The Art of the Switch: How Changing Industries Can Work for You

In my journey from theology to hedge funds to tech entrepreneurship, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about how to successfully switch careers.

December 13th, 2016   |    By: Eden Chen    |    Tags: Motivation, Strategy

My career has taken many unexpected turns, from pastor-in-training to investment banker, hedge fund manager, and tech entrepreneur. Along the way, I learned a thing or 10 about career transitions — many of which involved changing industries.

When I started my undergraduate studies at Emory University, I wanted to be a pastor. I was the only undergraduate taking seminary classes, and I took a few business classes I thought would help me learn to lead, inspire, and manage people.

At some point, I realized I’d graduate with a mountain of debt and enter a profession that would leave me in a cycle of debt forever. The finance industry offered a great way to pay off my student debt before I entered the ministry.

Changing Industries

Wolfed by Wall Street

I started trading stocks to make money, and I found I was either really good or super lucky. I achieved more than 3,000 percent returns on my investment over a three-month period. This sparked a love and curiosity for capital markets.

I landed my first internship at Lehman Brothers in 2008, during some of the more tumultuous years for the finance world.

After graduation, I re-entered the financial world with Citigroup. Recapitalization was booming, and employees were grinding. The insane workload meant plenty of late nights; I routinely ended my workdays at 4 a.m.

At one point, I stayed awake for more than 48 hours straight during a work trip to Chicago. I got back to my office, and my nose started to bleed. I realized my job wasn’t worth jeopardizing my health.

I left the office, went home, and slept all day.

Then I truly woke up.

Creative Urges

I grew up with creative parents: My dad is a musician, and my mom is a journalist; I was encouraged to be creative.

The hedge fund industry was interesting, but it was a place where the ultimate output of my work was moving money back and forth without any sort of creation.

I had always been interested in computers and technology, so the tech world felt like a perfect way to combine my business and creative ambitions.

The problem was, I had no clue how to break into the industry.

I returned to my roots and spent a year in Los Angeles working at a church called Reality LA while I learned new tech skills.

I studied various programming languages, pored over trending images on Dribbble, studied UX principles, and analyzed Apple’s human interface and Android’s material design guidelines.

Refreshed, I was ready to re-enter the business world.

While working at Reality LA, I met my business partner Charles Hu. Charles had been part of the software development industry for more than two decades, and we both saw a gap in the market: There were no tech-centric engineering agencies based in Los Angeles.

Together, we embarked on a new chapter by launching Fishermen Labs. I went on to start and invest in eight businesses.

Changing Industries With the Times

I have made some wild career swings. In my meandering process of discovering my passion for entrepreneurship, I learned a lot about how to successfully switch industries and careers.

Here are a few lessons I picked up along the way when it comes to changing industries:

1. Slash Spending and Cut Ties

Spending money on things you don’t need will chain you to a job you don’t want. Take some radical steps to chop your expenses.

Find a roommate (or considering moving in with your parents), avoid eating out, and consider selling your car in favor of a bike or public transit.

You’ll need to adopt an incredibly lean budget. You probably will need to quit your current job to focus on this new industry, as there will be plenty of research and networking ahead of you.

A healthy savings account and limited expenses will prepare you for tough times.

2. Occupation U

Any time not devoted to earning should be spent learning. I simultaneously took programming classes, built a Twitter replica, read user-experience bibles, and made lists of any ideas I generated.

I listed apps with user experience flaws, and I kept track of great business ideas that came to me in the shower.

Learning and lists will keep you sharp.

3. Get Inside a Box

Deadlines and accountability are key to making any progress.

Walt Disney, one of the greatest creative minds of all time, put it best: “Everyone needs deadlines. Even the beavers. They loaf around all summer, but when they are faced with the winter deadline, they work like fury. If we didn’t have deadlines, we’d stagnate.”

Establish milestones, set deadlines, and find an accountability partner. Attend workshops, seminars, or industry events to put more skills into your arsenal and build your network.

4. Get By With Help From Your Friends

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and offer assistance whenever you can.

I didn’t know a lot of people in the tech industry, so I reached out to anyone I could — even friends of a friend of a friend. Even incredibly busy people will be open to lending you a hand if you ask for some help.

One of the best ways to help someone is by connecting him with someone else.

I tried to connect every person who helped me with three other people, which created a vast network of contacts for me.

Entrepreneurship is still business, and the bedrock of business is who you know.

The Shortest Distance Is a Zigzag

No career path is a straight line. When I was training to be a pastor, I never could have foreseen my life as an entrepreneur.

Recognizing when it was time to leave and mastering how to begin each leg of the journey ultimately propelled me toward my destination.

I don’t know how many stops you’ll make on your adventure or where your final destination might be — that’s up for you to discover.

By cutting your spending, learning as much as possible, setting deadlines, and building a network, you don’t have to be afraid about switching to a new industry.

About the Author

Eden Chen

Eden Chen is the co-founder of Fishermen Labs, a Los Angeles-based app development agency focused on custom web, mobile app, virtual reality, and augmented reality development, and digital marketing. Follow Eden on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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