Former political science professor Richard Shryock occasionally dusts off his class notes on glasnost and perestroika, but these days he would rather lecture on knowledge management and graphical interface design.
The former Soviet-studies expert and book editor now works as manager of customer support for software start-up MarketSwitch in Dulles. And he has advice for those social-science softies hoping to turn techie: Be not afraid.
"I think a lot of people who don't have a huge amount of technical skills are intimidated" by the thought of going for a job in the information technology business, he said.
Shryock, 46, eased his way into the technology world. He left academia in the early 1990s after 10 years of being what he called "a gypsy scholar," traveling from university to university as a professor. When Boris Yeltsin came to power and demand for Shryock's type of expertise waned, he moved into a job editing books at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington.
Seeing the technology boom occurring all around him, Shryock decided to head in a more technical direction. He sought advice from friends, who suggested technical writing.
"I was nervous," Shryock said, recalling his first interview with a technology company. But rather than focus on his lack of computer skills, Shryock played up his writing ability and communication skills.
The job proved an effective training ground. As a technical writer or other support person, "you're a liaison between the technical people and the public," he said. "Once you make that transition ... you gradually become more technical yourself."
Shryock soaked up software knowledge and techie talk, and when the Chantilly company he was working for moved to Hartford, he stayed behind and got an even more technically oriented job with another software company. There, he served as a trainer, working with companies such as General Electric to teach their employees how to use his company's proprietary software.
In his position at MarketSwitch, Shryock not only manages customer support but also designs user interfaces and does some product testing. MarketSwitch develops software that helps businesses design marketing campaigns by helping them predict customer behavior.
For Shryock, the hardest part about the transition to the technology industry was the feeling that he had given up on the academic world. "When you prepare -- college, graduate school, PhD -- it's hard to let go of it," he said. "That was psychologically difficult."
The money helps, though. Shryock said he makes 60 percent more now than he did as a book editor.
ON THE JOB: Manager of customer software support
Salary: $40,000 to $70,000, along with equity
Education: College degree preferred
Experience: A strict tech background isn't necessary, but you must be willing to learn entirely new skills.