The last big economic crisis has forced people to reevaluate their career choices and ask themselves whether their current jobs would assure them of a stable income until retirement. Many who see trouble round the corner for their jobs or industries find that learning technology skills is the solution. Meanwhile, more and more young people are opting for tech careers right after college or are changing paths early enough.
Of course, if you have the time and money, and if age is on your side, a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree in software or computer engineering is the best foundation for a tech career. But a degree may not guarantee a job as it may not equip your with the skills or personal and professional qualities that companies are looking for.
So, what are possible routes to get into the technology sector? Here are a few tips that you could use on your journey.
What we cover below is a slight detour from our regular topics. This one is meant for students and young professionals who are looking for technical break in the industry, as opposed to experienced professionals looking for management level opportunities.
Some bigger companies go only for candidates with a four-year degree. Others look at the technical skills of their candidates more than what degrees they have earned. In a Forbes article, “15 great jobs that don’t require a four-year degree,” a recruiter says that candidates’ code samplings and their fit with the work culture mattered most to his company. “Of the people we hired, I had no idea who had a degree or not. If we liked them and thought they were cool and they wrote good-quality code, that’s all that mattered.”
So, you could teach yourself some tech. Programmers need to learn new coding languages to keep up with technology changes. Once you’ve picked up enough, you could go to a small companies and ask for an apprentice-like role, stressing you are going to learn more on the job. They will probably appreciate your initiative and may give you a job.
Teaching yourself using online courses, taking on small projects, and getting to work as an assistant to a freelancer can help you learn by yourself.
Here are some free online courses where you can not only learn, but also get a certification from a top university:
You may teach yourself, but it is difficult to land a tech job without experience. The best thing to do is to take up tech-related tasks at your current firm. For example, offer to help design, build and promote your company’s website. This will help build up your profile for a tech company job.
Another approach is to go to a disruptor company that has reshaped your industry and is posing a risk to your company and your job. They may be able to use you. A mashable.com article gives the example of a radio salesperson who was laid off by his company but who got a job selling ads for the Internet radio Pandora.
Positioning yourself as an innovator pays dividends. You don’t necessarily have to be a technology innovator. For example, if you can forge a strategy to improve the marketing of a product or devise a marketable product, you will be showing your talent for innovation, which no tech firm can fail to appreciate.
Sometimes, even with a graduate degree, it is hard to get into the tech industry, as most companies look for people with three to five years’ experience. Hubspot.com suggests setting up instant alerts on job sites with keywords matching the roles that you are looking for, such as “software engineer” or “product manager.”
If job sites don’t work, you could send targeted, personalized emails to people in your address book or your LinkedIn connections or directed messages to developers and managers, admiring a specific project and inviting them for coffee. If you think they wouldn’t mind (best to check rather than assume), you could also attach your CV with your job titles and experience in bullet points. Here’s how to write a good resume.
Narrow down your search to ten or 12 target companies. Find out about their work, people, and policies. Use Glassdoor and follow the companies’ blogs and social media sites. Maintain a job-application tracking template with all details of your applications. When researching, try to find answers to these questions: Is the company using the latest tech? How much impact can I have? Will I enjoy its software development culture? Who will I be working with?
As for your application and interview, tailor your CV to the company you are applying to. In your application, refer to the technical terms and cultural signals mentioned in the job description (such as “teamwork”), to let the recruiter know you have noticed their specific requirements. Mention even your odds jobs that taught you the value of collaboration and conflict resolution, for example. Prepare for your interview, and do some research on your company and interviewers before you arrive.
For software developers, product roles will include a technical interview, usually conducted by a senior engineer or team lead. They will try to find how you go about handling an abstract problem, and may perhaps not be so much interested in your solution. You may be questioned about some specialist knowledge. Feel confident enough to say “I don’t know” and to ask for clarifications.
