Research a new field before committing time and money to further education.

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“I’m thinking about going back to school,” a beloved coaching client told me.

Those words always fill me with concern. Going back to school can be a great way to jump in a new direction or break through to the next level in your career.

Going back to school can also be a colossal waste of time and money.

This is the story of a client who went back to school after a deliberate decision-making process. She didn’t throw money at the problem and hope for the best; she gathered a lot of data, tested the decision and had a clear picture of herself in school before she wrote that first tuition check.

And then she jumped in a new direction.

This client was a technical project manager at a well-known company. She’d been consistently promoted; her scope of responsibility was growing; and she was well-liked by her colleagues and management.

But she said something: “What I really, really want to do is code.”

The way she said it, kind of wistfully, like it was something that couldn’t belong to her, got my undivided attention.

“Do you like puzzles?” I asked her.

We talked about how to test whether software development might be something to explore. We talked about developers she knew who could tell her about their day-to-day work. We talked about whether she might want to get some formal training.

Over the next months, she began taking free online courses in introductory software development. She told me about working on coding projects late into the night. “The time just disappears,” she said. “I just get really into the puzzle of the problem.”

That seemed like a sign that she was making a good decision to go back to school.

She took the plunge. She quit her job and enrolled in a full-time, multi-month, very expensive coding boot camp. And I didn’t hear from her for a while. I worried.

“I was really busy,” she told me. “It was really hard — I worked really hard. I loved it.” Also a sign that she was making a good decision.

Almost exactly a year after she had wistfully said that she wanted to code, she finished the boot camp training and was interviewing for a position as a junior developer at her old company, working for a leader she admired and trusted, working on puzzles that interested her.

Soon after, she sent me an email with the subject line: “I got the job!” (Those are my favorite emails.)

Definitely a sign that she had, deliberately, made a good decision.