"I want to believe that accountants work at desks or in cubicles for a large portion of their time, generally alone and uninterrupted. I am an introvert and this would be paradise for me, but there's no such thing."
Well there is such a thing. Except it pays crap. $35k-40k is typical for that type of role. It's basically a Staff Accountant. Most of the time their day is spent performing data entry, making entries, and reconciling accounts. Not very complex or high skilled. One of the main reasons their pay is low.
"How much do I make? $30/hour 12 hour night shift 7PM-7AM, which is actually more like 13 hours, more often than not without a break, and every third weekend."
Per hour, you make more than me my first year ($25/hour).
"In any case I have excellent communication skills"
That's good. It means you can make some money if you decide to ever do something beyond being a cubicle hermit. Most of the good paying jobs pay well because 1.) You have excellent communication skills, 2.) Desirable experience in accounting and/or the specific industry, 3.) Experience and/or ability to manage a team of accountants, and 4.) Interact/Communicate effectively over a wide range of departments to resolve simple to complex accounting issues.
"If I were to go back to school for this it would be a full-time program"
Good. 90% of good to great accounting jobs are secured while you are in school. Usually, the most competitive students get internships at companies. So I'd recommend you beginning that process from day one. Again, that means that if you wait until graduation you're competing for 10% of the good jobs and 90% of the crappy (i.e. low salary low opportunities) jobs out there.
"Misc stuff about tax and other random stuff"
So just as an FYI, there are a few main categories of accounting jobs:
1. Public Accounting - Mostly your tax and audit jobs. Note that audit does not mean tax. People in Audit...well they audit the financial statements of other companies. Those statements are not tax based. Tax people prepare tax returns. Those are tax based. different forms of accounting. One is financial accounting and the other is (shock) tax accounting. Regardless, these jobs are mainly client serving which means talking and interacting with people. These jobs are pretty intense, fast paced, longish hours, and high stress. Finally, and this shouldn't be underestimated, you are the main revenue generating source of your business.
2. Private/Industry - This is where public accountants go for greener pastures. Usually less hours and more pay (at the higher levels) than public accounting). You are a support function for your company. Generally, the structure is Staff Accountant (entry level), Senior (Supervisor), Manager/Assistant Controller (middle management), Controller (senior management), and CFO (executive/VP level). This is your typical "work for one company" role. Jobs can include:
a. Financial accounting (financial reporting of day to day activities)
b. Tax ( they do taxes for the company)
c. Financial Analysts (using accounting numbers to help forecast, budget, or create ad hoc reports for use by management)
d. Internal Audit (hey, you did this wrong)
e. Technical Accounting (no one knows how to record these transactions off the top of their heads, so please do some research on how to record them)
f. External reporting (high level preparation of the financial statements).
These roles vary, and some may not exist depending on the size of the company.
3.) Government/Non Profit - This can be all kinds of government agencies. Non profits usually pay less, but their hours are very reasonable. Government can be extremely frustrating for smart and ambitious people, but can be heaven for those looking for an easy 9 to 5 to spend time with their families and have a life. These are typically state, federal, or quasi-military/Department of Defense agencies. This can also include the IRS, FBI, CIA, etc. The downside are typically bureaucracy, lower pay than industry, longer promotion time, subject to budget cuts, and non-ambitious culture. Pros are low stress and easy jobs (mostly), great benefits (vacation, 9 to 5 hours, Pensions, healthcare, and "historically" good job security.), and lower barriers to entry (albeit long hiring process). Again, these are generalities. Some non profits (i.e hospitals) operate like regular for profit companies in their execution and quality of people.. Or at least come pretty close.
4.) Regulators & Standard Setters - Your typical "Ivory Tower" guys who draft new regulations or enforce them. Technically they fall in the Government section, but not always. I separated them because they're usually a bit more highbrow in nature, and have little interaction besides amongst each other at the lower and mid-levels. Go high enough (very high), and you'll have to invariably deal with politics. However, there's no reason you can't have a great career here without dealing with anyone besides your colleagues.
5.) Consultants and Sole Proprietorships - These are the business owners. Some go from a career in public to work as consultants to help companies in various ways. This can be management consulting, accounting system integration, accounting practices consulting (i.e. please teach our idiot accountants how to account), fraud examiners (fraud? where?), tax planning, business valuation, tax practices, and good ole bookkeeping. I separated these from Public Accounting because it's not all public accounting, and it's a very different dynamic (i.e. higher risk) to own your own business.
6.) Academia - Want to make 100k-140k entry level? Great! You just need to get a PhD in Accounting which typically takes 4-5 years. Pros are that this job is ideal if you're fairly academic/bookish/analytic, like to teach, and in high demand (due to gluts of retiring accounting Profs with very little available replacements). In addition, many schools will pay stipends in your first or second year (my school was $20k), and you're able to get your CPA if you teach. Cons are typical for the world of Academe: School politics, pressure to publish (an assistant Prof has 3-4 years to impress the tenure committee with her/his research. Otherwise, he/she needs to find work at another school), crap classes your first few years (i.e. you get to teach uninterested freshmen), less flexibilty in where you can work (job opening in St. Cloud, MN? I'm there!), and giving up a salary for 5+ years (did someone say ramen?).
so...basically the field is pretty diverse. And while I'm sure your personality fits in one of these, research might be needed to determine what is worth the effort to leave your current career (pro tip: Staff Accountant is not).
Also, as an FYI: I tested as an INTJ on the Meyers-Briggs, and am now working in Big 4 audit. Basically, the opposite of a cube hermit. I love my job, but the stress, hours, and BS can be hard sometimes. But like I already explained....there's greener pastures in Industry.
"Out of curiosity what is your job like?"
Check this out as some info on the different careers. I'm in Big 4 audit.
Big 4 Audit:
http://www.roberthal... (do a search for jobs in your area...pay attention to preferred experience educations)
Let me know if you have any more questions. I applaud you for doing your research. Not enough people do it seems.