Restaurant manager finds new career in virtual reality passion after layoff

For virtually all working Oregonians, the pandemic has caused a profound change. The Oregonian / OregonLive spoke to four people who have turned their careers upside down, whether out of necessity or choice.

Michael Watts often spoke to his wife about quitting her job in the service industry to turn his passion for virtual and augmented reality into a career. He even considered taking night classes in software development while working full time as the general manager of a Killer Burger in Gresham.

But before the pandemic, that future looked like a pipe dream. Watts worked 50 to 60 hours a week in the industry where he had spent his entire career. The drive from his home in Ridgefield, Wash. Only added to the long hours.

“I had been in the service industry since I was a kid and knew I wouldn’t go beyond a general manager,” said Watts, 39. “I wanted to make a change, but there wouldn’t have been a way while I was GM. There weren’t enough hours in the day to make this transition.

Shortly after the pandemic struck in March 2020, however, Watts was fired. It turned out that was the momentum he needed to finally make a change.

He went out of work and received the enhanced unemployment benefits offered by the federal government at the start of the pandemic. He used the money to attend a six-month coding bootcamp.

After sending out hundreds of resumes, Watts was eventually hired as a subcontractor for a company that helps office building managers and businesses prepare for emergencies. Watts’ virtual reconstructions of office buildings help businesses prepare for disasters. In November, the company offered him a full-time job as a virtual reality project manager.

A year and a half after leaving the service industry, Watts is now working from home in an office across from his wife, who works in tech. The couple recently filed for Tulsa Remote, which gives workers $ 10,000 to relocate to the city of Oklahoma and work remotely. They haven’t decided yet if they will move, but it’s an option they didn’t have before.

“The pandemic was kind of that reset time for me to watch ‘What are my real priorities? “” said Watts. “We were so disconnected. I wasn’t going to dinner at the bar. I don’t get this social thing, so I had to look inside and see the things that made me happy.

– Jamie Goldberg;; @jamiebgoldberg

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