I've been doing data engineering/science-type work (before they were even called that) and software engineering for over 10 years now, in fields like security, bioinformatics and engineering.

I'd like to switch to web development. I find the web technology stack more interesting, I'd like to be more closely involved in end user experience, and I feel web development gives me a better chance to freelance and start my own firm/startup.

How do I avoid starting scratch, career wise? If I didn't have a family, I'd take an entry level job anywhere that'd take me, but that is not very practical with a family.

Should I concentrate on a niche skill such as security it visualization of data, so that I can transfer over things I already know?

Should I concentrate on specific customer bases? For example, I'm quite familiar with the workflow of security analysts, data scientists, pharmaceutical researchers, etc.

Or should I aim to be a generalist, at least initially, and go full stack?

  • Can I ask why front end web development is relatively low paid compared to the fields you are working in ? – Neuromancer Sep 16 '18 at 20:16

Are you sure? Switching from a highly technical field such as bioinformatics to an amateur web development industry is unheard of, the other way is much more common! Any web development job (junior, senior etc) is essentially "starting scratch" for you. In data science, you generally work with PhD level workmates, whereas many web developers don't even have a university degree! That'll be a big slump.

Let's say you're OK downgrading yourself. Your strong data science experience should be a good reason for companies to hire you as a full-stack software engineer in a data-oriented company. Your potential barrier is how to convince you're not over-qualified. Gradually move from there to a specialised web developer.

... Data science/bioinformatics is a good area for freelancing... There're really not many people who can do it well. Going into web development freelancing is a guarantee that you will compete with cheap Indian contractors. If your goal is to establish your company, going out of data science doesn't make any sense. Please re-think.

  • If the OP is more interested in learning something new (web development), “downgrading” is matter of opinion. – Pink Yeti Sep 16 '18 at 15:50
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    It’s still a downgrade – SmallChess Sep 16 '18 at 15:52
  • I think you're conflating WordPress template wrangling with actual web application development... – HorusKol Sep 17 '18 at 7:40
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    Simply pointing out that 'Any web development job (junior, senior etc) is essentially "starting scratch" for you' is quite fallacious given the full spectrum of problems, solutions and applications within "web development". – HorusKol Sep 17 '18 at 7:52
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    Part of the reason I've grown to hate my current field is that without a PhD there is a clear ceiling, and will always be looked down upon as a data wrangling monkey. Also, I've never heard of a data scientist or bioinformatist that wasn't working for a very large company or in academia, or at least a super-funded startup. – user3243135 Sep 19 '18 at 1:45

I think you already have described a good way to get started...

... Should I concentrate on a niche skill such as security it visualization of data, so that I can transfer over things I already know?


Should I concentrate on specific customer bases? For example, I'm quite familiar with the workflow of security analysts, data scientists, pharmaceutical researchers, etc. ...


If you "start from scratch" and try to go in a generalist/entry-level direction, you will find yourself competing with an ocean of talent, all with similar skills, in a market where body-count matters more than individual contributors.

The advice you see on the blogs, twitter, and journals about "the hottest fields" are more geared to serve the interests of employers. It doesn't matter what the most popular framework, language or skill-set is. What matters to an individual is finding a niche where one can enjoy satisfying work that meets their specific needs (which is different for everyone, and changes over time).

The best thing you can do is to not throw away your previous experience, instead try to leverage it and challenge yourself with work or projects that pivot you into new areas.

One way to do this is to work for smaller companies or even start-ups where versatility is valued and where you can try different types of work out of necessity. The trade off is stability, but at least you have a chance to try different things rapidly and see what makes you fulfilled.

It could be that you're in a rut with your current career and need a fresh start. There's nothing wrong with that, but keep in mind that it is QUITE POSSIBLE to make a switch into a new field and find that's it's not as shiny and pleasant as it looks from the outside. Do you really want to keep up with the javascript train wreck until retirement?


This is a bit like a rocket engineer saying "I want to become an automotive engineer". There is some knowledge overlap, and while you don't have to go back to high school, you will need some retraining.

However, in software, there is more of a spectrum than there is between rockets and cars. Look for jobs in data visualisation - learn the stacks they use - then broaden out to general interfaces, if that is the direction you want.


If your aim is to freelance, then put feelers out for that while you have a reliable income.

Many people go this route to bypass the necessity of having qualifications and/or much experience as a professional in a field, or even just for extra $$. Start small, make a good name for yourself and the sky is the limit.

Hardest part is getting the initial work, so best to do while you have a revenue stream already. Do it cheaply and well and you will build a customer base. Even doing years in a field and certifications out your ears doesn't guarantee you'll get any customers quickly. Freelancing and salary work are very different in many ways.

  • How do you put out "feelers"?! – user3243135 Sep 19 '18 at 1:46
  • This answer doesn't make any sense. The answer had no understanding of data science. @user3243135 please ignore. – SmallChess Sep 19 '18 at 2:07
  • @SmallChess op wants to freelance in web development, what has data science to do with it? Am I missing something? – Kilisi Sep 19 '18 at 7:30
  • @Kilisi OP works in data science now. – SmallChess Sep 19 '18 at 7:31
  • @SmallChess yes, and wants to freelance in Web development, I was a forestry worker when I first started freelancing in IT....... – Kilisi Sep 19 '18 at 7:32

In order to not start from scratch you need to show your skills. Nowadays you can do it very easily via GitHub. If you already know some web design then just build some cool website and show what you can.

I'm pretty sure you can think of some nice project that would let you use all your knowledge in this field and maybe learn something new too. Check it in and add a link to it to your CV. If you can impress some people with your work then it'll be a piece of cake to get a new job.

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