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I'm currently a software engineer (web) but I'm really interested in machine learning. While there is some overlap between the two fields, there are many new concepts and skills involved in ML that I need to understand. I'm trying to learn in my free time and I'm making progress, but it's slow. I don't have a whole lot of spare time given my workload.

So, I was thinking of quitting so I can focus entirely on picking up the requisite skills. However, I'm worried that when I start applying for jobs, that if I'm not employed (and haven't been for the last several months), that my applications will be automatically rejected or that I'll be pigeonholed to entry-level jobs.

How to I mitigate this negative perception on my resume (especially given that I'm learning on my own e.g. MOOCs and not a university)?

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    "that my applications will be automatically rejected or that I'll be pigeonholed to entry-level jobs." - A comment on this. If you are planning to transition career it is still very likely that you will start with an entry-level job on that new career/subject, regardless that you are in that moment currently employed or not. In other words, don't expect to land a senior ML role when starting to transition to ML.
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 21 at 0:39
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    Have you considered looking for entry-level ML jobs that don't require prior experience and can provide learning resources and mentorship? Does your current workplace provide this kind of opportunities?
    – Egor
    Sep 21 at 1:40
  • @DarkCygnus But when seasoned developers transition to business/project management, they don't start out as entry-level business analysts, but rather managers and directors.
    – drrobert
    Sep 21 at 7:14
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    There is a fine line between ‘studying online’ and watching a bunch of random YouTube videos. I would not consider the time well spent if I were reviewing your resume.
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 21 at 15:43
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    The problem with anything AI based is that if you don't have a degree in it, you probably don't know enough to be useful, and if that degree is not a PhD then you probably don't know enough to be anything but junior. Definitely do not do this, you'll be wasting your time.
    – Ertai87
    Sep 21 at 18:32
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The thing with self-taught skills that completely lack any context to measure their success is that, well, there's no way to gauge them. So the less overlap there is between your established education/work experience and your new field there is the bigger step back you're going to end up taking. Sure you can do skills interviews and tests but they're going to be pretty superficial at best, without any corroboration in the form of qualifications or experience you have to err on the low side when evaluating them for it.

Given there is likely to be some level of overlap between your existing experience and your new field you probably aren't going to have to go right back to square one - but I certainly wouldn't expect to be able to move laterally.

And that's just looking at someone who is looking to shift skill sets without taking an indeterminate time period out of work - If someone has taken months away from work to learn a new skill without enrolling in full-time education then there's a gap in the resume there. You've got an explanation for that gap but is it a particularly good one? Well, I can understand how it makes it easier to learn having the free time that comes with not being employed but it's still pretty nebulous to me as a hiring manager how you spent that time. With the plethora of flexible on-line courses from reputable providers and institutions out there today I'd be wondering where the added value was in those months versus just taking a few weeks off work to blast through those online courses.

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  • What about doing freelance software development part-time? (It's less work hours, but still provides a consistent work history.) In your opinion, would that be ok from a hiring manager's standpoint?
    – drrobert
    Sep 21 at 19:59
  • @drrobert yeah that would probably help somewhat - particularly if you could get any work with relevance to the new work area.
    – motosubatsu
    Sep 22 at 8:05
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TLDR:

It makes you look foolish

Instead of quitting a job to study, take classes part-time than transition within your organization to a ML position. Failing that, interview with companies that are transitioning to a more ML approach, and THEN transition over, but do not ever quit a job to go to school.

If I were to see a resume where someone left to go to learn a new tech, I'd skip right over it because your new skills would be green, and your old skills would be stale. You would have ZERO value to an employer

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You should consider yourself lucky if you manage to get any developer job in this domain, nevermind if it is entry level.

And the only way you can mitigate the fact that you will be unemployed while looking for a new job is by enrolling in some kind of real world study program before, preferably with some sort of certificate you get. Maybe some companies accept an online course as proof that you are qualified, but that is not to be expected.

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My advice to you would be to find a company that's a leader in the field, that's big enough to also have jobs that have your current skillset. Work for the new company in your current role, as you learn, and through mentorship within, transition smoothly to the new domain (over a period of 5-8 years). Also, gain the proper formal education and credentials as you're doing this, asking advice of the company which credentials and degrees are important to them. Each move you make will then be a documented, respected effort to move towards your goal, rather than a blemish, and guess what? You'll get paid while you do it.

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While it's tempting to leave the job for a dream job, you would be leaving for something that is a minor shift (Web Developer to Machine learning) and spend several months to pursue a ML course. This is what someone inexperienced would do and it would be a double edged sword:

  • let's say that in 7 months you would learn ML, your knowledge in web development would be stale and your knowledge in ML would be fresh with no real projects experience
  • mature peoples start to prepare the plan B : after 5 pm they stop work and study or at least try to.switch into their company

While you learn, Start to work on personal projects and publish them on github and kaggle. Create a website where you showcase your projects, publish it in LinkedIn, in 6 months at least recruiter will start to contact you.

There's no need to go to school or leave the job, follow online courses and remember that even following courses, what you learn is not what you could find in next job.

Obviously start to hint in your company that you're studying the topic of ML integrated inside web applications , so you will not be seen as a slacker and they cannot accuse you of being uninterested in your job.

You could find that among your colleagues there are some that could be interested in ML.

To synthetize :

  • Dropped job to study topic X : I would never hire
  • still working but managed to switch Role and earned experience : I would hire it
  • still working, has a lot of non standard ML project in his portfolio : this will be the one I pick

As you have seen, degrees and courses / certification are worthless without experience and self made projects.

What counts now is the real skills, not if you went to MIT or not.

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  • Sorry, but the people who downvoted, could at least explain why ?
    – Fedeco
    Oct 11 at 15:37

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