How to Find Your Dream Job in 2021
Andrew Reilly, who has a degree in business computer systems, got a job as a programmer right out of college. He didn’t much like the company, though, so he left tech to pursue a master’s degree in journalism. He landed a few choice freelance gigs before the Great Recession of 2008 dampened his new career.
4 Things to Know About Dream Jobs
- You can have more than one during your career.
- Your idea of a dream job might change as you age.
- You might end up with a dream situation rather than a dream job.
- A certain job can launch a dream, even if it’s not the dream itself.
A freelance copywriting gig led to a full-time job at an educational publisher which in turn led to his current post, principal at Slalom, a tech consulting company. The job engages Reilly intellectually and gives him the time — and funds — to explore meaningful artistic and creative hobbies. It adds up to what Reilly calls “an ideal situation.”
Almost everyone has a dream job, the cliche involving a corner office, plenty of stock options and a beefy paycheck. In reality — or so say the tech professionals interviewed for this story — a dream job can be an engaging post at an innovative company. It can be a contract position that’s part of a rich, full life. Or it can be a dream career, peppered with dream positions. We persuaded five tech professionals to share their dream paths with us; maybe you’ll see some of yourself, or a glimmer of inspiration, in their stories.
‘Everybody Does Have an Ideal Situation’
Reilly spends his work days as a principal at Slalom Consulting, a Chicago-based tech consulting company. “It’s extremely flexible, it lets me flex mental muscles, and I work with cool people,” he said.
Evenings and weekends find him writing, taking photographs and performing with Chicago-based story collective 2nd Story, where he’s a company member. His day job and off-the-clock activities feed each other; one pays for the photography equipment and trips to far-flung destinations, and the other hones soft skills, for instance persuasive communicating and creating compelling visuals for client meetings. “Those are things I learned through my artistic endeavors,” Reilly said. “It’s fun to have those in my back pocket when some of my colleagues do not.”
When Reilly didn’t like the company he joined right out of college, he took it as a sign that he didn’t like tech as a career. His master’s degree in journalism eventually led to a full-time post at an educational publisher, which was soon acquired by a bigger educational publisher. There, Reilly and his colleagues built apps for schools, libraries and other educational ventures. “You could feel good about what you did all day,” he said. “That softened the blow about the journalism dreams not panning out the way I wanted.”
For Reilly, enjoyable work and creative hobbies add up to a dream situation. “I would say that not everybody has a dream job, but everybody does have an ideal situation,” he said. For those looking for that situation, “gravitate toward things you value,” he said. “It’s a big world.”
‘You Need to Love the Product You’re Creating’
Andrew Everett is a mechanical engineer at Barry Callebaut, a global chocolate manufacturer with 61 factories dotting the globe. His office has a chocolate wall filled with free samples and the conference rooms are stocked with chocolate too. He’s been among the first in the United States to sample new confections, for instance ruby chocolate (the “fourth” chocolate, after milk, dark and white) that Callebaut debuted in 2017.
Big bonus: People nearly swoon when he tells them what he does for a living. “It’s neat to tell people I make a product you can taste at home,” Everett said.
From his office in Chicago, Everett’s scope includes Chicago-area facilities and one in Monterrey, Mexico. Much of his work involves 3D design and installation of chocolate-making equipment. For instance, he and his team recently designed and installed a line that can make up to 11,000 pounds of solid chocolate per hour. Work autonomy sweetens the job as much as the chocolate surroundings do. “At Barry Callebaut, there is no prescribed solution on how to achieve the goal of delivering the product,” Everett said. “I have an almost artistic freedom to lay out something or repurpose something in our factories.”
Everett worked at a Chicago-area fertilizer manufacturer before Callebaut recruited him early in 2019. His dream job advice? “You need to love the product that you’re creating,” he said. “Working in chocolate as an engineer is as close to a dream job as you’re going to get.”
‘Our Dreams Should Adapt and Change With Us’
When Quinn Kelch was little, he dreamed of driving an ice cream truck. These days, he teaches kids how to code as a full-time guide at Codeverse, a creative online platform where kids ages six to 13 use real code to build apps and games. Every day, including weekends, Kelch leads a community of 34 kids in one-on-one sessions, teaching them skills as elementary as learning to type to more advanced coding concepts for creating custom video games. “You normally don’t think a six- to 13-year-old is going to start practicing code,” said Kelch. One six-year-old designed a game involving a player walking a dog and the dog’s business falling from the sky. “He said, ‘what if the poop comes from the sky,’ and I said ‘yeah, let’s do it,’” Kelch said. “Kids surprise you.”
