As I sit here on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with the windows open and the birds fighting over the seed on my balcony, I realize I am just over a month out from graduating with my M.S. in Engineering Management (MSEM or basically an MBA for technical people). A couple of years ago, I decided (in my fifties no less) that I wanted an advanced degree. I work at a university and part of our benefits include tuition remission and the MSEM program seemed perfect. It applied to my current job and it was a part-time evening program that fit my schedule. It was a great program and I cannot begin to list all the ways it has helped me in both my personal and professional lives. Some of those ways will likely become future blog posts.

People ask me all the time, “Now that you’re done, what are you going to do with all that free time?” My stock answer has become, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” At least that’s my stock answer right now. I am only a month out. That being said, I did find myself last weekend typing into the search box “I have my MBA now what?” (Because an MBA is a little more common than an MSEM.) I am starting to get a little restless and maybe a little nervous. Did I do all this work for naught? I don’t think so and I certainly hope not.

I chose to pursue this degree for a lot of reasons not the least of which was I was in an incredible rut professionally. And a series of events made me realized this isn’t 1972 and having 20+ years at a company does not mean I am guaranteed to be there until I retire. I have seen far too many good people with 20+ years get let go only to flounder afterward because 20+ years makes you complacent and super comfortable. Your job has most likely been shaped by your unique contributions and attributes. Finding another job just like that with all the same benefits and compensation is virtually impossible–especially if you have not kept your skills up-to-date.

I am a web developer by trade – specifically a LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) developer. In my career I have written custom web applications ranging from mapping applications (long before Google Maps) to a complete custom enterprise-level content management system that hosted over 200 websites at one time. In recent years, I have become more of a WordPress developer – WordPress allows me to have peace of mind if anything happens to me, someone could step in and figure things out. When I wrote my custom CMS, if anything happened to it or new features were requested, I was the only one who could respond. I felt wedded to the application 24/7. As software as a service has become more prominent, there is little need, in my current position, to build custom applications. We just need websites. So my career morphed into cranking out websites. It was getting boring and unchallenging. Enter the MSEM program. I realized I had been gravitating more toward strategy and planning. I enjoy doing complex data analyses to support my recommendations and our marketing decisions. A business management program seemed a good fit for me.

I really had a couple of choices – I could add front-end development (a skill I only marginally have and could probably use in my role now) to my coding toolbox or I could think broader. I just did not see myself coding for the rest of my life. I can code just about anything to get by, but I wanted something more stimulating. I wanted to think more, lead more and strategize more. So off I went to school in my fifties to pursue a Master’s degree.

Me, moments after officially receiving my degree.
Me, moments after becoming a Jumbo

While the two years in the program absolutely consumed me, I have zero regrets about doing it. It has opened so many avenues for me. These avenues are not, at the moment, new jobs, increased pay or opportunities for advancement. I knew, going into the program, if I stayed where I am, none of that would happen. If that is what I was looking for, I would have to find another position someplace else. Well, let me tell you, that is a scary prospect. Why? Well, I have built up a good amount of benefits and while nothing is perfect, this job is the devil I know. It is super scary thinking of giving all that up for a complete unknown that will most likely pay less and have fewer benefits than I do now. At the same time, I do not want to find myself in 20 years, bored with whatever I am doing at the time and thinking, maybe I should pursue a PhD in my 70s! Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it is probably not the best career strategy.

We heard several times in the program that this degree has a 1-2 year shelf life. If we don’t make a move in that time, the usefulness of the degree for our careers diminishes rapidly. That is scary to think about and I have kind of made myself crazy worrying about it. I am not going to lie. I do look at job postings. I look to see what is out there and I look to see if I am qualified for any interesting jobs. Through all this looking, I have created a level of anxiety I do not like. It is making me crazy. Why? Because I have no idea what I want to do. When I was searching “I have my MBA, now what?” I ran across a pretty good article from which I got this tidbit of information. If you are looking to change careers – don’t make a huge leap. Look for something in your current job function in a different industry or look for a desired job function in your same industry. I thought that was pretty sound advice and it has reduced the anxiety a bit. That said, nothing I am seeing seems substantial enough to give up what I have. But I keep looking. Why? Because, I never know if my job will end tomorrow and I do not want to be scared and paralyzed if it did.

So, for now, what will I do? I will continue to look at jobs that are out there. I will also continue to provide value to my current employer above and beyond my job description. I will use my current job as an opportunity to explore various career avenues and see what works well for me and for the university. I will also use this blog to explore ideas, concepts and document projects along the way. I don’t know what the future holds for me professionally, but I do know whatever it is, I will be ready for it. I refuse to be blindsided because I have become complacent. And who knows, maybe I will pursue a PhD in my 70s!


I am a technologist, strategist, software engineer and data nerd who, in my spare time, is also an amateur photographer, animal lover, and low-carb/Keto advocate.

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.