Not the retiring kind

IT professionals are finding opportunities in new careers after retirement.
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George Schmidbauer
George Schmidbauer [left] photographed at his retirement party.

When George Schmidbauer retired after 35 years in information technology, he didn't dream of long leisurely days on the golf course--he wanted to hit the road.

"All the years behind a desk and with my head in a computer, I needed a different view of the world," says Schmidbauer, 64, who left his job as director of Development Support at the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in Green Bay, Wis., four years ago. "I needed to be around different people."

When Schmidbauer took early retirement at age 60, he went back to school to get his commercial driver's license and started a new career as a tour bus driver. Now, instead of spending his days overseeing the conversion of the commission's IT department to a networked system of 200 PCs, he's driving busloads of tourists around Wisconsin on day trips. "I like driving," Schmidbauer, who is still based in Green Bay, says. "Now I have someone that pays me for it."

Schmidbauer's new career may seem to have taken him down a totally different road, but in fact his post-career course is actually part of the normal pattern for retirees. The combination of a bull market, early retirement options, and the phenomenon of stock options means more IT professionals are getting a chance to take early retirement and start new careers at a time when they thought they would be settling down to a life of leisure. Because of careful planning early in their careers, many IT executives are looking at retirement as a chance to start a new phase in their careers, one that involves part-time work and more freedom.

"Retirement is best viewed as a process, not as a single event," according to Joseph Quinn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of Economics at Boston College, in Chestnut Hill, Mass., who has been researching retirement trends for many years. Quinn's research shows that when workers retire from their careers, many often go to work in another job before they actually retire for good. These bridge jobs, either part-time jobs or self-employment, are often in a different field from their career job.

Gray hair continues to grow
Gray hair continues to grow -- Chart indicates growth in the number of persons 65+. (Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census)

Indeed, in one study conducted in 1997, Quinn found that about one-third of men and two-thirds of women who left their career jobs continued to work in a bridge job, half of which were part-time. For many, these bridge jobs meant a move from skilled to less skilled work, and almost one-quarter of the retirees who went to bridge jobs switched to self-employment, Quinn found.

Older IT professionals who want to continue working after retiring from their careers got a boost recently when President Clinton signed the Social Security Earnings Test Elimination Act. The law does away with the rule that meant people between 65 and 69 lost $1 in Social Security benefits for every $3 they earned in wages over $17,000 a year. With news like this, it is no wonder more and more IT professionals are looking at "retirement" in a whole new light.

The allure of consulting

As luck would have it, after a long career with the Social Security Administration and the Health Care Financing Administration, John H. Foertschbeck, of Baltimore, put his computer skills to work for himself as a consultant.

Foertschbeck, 60, took early retirement from the government four years ago after working as a computer operator, programmer, systems analyst, and project leader for 40 years.

Ever since Foertschbeck bought his first Apple II for his kids in the mid-'80s, he dreamed of using his PC skills to start a family business with his four children. A few years before he retired, he started his consulting business by selling PCs and helping small businesses with their PC purchases and computer training. He also did work in the local schools, including installing a Novell network at a local high school.

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