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Changing Careers

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In a guide to changing careers you’ll probably struggle to find the section that says the ideal time is with a 2 year old son and screaming new born baby in tow.  But, that’s how things played out for me and how I came to be writing this blog post as a new member of the Primate troop.


I’ve arrived back in the IT world in a bit of a roundabout way. I finished University with a Computer Science degree but pretty much changed careers straight away into the field of healthcare and medical devices. Slightly different I know! I worked in this field for 11 years and ran my own company but it was watching this TED Talk that set me on the course for a career change:

This lead me to start tinkering with writing code for visualising healthcare data and I even built my own device for sensing muscle activity using Arduino and skin sensors and outputting the electrical activity of the muscle onto an interface I built. The idea was to gamify patient exercises to improve patient engagement.  Here’s a short video I made of the interface in action:

Before you (probably justifiably) slate it I should probably explain what’s going on!  The patient has to hold a muscle contraction at a particular intensity for a set time. This is known as a Muscle Energy Technique for releasing tight muscles.  I wanted patients to use 20% of their max effort and the graph would be green when they kept close to this value and red otherwise. The longer the graph is green, the more points you get.  You’d be forgiven for saying this was an awful game but I was chuffed with getting it to work and seeing what my body was doing show up on a screen!

Sell, Sell, Sell!

It’s fair to say I was getting the bug for coding (awful pun) and I wanted to do more of it.  I’d also been working at the same thing for a third of my life and needed a change.  Somewhat fortuitously, just as I was thinking about selling my business, I had interest from someone keen to buy it from me.  The timing was pretty damned scary now I had two kids and no definite plan for what to do afterwards but the business was so niche that opportunities to sell wouldn’t come along very often.  Sod it I thought, there’s never an ideal time so the deal was done!

At this point I’d like to give a big shout out to my wife for supporting me through this massive upheaval and also for not going mental when I sold my company with no firm plan in place!

I’m A Developer!

With a healthy bank account (for now!) I could throw myself into programming.  Before I sold the business I had started a course for learning Rails from a company called Tealeaf Academy, now called Launch School, (https://launchschool.com).  I was able to really get stuck into this over the next 3 to 4 months and took some of their other front end courses to improve my all round skills.  I honestly can’t recommend these guys enough for anyone else wanting to get started and I urge you to try them out.  I’d struggled with other online courses like Codecademy and Treehouse because I didn’t feel like I was retaining much information.  I also looked at Bootcamps but this wasn’t really an option because of the time I’d be spending away from home.  I can just picture my wife’s reaction if I said I was off for 4 months!  Tealeaf Academy was a great balance, I’d get to work on proper projects and they had tutors available at any hour of the day so questions were answered quickly.  By working on projects from start to finish I started to pick things up much more quickly and I found this was the best way for me to learn.

The final project for Tealeaf Academy involved coming up with my own idea for a web application and so Time Off Tokens (https://www.timeofftokens.com/) was born.  This was based around the idea of a babysitting circle. For those of you without kids, a babysitting circle is a group of parents that know each other and babysit for each other in exchange for tokens. If you babysit you get tokens, if someone babysits for you then you lose tokens.  Normally this is done with pen and paper and someone has to manage the circle.  I made the web app as a way to simplify the whole process. Tokens were calculated automatically and parents could post a request and all others in the group would be immediately notified.  I really enjoyed the process of releasing my first production application although I don’t think I’ll be retiring any time soon from it!

Back To The Real World

With all the courses done and a dwindling bank account (kids are flippin expensive!), it was time to start looking for work.  I managed to pick up some freelance work but was keen to work for a company at this stage so I could get stuck into lots of different projects.  I looked around at all the options in Edinburgh and Primate really stood out.  The design element of their sites really impressed me and were the sort of beautiful looking sites I aspired to build.  Time Off Tokens was a solid performer and well tested but beautiful it ain’t and you can tell it’s Bootstrapped from a mile off.

Once again fortune was on my side, Primate were looking to take on a new developer at the same time I was enquiring about working for them.  They took me on initially as a freelancer which turned into a full time role soon after. It’s been an amazing learning experience and I’ve worked on lots of projects in the 4 months I’ve been working for them.  One that I’m really proud of is for Cruise Loch Ness (https://www.cruiselochness.com/).  Steve and Chris did an amazing job with the design and front end and I was lucky to work on the booking process for the site as well as the backend admin interface.

It’s been a tough road to get here and I needed to work at a crazy rate to get myself up to speed quickly after selling my company but I’m loving the work and Primate are an awesome company to work for.

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Author: Jeff Knox

Jeff is stupidly competitive and will do almost any challenge.

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  1. Annika March 22, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    I take my hat off to you sir for taking that chance and making the change.
    And – Time Off Tokens – that is a cracking idea!

    • Jeff March 24, 2016 at 8:09 am

      Thanks Annika, it was a bit stressful at times but worked out really well in the end!

  2. Mark June 16, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Just read this. Goon blog post Jeff, interesting to find out more about you. I similarly have been through a process of having to ‘re-invent’ my career, though the path I travelled was one I was slightly more forced upon me!

    I agree that having some solid support from a partner is invaluable, particularly when you have a young family (We had 2 toddlers whilst I underwent the ‘transformation’). Perseverance is always key!

    Primate are an admirable company, I enjoy my time with you guys and am sure you are a strong addition to an already strong team.

  3. Michael July 7, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    I see I am not alone…….being the only one to make a career change, I blame it on my midlife crisis ….but good luck to you all…Great post too

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