Over 15 years ago, I found my home in the tech community. I had worked in the arts, I had worked for a big consulting firm, and I hadn’t found my people yet. I am not an engineer, and my job has nothing to do with traditional tech skills. I’m in HR, People & Culture, Talent Management. But the energy that comes from an innovative tech company, especially ones that are in startup mode and scaling, inspires me every day. Now, as I work with others to help them in their career journeys, I’ve been trying to better identify why I love the tech industry and what are some key differentiators between it and other industries.
The tech space tends to get a lot of coverage for great cultures (outside of the infamous bad stories that have been reported), cool products, and lots of career opportunities. But is the tech industry right for you? Why do you want to move into tech? And then how the heck do you make the career change? I’m going to try to balance both tech roles (i.e. engineer, product manager) and other roles that are in the tech industry (marketing, HR, etc.). Some of the tips below apply to both, but I made sure to call out one tip specifically for tech-oriented roles.
Step #1 – Identifying your values and how those align with a tech company
Do you know your personal values? Even if you haven’t gone through a full exercise, do you know what is important to you, the behaviors you want to be demonstrating in your life, words that describe you at your core and when you are the best version of yourself? How do you want those reflected in your work or the company you work for? For example, two values that I have personally are “You Be You” and “Dream Big.” I found these in the tech space. Innovation, thinking of something that didn’t exist before, taking the world to new places and giving us tools we didn’t even know we needed (hello, smartphones!) are all reflected in the missions of tech companies. Authenticity tends to also be celebrated. Geek chic, let your freak flag fly, inclusivity, all are welcome — these tend to be at the base of many great cultures in the tech industry. What is important to you? Do they align with the values of the companies you are considering? Unsure, most companies post their company values on their websites (usually on the careers or about pages) or you can find them on sites like Glassdoor or BuiltIn or The Muse where they highlight their culture to attract candidates.
Step #2 – What stage of a company do you want to join?
If you aren’t in the tech space today, you may link startups with tech. And yes, obviously there are a lot of startup tech companies. And even the definition of tech has expanded to education tech, financial tech, healthcare tech, mental health tech, etc. But there are also a ton of tech companies that have grown and are huge companies like Spotify, Facebook, Tesla, Google, Apple. You still get the “cool” tech company vibe but at a much larger scale. So what’s the difference? Partially, you need to decide both your level of risk and how you like to work. Startups are nimble, things change all the time, and because it’s a smaller team, you have a direct impact on core pieces of the business, no matter your role. But there is also risk. Will the company survive, is there a big enough market, does it have the right leadership team to take it to the next level? While a large tech company that has proven the space and the financial reliability has lower risk, there are way more people. So the work that you do on a given day may just be on one small part of the business. You may not interact with people outside of your team or know all the things the company is working on because it is just bigger. Neither is right or wrong, it’s about what you are looking for in your next company.
Step #3 – Identifying transferable skills and where you can gain new skills
This is where I’m going to focus on the specific role you are looking for in a tech company. Some roles like Marketing or HR or Customer Service may be easier to get in tech no matter the industry you come from because most skills are transferable. Yes, I had to learn the lingo of the tech space. And the roles that come in tech companies (like a Scrum Master!) and understand what motivates people in those roles, and how the company actually makes money (a SaaS company prices things differently than an agency, for example). But I can learn all that, and it doesn’t impede my ability to do my job while I’m learning it. If I wanted to move into an engineering role or a product manager role or UX, I would need to learn some new skills. For the tech space, companies like General Assembly offer some amazing programs to help you learn more about the field and the actual day-to-day skills you will need. There are many, many bootcamps you can attend, as well. Even just some free online coding classes will get you started. Find the skills you need that you do not have today and then start googling! Depending on your budget and time commitment, I’m sure you can find something that fits your needs. And then go where your new peers are hanging out. Meet-ups, LinkedIn Groups, Facebook Groups are all ways to connect with people in the career you want. You can start learning their language, hear about companies that are hiring, and build relationships with the people that can help you make the change.
Hopefully, the above tips will help you better understand the tech industry, if it’s right for you (or what kind of company will be right for you) and how to actually make the change! And groups like Girls in Tech can help!!! We offer workshops both to help you navigate your career and gain new skills. Read these blogs, follow us on social media, connect with other members or even the board members so we can support your journey into tech!
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This post was written by Karen Weeks, voluntary board member alum at Girls in Tech NYC.