Reflections: From Software Engineering to Technical Support
After 8+ years as a software engineer, I made a career switch in 2021. I joined CircleCI as a support engineer.
As I enter my 3rd year with CircleCI, I thought it may be good to reflect on this career change so far.
I noticed there are many literatures for support engineers looking to switch to software engineering / development. However, there aren't many opinions on the other direction.
I hope this can be helpful for folks deliberating on similar career changes.
Why I switched
I will be honest here. One of the major reason I switched was due to the salary compensation.
I was drawing a comfortable salary at my previous job. However, my wife and I were hoping to start a family and considered purchasing a home. I was able to negotiate for a better salary in this switch. (I know this is likely a rare case in many countries. For context, I am based in Tokyo, Japan.)
I also wanted to try something (slightly) different.
Covid-19 was much less of a pandemic by 2021, but it prompted me to relook at life and its (un)certainties. One of the interviewers asked me “where do you see yourself in 3 years?”. I took the opposite view and considered what happened in the last 2 years, from 2019 to 2021. So much has changed across societies as we battled Covid-19. For me, the unexpected Covid-19 did spur me to try something different. Life is too short to be doing the same thing for a lifetime.
Critically, I also enjoyed using CircleCI as a customer. Don't get me wrong; My past adventures were with companies I did believe in. However, being a heavy and happy customer of CircleCI, I found it empowering to be in a position to share my enthusiasm with the customers.
How has the journey been
Fortunately, CircleCI is a product for software teams. This meant that, as a support engineer, I am tackling problems with another software engineer on the other side. I can empathize with the customer.
I have found it really rewarding to be able to draw on my past experience, and share best practices and advice with the customers.
Being part of the JAPAC (Japan + Asia Pacific) team, I also get opportunities to brush up my Japanese. To be honest, my wife and Deepl helped me a lot. I never aspire to reach near-native level for Japanese, but this has been a positive bonus.
One of the major perks is also learning new technologies. I get to learn from both our engineers, and also our customers (e.g., their tech stack). Prior to this job, I've never dug deep with Packer, Nomad, Git LFS, and even Windows PowerShell to name a few. (You can find my public repos for testing here)
Would I recommend it?
In my case, I've enjoyed the transition so far. Thankfully, I still get to utilize much of my software engineering knowledge to troubleshoot with customers.
However, like any choice made, technical support as a career comes with challenges too.
I think being able to empathize with customers is critical. Beyond the technical know-how, you'd need to know how to handle delicate communications at times (e.g., system-wide incident).
If you are a software engineer reading this, I would encourage you to consider the switch if:
- You enjoy communicating with people as much as digging deep into code / configurations.
- You enjoy debugging, or chasing down root causes as much as implementing new features.
- You can empathize with users, and can advocate on their behalf. I think folks contributing to open-source projects may be good candidates.
- You are patient and can negotiate tough communications.
- You would like to be closer to customers and the product.
- You enjoy opportunities in sharing best practices with customers.
- You believe in and enjoy the product.
These are just my opinions based on my experience so far. Your mileage may vary.
However, remember that switching does not mean you cannot go back. You can and should re-evaluate this decision along the way.