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5 Tech Jobs That Let You Escape the Cubicle Farm

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Looking for an exciting career in tech and science outside the norm? Check out the CIA’s Science, Engineering & Technology Student Positions!

Got enough tech skills to know AJAX isn’t something you break out to clean your bathtub? You’re in luck.

Demand is huge for workers with technology skills like programmers, software engineers and network engineers. And there will always be a need for the corporate tech support guy or gal. (“Have you tried to reboot?”)

But because digital has become so much a part of everything we do, technology workers are venturing – and being lured – into new spaces. Gone are the days when a techie job meant working in a room full of giant servers every day, or being chained to a desk in a cubicle farm at a big corporation.

So techies, want a brag-worthy option? Here are a few of the less conventional tech jobs out there:

1. Municipal Chief Innovation Officer

You know those apps that help you find parking in San Francisco? Or the ones that tell you which bus to catch in New York City to get you where you’re going? Those are often developed by civic hackers.

Cities don’t necessarily want to hire these app developers or share resources, but they do want city hall connected with this generation of hackers, according to an article in The Atlantic.

The chief innovation officer gets to manage this little army of developers, encouraging citizen engagement and attacking problems that are actually kind of fun to solve. Adel Ebeid, Philadelphia’s Chief Innovation Officer, one of two in the country, told The Atlantic he’s part of a new wave of guinea pigs – one that’s expected to become mainstream by 2015.

2. Uncle Sam Computer Scientist

Government jobs offer lots of perks. You can usually bet on a superb health insurance and retirement package, and for highly skilled professions, great pay.

And pretty much every federal program needs information technology, from Homeland Security to Medicare. By this fall, the largest federal agencies project they’ll hire about 273,000 new workers for “mission-critical jobs,” makingthedifference.org reports. We’re talking about jobs like biological technicians at the Department of Agriculture and positions at the Department of Defense.

Wondering whether The Department of Defense actually has any openings? Sure does: more than 74,400 of them. It’s highly likely they’ll station you in the middle Atlantic region, as almost half of these positions are based there. The rest are scattered around the country.

Don’t have the right skills yet to qualify? Scholarship for Service, funded through the National Science Foundation, will pay for your books, tuition, room and board at an institution where you can prepare for a federal tech career.

3. Digital Content Producer

You know how you hear all the time that journalism is dead? Yeah… It’s not. It’s just changing – both the way it’s produced and how it’s delivered. And nowhere is that more apparent than on the digital front.

Advance Publications last month announced it was cutting 600 jobs at The Times-Picayune and three Alabama newspapers to focus less on print and more on digital editions.

Media companies from small-town weekly newspapers to national outlets like CNN are hiring digital content producers. Depending on the outlet, this can mean editing video, writing, editing photos, creating audio slideshows, or in a lot of cases, all of the above.

Digital producers can be webmasters, graphic designers or multimedia gurus all rolled into one. It’s a spectacular combination of both creative and technical work. Here’s a nice summary of what digital producers do.

Where you’d work really runs the gamut here; your choices aren’t limited to media companies. A recent search on Monster.com showed, for example, openings at Sony and World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.

4. Real Estate Sales

The housing market crash drove thousands of realtors out of the industry. Only the hardiest (or maybe the ones with the biggest trust funds) stuck with it. But as the market recovers, there’s room for more folks to move what’s known in the real estate world as “inventory” – new houses, foreclosures and rentals.

But selling houses isn’t what it used to be. The ones who do best in this new digital world can incorporate great photos and videos into their online listings, make the most of SEO so folks can find their properties faster and network online to find clients.

Companies like Real Geeks are helping agents do just that. And sites like Tech for Agents tell real estate pros how to use technology for everything from listing properties to prospecting big potential clients through social media and mobile apps. That site also contains a primer for real estate social networking.

And if you like being your own boss, more than half of real estate brokers and sales agents in 2010 were self-employed, so you’re winning there, too.

5. UX developer/UX designer

UX stands for “user experience,” and it’s something companies are focusing on more and more. How a person reacts to a website, how the content flows, how easy it is to browse and buy stuff online, how often a mobile app crashes – these are all examples of where user experience comes in. Case in point: The Washington Post this month moved researcher Laura Evans to a brand new position, Chief Experience Officer, where she’ll focus on how customers interact with and use the Post.

User experience consultants work everywhere from schools to startups. Here’s how Whitney Hess, an independent consultant specializing in user experience, sums it up: “Remember that website where you got totally lost and frustrated and gave up before you got anything done? That was a bad user experience that was poorly considered by the company who made it, and it’s my mission in life to erase those from the planet.” If you’re still unsure what they do, Mashable lays out 10 common misconceptions about user experience design.

Gigi Douban is an independent journalist who writes often about business and tech. Follow her on Twitter @gdouban.

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