Why a career Electrician decided to become a Software Engineer

headshot of author of blog post
Matt Davis
Posted in:
Career Pivot

It all makes sense in my head, but not in yours. When someone hears that an Electrician has decided to leave the job and pursue Software Engineering specifically web development, the look is one of disbelief.

Well, I am writing this post out of annoyance and desperation. If you would be so kind as to bear with me you will see the reasons why someone would want to leave the career of an Electrician.

WARNING: The following writing style may make you cringe


When I moved to Vancouver, BC from Saskatchewan to be with my wife while she completed her Masters I pursued a job in the field of Biology. I do have a B.Sc in it after all. This didn't work out, and I was beginning to feel the pressure of the need for a job. I desperately wanted to avoid going back to my retail job and I thought well, there is always work in the skilled trades. I will become an Electrician as a transitional career until I discover what it is I will do.

Initially, I loved it. I attended a "pre-job" training at the local training authority for all skilled trades, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). I loved the mix of knowledge work and hands-on installation of electric components. I learned how to calculate load demands, maximum allowable current of conductors, and size of conductors appropriately for given applications, motor controllers and so much more!

And then I got a job as an Electrician.

The Job

One of the first things I remember feeling my first day on the job as I carried by 82lb (I remember I weighed it) tool bag to the site was fright. It was terrifying. It was like walking into a war zone or as one of my later mentors described it, "It's a prison, a working-class prison".

Keep in mind dear reader, this refers to large-scale construction sites filled with thousands of workers, multiple cranes ferrying items overhead, concrete trucks pumping out floors (maybe the very floor you are sitting on), and quite literally, people that have just gotten out of prison, others slinging and bending rebar to support said concrete. Others are trudging in the depths of a nearby hole that will become the next building over the parking garage, wearing full-body rubber suits completely covered in muck and concrete dust communicating over a radio to a crane or excavator operator.

At any given moment you are walking through water, dust or mud or dodging grinders spitting metal sparks only to be blasted by a welding flash temporarily blinding you and likely causing permanent but slight damage. All while trying not to trip over and become impaled on a forgotten vertical piece of rebar or get hit in the head with overhead crane deliveries.

This was nothing like what I imagined an Electrician to do. Yet, there I was running what's called "cor-line", flexible corrugated conduit, all over the rebar, moving from point A to B. This cor-line is later used for running wires between outlets (lights and plugs) and between floors in a massive high-rise. The wires are pulled inside. So your job, lowly electrician grunt, results in running plastic tubes through rebar, tying it down with thin metal wire to prevent it from being crushed. No floor is quite the same, but neither is it different. Up and up you go.

Soon after that job, I got a job working as a Service Electrician apprentice. It was never a dull moment. Crawling through attics, running wires in asbestos insulation or who knows? It was never tested. Kneeling on nails, screws and breathing mould and mildew while getting stabbed in the back with the nails sticking out of the trusses. On top of this, you had to temper customers' expectations because often what they wanted was not what was physically possible.

In fact, for the next 2 years, this was a major part of my job. Additionally, apprentices are required to learn in a repeating schedule each year until writing the final Red Seal exam. So I was learning about motors, DC, PLC controllers, transistors, electronic engineering, transformers, generators and 3-phase calculations utilizing basic calculus. Yet on the job, I was telling clients that I would have to cut a hole in their wall (sometimes) to make their ceiling fan work. Other times I was explaining code rules and tailoring the outcomes. For example, "Your ceiling fan is too heavy, you need to change the box" or "No you cannot place an outlet behind a sink".

I eventually got a job working with an Industrial Controls contractor to help build a Run of River project. For those who aren't aware, this is a Hydro Dam ie dam the river, use the moving water to spin a turbine and captures the electricity generated, then sell that power.

This was a great project, we took a 45min boat ride every morning and evening to work. We worked outside of cell service in the backcountry of BC. Beautiful.

No kids, no mortgage, and making 22/hr. At this point, in my career, something seemed off, but I didn't know where to go from here.

Green Journeyman

Once I finally got my ticket I thought things would be different. A Red Seal Electrician has put in min 6000 hours mastering the trade on the job and an additional 1200 hrs in school and can work independently and get things done to maintain national safety standards of electrical installations. That was me, and it was like starting over again.

I was constantly questioning myself and referencing the Code Book (an 800+ constant companion to every Electrician), what I would now call imposter syndrome. This was quite an adjustment. At this point, we had moved to beautiful Squamish BC and we were thinking about having kids.

As far as the job went I was doing a mix of heavy-duty work, trailer park inspections and bucket truck work. One of the biggest contracts at this time involved upgrading all the Squamish-owned street lights to LED. Over 400, each one had to be rewired as well. It was a tedious task but I loved it. I was always out in the rain and sun and snow. I was always fighting a sunburn or freezing my butt off. Suffering to get my fingers to just work. The alternative was the trailer park work. Crawling underneath trailers through a mixture of human and animal excrement and observing the mouldy underbelly of my life at the same time.

The heavy-duty work focused primarily on rock crushers. You had to make sense of the mess of wires and homemade solutions to problems that the mining inspector would often shut down.

Later in my career, I did some high-voltage work. One job involved the foreman "shutting down" the line by opening the air-brake switch so I could repair the damage to one of the distribution lines. Of course, as he sped away he forgot to open the line and didn't tell me. So I ended up doing the work live. As an Electrical worker, you are doing work live often, but generally not on a 12.5Kv line! Just another day in the neighbourhood.

None of these tasks are easy on the body and it started to take its toll. I developed sciatica problems, wrist problems and elbow/shoulder problems.

A Father

At this point, I had been an Electrician for 9 years. I was making 32/hr When my daughter was born I said to myself "What am I doing? I am crushing my body and my soul for 32/hr? Where do I go from here?"

I looked at others who had started their businesses. They are working for themselves 10+ hours a day, and then doing paperwork in the evening, making around 120K a year. Averaging 11 hours every day, and on the weekends. That wasn't for me.

I began thinking back to my father and was inspired by his passion for technology and dedication to exposing me to it at such a young age. As soon as we could afford it he purchased a computer and he and I both fell in love.

Somewhere along the line, I lost that connection. Having a daughter brought those feelings to the forefront, I decided enough was enough. It was time to invest in myself.

I enrolled in Lighthouse Labs (the course study is a post for another time) in July 2022, graduated in February and I haven't looked back since!

Final Thoughts

For some reason, society values those that are deemed "high-value" workings. Those careers are primarily knowledge-based. We place a lower value on those who work with their bodies, and it is unjust, but that's life in a nutshell, unjust. Sometimes the career is a combination, for example, a Doctor or a nurse. But who are the highest paid? CEO's. They are a rapid-fire decision-making guru, who can remember their experience and intuit an answer to difficult business decisions immediately. What does that mean?

If you stripped it all away, back in the humble village, who is valued more? No one, everyone was critical to the function as a whole. I am just ranting here, but either way, the result is manual labour is valued less than knowledge work.

I now know how to code. I will code for food. Hire me. I learn fast and more than that I love puzzles and mastering how abstract complex systems work. I have a hard time explaining the complex systems I will get better. Being better every day is the one thing I have mastered.