Career Makeover: From Actor to Web Engineer - Wall Street Journal

Career Makeover: From Actor to Web Engineer - Wall Street Journal

Actors and other artists are often seen as lacking in technical skills and can end up being pigeonholed in sales or customer-service roles.

Seton Brown, a part-time actor and former college acting instructor, was stuck in a customer-service job, but rebranded himself as an engineer. Here’s how he pulled it off.

The Problem: Mr. Brown of San Francisco was being typecast. He had worked as an actor and acting instructor for two years after getting a master’s degree in fine arts.

He shifted his focus in 2009 to working with computers, where jobs were more plentiful. Mr. Brown, 31, has been building websites since middle school as a hobbyist and occasionally as a freelancer.

But hiring managers repeatedly redirected him into sales or customer service. His outgoing personality sometimes got him assigned to sales floors. A manager at an Apple store where he worked from 2010 to 2012 rejected his bid for a spot behind the Genius Bar tech-support station, citing his lack of technical training, Mr. Brown says. Instead, he was assigned to teach customers to use Apple gear.

When he applied in 2012 for a job at Practice Fusion, San Francisco, provider of a free Web-based electronic health-record system, Mr. Brown told a recruiter he wanted to work on websites, but he was offered a job as a customer-support specialist.

There were plenty of advancement opportunities at Practice Fusion, a 350-employee company that posted a near-tripling of revenue last year. But no one had made the leap from customer support to Web engineering. Mr. Brown began to wonder, “Is this ever going to happen?” he says.

The Solution: He worked on gaining allies in the company while he built up his technical skills…