Career Change: a Doctor of Physics Becomes a Software Developer

A doctor of physics in an IT department – sounds strange? Perhaps, but our doctor really is an integral part of MailStore’s engineering team. Read on to learn how one man completed his journey from the world of elementary particles to software development, and find out about the benefits a change of career can bring. We’ve even drawn up a few useful tips for anyone considering such a “lateral move”.

Dr Christian Stelzmann is Software Developer at MailStore.
Dr Christian Stelzmann is an integral part of MailStore’s engineering team.

In seizing the opportunity to explore new professional horizons, career changers will often strike out in a completely new direction. And this was certainly the case with Dr Christian Stelzmann, a software developer at MailStore. Before joining MailStore, Christian had already devoted more than ten years of his life to physics. After leaving school he studied the subject at university, pocketing a PhD in physics along the way. As a doctor of physics, his duties comprised research work as well as teaching bachelor and masters students. Currently employed as a full-stack developer at MailStore, he now boasts extensive know-how in software development and commands various programming languages. But how did it all come about? Who better to ask than Christian himself!

Facts Aren’t Everything, There’s This “Gut Feeling”

For Christian, the decision to change careers was more of a gut feeling than a decision mulled over in the course of many years. What began as an IT course at high school soon became a hobby pursued with commitment and passion. Even during his physics degree, he was the first person people would turn to with software problems. The gut feeling eventually had Christian wondering why he shouldn’t turn his hobby into a career. So the leap from physicist to software developer wasn’t quite as absurd as it first sounded. On the subject of applying what you’ve learned, Christian happily quotes scientific journalist and TV host Ranga Yogeshwar, who once described physicists as all-purpose weapons.

The Bridge from Physicist to Software Developer

The word nerd matches with Software engineers and physicists.
Software engineers and physicists have a certain nerd factor in common.

But can a hobby really be a substitute for a vocational training or a university degree? “Learning a programming language is part and parcel of any physicist’s career,” says Christian. Both areas of work call for a wealth of knowledge in mathematics. And like the software engineer, the physicist’s job is to break down bigger problems into smaller ones. Another parallel is the international nature of the work and the need to grasp new issues. An ability to think analytically was also a big help to Christian when he struck out on his new career path. “Physicists with their acquired knowledge base are more than welcome in a software development department,” says Christian. He also adds with a smile that an office of physicists generally ticks in the same way as a department full of software engineers. “Everyone’s accepted, warts and all, and people are very open with each other; both sectors do have a certain nerd factor in common.”

Courage Pays

Christians tips for a successful career change.
Career change? You can do it!

“Of course, you do need a little courage,” Christian admits. “When all’s said and done, you’re giving up something you’ve done for ten years or more and venturing into pastures completely new.” Christian opted to make the leap and doesn’t regret it for a second. Indeed, he would encourage anyone who has found something they really love doing to take the plunge and change careers. Even if you make mistakes, that’s just part of the learning process every lateral mover has to go through. Christian accepts that even as an established academic, it’s important to think big but start small. “I would say it’s important just to listen and learn, and not try to become the big expert straight away,” says Christian. He believes that the pros largely outweigh the cons. It was a great experience for him to break away from everyday life and strike out on a completely new path. “Because you’re moving in different circles, you get to know new people and learn about lots of exciting new things.” The only thing Christian misses is experimenting. “I do miss that feeling of being in a lab and being thrilled when the results of a test come through.”

Christian’s Tips for Budding Career-Changers

  1. Take your time! There’s no point in putting yourself under pressure and applying for jobs while you’re doing your PhD. After all, you’re setting out on a new phase in your life. Enjoy the process and take time to reflect. Give yourself a break. Ask yourself if what you’re doing is really what you want and is also fulfilling your needs.
  2. Focus on your strengths! Try to think outside the box and don’t be restricted by the skills you’ve acquired in your current job. Try to break free from your customary thought processes. Consider the things you’re good at, regardless of where these strengths have come from.
  3. Be prepared to take risks! As already mentioned, you’ll need a little courage to make the move, but you’ll soon know whether you’re going to be happy in your chosen field. If you find that your talents are best developed by taking a different path after all, you can always hit the brakes and reverse your decision. But remember: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

As a technology company, we know only too well that some areas of work simply don’t match the available degrees or training courses. And that’s why, as a matter of course, we’re open to anyone looking to swap careers. “MailStore gave me the strength to follow through on my decision to change careers,” says Christian. He emphasizes that he was always granted the time he needed. The induction period is always very important – not only for career changers. But Christian felt that he always received the support he required and was made to feel welcome at this special time. “Also, MailStore gives its employees the chance to develop their skills continuously during their time with the company and so I didn’t get the feeling that I was being treated any differently.”

Do you have the motivation to explore a new field of activity? If so, why not pay a visit to the Career section of our website. We would be happy to receive an application from you, even if it’s only a speculative inquiry!

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