Personal Finance

How to switch careers in a pandemic

Key Points
  • Even as unemployment spikes amid the coronavirus crisis, demand for tech workers is on the rise.
  • Here's how to go where the jobs are.
Joseph Wardenaar worked as a chef in Portland before the coronavirus hit. Now he's pursuing a career in computer programming.
Source: Joseph Wardenaar

Before the coronavirus crisis, Joseph Wardenaar was a successful chef in Portland, Oregon. At 36, he had worked his way up from line cook to chef de cuisine at Irving Street Kitchen.

Then, nearly overnight, his career was over.

Having recently purchased a home and with a baby on the way, Wardenaar scrambled. Following a friend's advice, he found a software coding bootcamp and learned the popular computer programming language Python.

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"If there is something else I can do that allows me to support my family, then it's something I definitely want to pursue," he said.

Armed with a certificate from online tech school Treehouse, Wardenaar is currently applying for positions as a junior developer while living off state unemployment benefits, plus the extra $600 federally funded supplement.

"It is a great time to upskill yourself," said Brandi Frattini, talent acquisition lead at CareerBuilder.

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While nationwide shelter-at-home orders have hit the restaurant industry and related fields particularly hard, the demand for workers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, occupations is increasing.

There are more than 400,000 computing job openings nationwide as of May, according to data from The Conference Board.

Tech jobs are also among the better-paying positions, even at the entry level, according to separate data from Glassdoor. 

We are seeing a massive surge in our student enrollment right now. A lot of it is folks 'reskilling.'
Ryan Carson
CEO of Treehouse

Data scientist is the top-paying entry-level job of all, with a median base salary of more than $100,000, followed by software and hardware engineers, which both pay around $90,000 a year to start. These jobs also typically allow you to work from home

Job seekers should take advantage of the wide range of online classes and training programs currently available to strengthen their candidacy, CareerBuilder's Frattini advised.

Even without an undergraduate degree in STEM, the increasing popularity of coding programs and boot camps makes it possible to get a foot in the door, she said.

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From there, consider how you can take it to the next level, Frattini added, by taking steps such as volunteering to help a local business with a website. "Show accomplishments that make you stand out," she said.

"We are seeing a massive surge in our student enrollment right now," said Treehouse CEO Ryan Carson. "A lot of it is folks 'reskilling.'"

Treehouse charges $199 a month for certification in one of five specialty areas, although Wardenaar qualified for one of the free courses the firm offered to people who have suffered a hardship due to Covid-19.

Correction: Joseph Wardenaar was a former chef de cuisine at Irving Street Kitchen in Portland, Oregon. An earlier version of this story misidentified him as executive chef. 

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