First off I'd like to say thanks to all the contributing members of this forum. I'll be learning quite a lot here in the months and years to come (if I indeed DO pursue this line of work)
I am 32, and for the past 15 years have been a high-end low voltage technician. Home theaters, access control, security, CCTV, etc. All my programming experience is with proprietary control systems manufacturers like Crestron and RTI. But I think my problem-solving, troubleshooting, and overall system control management experience will be good skills in making this transition. Not specifically pertinent, I know, but better than nothing.
My goal was CNC programming, but I think that's going to transition to CAD/CAM due to industry changes, both currently and in the future. From what I've learned here so far, I realize I'll have to start at the bottom at a local machine shop, likely as an operator. Then work up to setup and on through to programming.
I don't have 5+ years to make minimum wage as an operator, so I plan on attending online college courses for mathematics (up to trig and calculus) and completing as many (reputable) online CNC certification courses as I can.
I realize no one is going to hire me as a programmer without ANY experience behind a machine, regardless of how much time and money I spend on certifications. What I DO hope for is to find an employer that supports my fast track to programming. Hopefully I can limit the number of employers it takes to get to the center of the programming pop.
And hopefully having certifications and a base knowledge of the industry and my goals in it will show a potential employer my initiative to be worth as much as I can be, and therefore make as much money as I can. Here in East Texas CNC jobs can reach as high as $25-30/hr full time. If I can start somewhere in the $12-15/hr range starting out (with certifications), then I have no problem working my way up and building experience enough to be worth $25/hr.
It's easy to say "get as much as experience with as much as you can", but I'd really appreciate specific tips, like "FANUC is one of the most widely used languages, start there", etc.
Also, would any of you recommend getting an operator job NOW and learning as I work, or trying to knock out some certifications and Math/Blueprint reading courses before I apply for work? IMO it's much harder to get more money after you're employed somewhere.
I've rambled on long enough, thanks for reading and for any potential advice you have. I am very excited about this industry, and have no doubts I will succeed if I embark on this endeavor.