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My last job was doing application programming with a bit of web design for a software company. I left that job, and now have a job offer from a larger software company to do web design.

I love application programming and web design is not my ideal job, however the company did say it's possible (but not guaranteed) that in the near future they may give me work in application programming as well.

I am trying to determine if I should take the web-design job based on what they have said. Is it a good idea to take a related, but not ideal job in hopes of moving onto my ideal job? And can you suggest any questions I could ask the company to help me make this decision?

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There are always times in life where things turn to the unexpected. People miss career opporunities by unfortunate turns of events, whereas some make random moves without much deliberation - but in the end success is not always determined the very first day you move.

From what I understand, you love coding, but it may also be the case (what I see) that right now it is critical to take an available job, given that it would be urgent to your situation. So, I think the choice can be this-vs-that in terms of responsibilities, as much as now-vs-too-late in terms of urgency of taking a job. This is indeed tough to judge, but as I said, whatever you choose, you're not stuck with that decision forever. It will takes several decisions over a long period to determine the direction in which your career ultimately travels.

Different professions have their own values and outlooks. In judging professions you should not do it as "this thing is better than that other thing." All paths have their own traits -pros and cons - and all need some talent and a lot of hard work to grow. While you are hesitant, you should ask - is it that you don't want to do this at all, or is it isn't a perfect fit and you'd rather do coding?

Here are some questions you should ask yourself and depending on the answers you may judge whether new position is suitable for you. They may also reveal the kinds of questions you can ask your potential employer:

  1. Design might needs some creativity but different from ones you need for coding. Do you feel uncomfortable taking on the design assignment? If so, try to figure out exactly why.

  2. Lets suppose, in the worst case, you may not get any coding at all. Do you see this as a dead-end to your career, or can it be a place that you work until a better suited opportunity comes along?

  3. Do you really think design is all that bad - either lowly, or something you just can't stand?

  4. Do you have any history of employment setbacks, or severe family responsibility that prevent you from taking up any risky assignments?

  5. Do you generally feel very uncomfortable in experiencing change of work types or working environments?

As for you, and maybe many who might face similar dilema, for every "no" to these questions it seems there is little worry winding up in a bad place; for every strong "yes", you might consider waiting for more a appropriate position to come by.

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I'm in basically the opposite position; I'm working in a Programming gig and hoping to move UX design. I do some minor web design while I work but there's much coding and tech support work mixed in.

A significant problem is that many employers "look down" on workers that aren't currently employed, so keeping a related job is definitely in your long-term interest. It looks great on your resume and you don't have to point to an awkward gap in your employment and say "Well, I could have gotten a job but it wasn't the job I wanted".

More specific to this case, web design remains a good way to build your coding skills; unless you're in a completely graphic design role you're going to be doing related work like coding HTML, javascript ect. The specifics don't really matter, what matters is you're still building up relevant skills.

Combined with the potential promise of doing exactly what you want at this job, it's a great opportunity to get a relevant job now. Make sure in the interview you ask directly about what programming opportunities there are, there might be a stronger programming focus than they let on, but you only know once you've asked.

Only they can tell you that, they might be wanting someone with a programming background and just didn't put it on the job ad. From what they already told you it sounds like they have something in mind. Ask what it is, but don't push for specific details.

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I think you have both some internal and external questions.

Internal

  • How long have you been looking and how long can you wait? Having looked for a week and having the cash on hand to wait for 3 months is dramatically different than the other way around!

  • How many hits, interviews, and viable offers have come up? if this is the only thing and it's been a long wait, or if you have had real trouble getting your foot in the door with interviews and offers, that might be an indication to go for it.

  • What is your level of hate for the position you like less? Is there absolutely no way on Earth you'd want to do it for 3 years? Figure that worst-case if you don't get to move to the position you really want, you may still want to hang out in the position for 3 years, just to avoid job-hopping.

External

Once and a while, you can swing an offer that says in writing that you'll be transitioned or promoted when a set of circumstances are met...but that's pretty unusual in the tech industry - the whole picture is just too erratic.

So... you need to get them to make a case that gives you suitable assurance that the move is likely in the near term. Things I'd ask:

  • Will you need me to prove my skills in some way to get moved? Is this a test, or do you already understand that I can do the work today, but I'm glad to help the team for now in any way I can.

  • What are the business conditions that must be met for me to join the application development work? Is is that you don't have the budget and/or need for more application developers? Or is the web design work too urgent? What conditions does the company need to meet for this move to be possible? What is the likelihood of that? If it's money, ask for hard numbers (ie - we need $60K more in revenue to justify the salary of another app dev guy - we have been increasing revenue by $20K per quarter so we figure by Winter of 2013, this will be a possibility). If it's a workload thing, as for criteria or a description of how or why this may be a possibility (we need a web front end rehab URGENTLY, we know our front end sucks, but once the design is done we expect to keep it for 2-3 years, freeing up the designer to do other work)

Look for a realistic sell. Don't allow them to guess, don't allow them to sell you on a concept that sounds unlikely. And don't let them be vague - like "we'll talk about that in 6 months" - nope, in 6 months you might have had the offer from your dream job.

The trade between how long you can afford to wait for a better offer and how confident you feel about this one is purely personal. If you are down to your last dollar - take the job - but if you work in an area that is hiring software developers like mad (and you have enough savings/a layoff package) - then wait for something better.

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