A 2018 graduate of Northwestern University’s School of Communication and Bienen School of Music, Kelch had been working in marketing and as an actor. The pandemic limited his time on the stage. “The typical nine-to-five does not bring interest to my day,” he said. “Deep down, I’m a creative.” His voice teacher heard about Codeverse and mentioned it to Kelch, who didn’t know how to code. Nevertheless, he applied, “and it was wonderful,” he said. Codeverse taught him to code and his acting skills — he had experience with theater for young audiences — came in handy. He began working for Codeverse in June of 2020.
It’s a dream situation for now, as Kelch believes that one’s definition of “dream job” can shift at each life stage. He pointed out his ice cream truck dreams as an example. “For my age and knowledge span, that sounded fun,” he said. “But things change, and our dreams should adapt and change with us.”
He is still an actor and plans to pursue that dream job, but plans to keep developing his job at Codeverse, bringing joy to his students and witnessing their aha! moments. Codeverse, he said, makes online learning interactive and collaborative, rather than an exercise in sitting still and staring at a screen. “Online learning is tough, but I want to continue to innovate and experiment,” he said.
‘I Think in Terms of ‘Dream Career’’
Caron Grantham landed a dream job almost right out of college. Almost two decades later, she has another one. “I think in terms of dream career or lifestyle,” said Grantham, cybersecurity analyst at Chicago-based onShore Security. “To me, a job is a one-off,” she said. “A career is something that’s stimulating, fun, uses my aptitudes and talents, I’m able to contribute and I have some form of independence.”
After a globe-trotting childhood (she and her parents, who were Peace Corps volunteers, lived in Nairobi, Kenya and the Republic of Niger), Grantham got a degree in accounting and information systems. Her first tech position was at Home Depot, and, from there, she went to work as a software systems quality engineer for Compaq. That job, at a prestigious company with great pay, perks and benefits, qualified as “dream” for Grantham. “It was a great experience,” she said. When Compaq and Hewlett-Packard merged, she left Houston for Chicago and a post as network administrator and engineer with the Chicago Housing Authority.
In 2013, after attending a few workshops at Chicago startup incubator 1871, Grantham decided to pursue a career in cybersecurity. She earned a certificate in cybersecurity from the Illinois Institute of Technology while working as a software QA engineer contractor at True Value Company. She attended a four-month cybersecurity boot camp at 1871 before joining onShore in 2016. “It’s like working for an innovative startup,” Grantham said.
The company’s open-door policy encourages communication, and Grantham has direct access to CTO Steven Kent. She’s been promoted twice, thanks to successful work with large and complicated client accounts. The company enables her to attend DefCon and BlackHat, as well as volunteer for the Women in Cybersecurity, THOTCON and GirlCon conferences. “That’s an aspect of a dream job — being able to expand your interests outside of work,” she said.
For young professionals wishing to build a dream career, Grantham suggests researching the field you’re interested in. “Volunteering at conferences and meetups and interning are all ways to network with like-minded people,” she said. She also suggests a career that suits your skills and interests, rather than getting a job just because it’s the hottest thing in tech. “I’m a curious person,” she said. “Cybersecurity was a natural progression for me.”
‘It’s Possible for Me to Dream Again’
Like Grantham, James Zimmermann knows it’s possible to have more than one dream job. For 12 years, Zimmermann, who holds two degrees in music performance, lived his dream job on stage as principal clarinet for the Nashville Symphony. In addition to performing, that post presented him with other opportunities, among them teaching and playing in recording studios.
Even before the pandemic, Zimmermann had been wondering about the long-term viability of being a symphony musician, and when performances halted, the decision to switch careers became easy. He saw an ad for Vanderbilt University’s coding boot camp and enrolled, spending 10 hours a week in class plus an additional 30 to 40 hours a week coding, just as he logged rehearsal hours as a musician.
After graduation, he used career services from 2U, Vanderbilt’s ed-tech partner, to launch a job search. Instead of sending out hundreds of resumes, Zimmermann applied only to companies he wanted to work for. One of them was Salesforce, which he learned about during a webinar at the Vanderbilt boot camp. “During the interview process, I was able to highlight my time at the symphony plus the experience I gained from the boot camp program to secure the job,” Zimmermann said.
In December of 2020, he began his tech career as a Salesforce associate technical consultant. The job has dream aspects: Zimmermann can work remotely, set his own hours as long as he gets his work done, and the pay and benefits enable him and his wife to care for their three children.
The Salesforce job also has him on track for his next step. “My real dream is to marry my wealth of music knowledge with the coding skills I’ve learned and the experience I’m now cultivating into an entirely new role — one where I can tackle problems in the music and arts sector with the power of data and technology,” Zimmermann said. “It’s possible for me to dream again,” he said.