wasn't an option when I started in 1999/2000. I did go to the very first UK SQL Server UG meeting in Cambridge - 2002/2 I think.
@umairjavedsheikh - A more detailed career history is already publicly available on my LinkedIn profile if you are interested.
@bwillsie-842793 - That you find this sufficiently inspiring as to pass my story on to others is a great compliment. Thank you.
@amenjonathan - re: "not sure if having experience in a help centre will help land you an IT position" - that might have been lost in translation (I'm guessing you may not be from the UK) In the UK, we refer to a call centre when thinking about customer service by phone for banks, utilities companies etc (so nothing to do with IT helpdesks). I was suggesting that it is the people skills gained in such a call centre environment that are the transferrable skill. Dealing with irate people over the phone is the same regardless of what the service it is that they are complaining about. I wish your wife luck in her future career.
@gcollier24 - The "big break" was a combination of luck and hard work - for me it was my second job. I applied for a position with a small software house and hosting provider. They had never hired any DBA expertise before so perhaps the interview questions were a little less challenging than they could have been. That combined with my MCDBA, MCSE and obvious keenness to do the job were what got me in. During that first year, there were times when my answer to a question might have been "Let me take that away and think about so that I can give you a proper answer" - which gave me enough time to so end an evening feverishly researching an unfamiliar topic. But on the whole, despite some initial trepidation, even in that first year, I found that I knew more than I gave myself credit for and was actually the person who knew most about SQL Server. You may not be able to jump straight into a full DBA role - maybe you need to aim for a Server Admin role that includes some database work or if your preferences is development, an application support role may be the way to go. Don't let other people's experiences put you off. I used to use the Microsoft certs as a way of guiding my learning but always studied material in and around those areas rather than just enough to pass the exams. If you're going to make the jump, you can control how much knowledge you have to back up what you say on your CV or at interview. You can control whether you are one of the people who gets "eaten up and spit out" or not.
@cake235 - I loved your comment about having to "compete against bored hairdressers". It is a sad fact that some companies think that a bachelor’s degree should be the minimum entry requirement for a job in IT. Sure, for some people that might be an indicator of future performance but I've also worked with degree-educated who know lots but have little common sense - and I believe that nous is critical to getting the job done right. I think that my certifications helped in the earlier stages of my career but it's also about taking the time to craft a good CV and having the right attitude - especially at interview. Most of those can be taught (or at least coached). As @dioscoredes said in an earlier response, "Many of the finest colleagues I have ever worked with have been academically minimally or not qualified at all". That is understandably a difficult pill to swallow for someone who has spent 3-5 years studying for a BSc/MSc and probably has a mountain of student debt to show for it. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs on both sides of the Atlantic have built their success on merit and attitude in spite of not having any formal education beyond the age of 15/18. True, there are some equally successful people who do have degrees etc. but all this proves is that it is attitude not education that is the key to success.
@OldHand - Well if I can do a complete 180 in my career at 38 you can definitely do it at 28. Good luck.
Greg M Lucas
"Your mind is like a parachute, it has to be open to work" - Frank Zappa