A good majority of jobs are found through networking (read these professional networking tips). Attending company events from information available on social media websites and meeting the company guests is a good idea. Do some research on the guests and introduce yourself at the event. You could also grow your network by writing about your work and experiences online on self-branding sites like Careerizma.
As you have little experience, you don’t know whether tech is suitable for you. To find out, try your hand at tech projects (like this business simulation game we’ve created). Involve yourself in tech projects at your firm while keeping your current role or do so in your spare time, suggests careers.workopolis.com.
If you are a senior professional already in a non-tech industry, you need to accept that you may be considered only for a junior position in the tech sector initially. But eventually, after you have made a name for yourself, you will be given a senior role.
A blogger on learntocodewith.me gives more tips on how to get into tech without a background in it:
The myriad tech career tips may confuse you. Should you learn a programing language or go in for tech certification? Which of the career paths from database administrator to network engineer should you take?
For a newbie, it is wise not to take on an expensive and time-taking program without knowing whether it is good for you, says an article on monster.com. You should attend industry-organization meetings where you could meet potential mentors and receive guidance on what to do. Explore job roles and find out which career path seems best for you.
Install Linux to know about the open-source movement and learn an operating system other than Windows. To gain some initial experience, offer your services to someone in your circle of friends who requires computer assistance.
You could also volunteer for a social service group that could use your knowledge. Enroll in a course at a community college or technology training center or join an online course.
Fortune magazine features the experience of an MBA in the field of market research and consulting who made the switch to technology. He points out that if you want to get into tech, you need to stick with it and love it so much that it doesn’t feel like work.
After learning a couple of languages, you could join an open-source community and learn and apply what others are doing. The benefit is that you can find out if you’re really interested in making the switch to tech. But finding your first job as a techie takes time, and you may probably have to complete dozens of online courses.
The other option is to join a tech bootcamp, if you can take a study vacation from your current job. However, they are not cheap at $10,000-$20,000. But this could prove worth it as recruiters hire from these camps.
Companies are not able to find qualified tech people for all their roles from among degree-holders, and so they turn to events such as bootcamps, points out an article in ambitionally.com. However, though bootcamps may throw open opportunities, they can be an expensive option, and you may not be able to do it part-time while holding a job or doing another course.
Their advantage? They teach in a few weeks what colleges teach in a few years. Liberal arts grads to lawyers sign up for bootcamps, some of which insist that the attendees also sign up for a basic tutorial so that they are certain they want to pursue tech.
Your birth year has no relevance if you have decided to make a complete career switch to tech, writes a blogger who made the change when she was in her 40s. But you need to develop a specific tech skill set, she says on skillcrush.com.
You could start small by creating a landing page for a writer friend. It could be a pro bono project, but you can benefit from the experience. You can then expand your network by going to tech meet-ups and conferences. You don’t need to feel apologetic as “the oldie in the room” as you already have experienced a career. You could use the social media by following tech conversations on Twitter and joining tech-related FB groups. Eventually, you can participate in discussions and get contacts.
Update your CV so that you include only the ones that are most relevant, deleting your earliest jobs if they are not. Of course, cover letters, if they must be written, should be short and to the point. Ask yourself: Should you send attachments? Is the recruiter going to open them?
There’s also no need to focus on your age or be apologetic about it in the application or in your interview. Don’t make a big deal about it.
Consider which skills from your old career you can transfer to your new tech job. For example, you could bring your experience in customer service and communication skills to a tech role.
An advantage of starting out late is that you can consider not only 9-5 jobs but also freelance assignments and flexi-schedule and remote job options. Your flexibility will be welcomed by recruiters.
You may have to accept a junior position, but they can be fun and well-paying, too. You will eventually get a senior position. Be confident and proud of your past work experience, but also be humble as you need to learn on your new job.
Technology is constantly innovative and financially rewarding, and it is not just for tech wizards that it is so. Tech companies are hiring techies but also other professionals for many of their functions such as marketing to product development. There has not been a better time to get into tech, according to a top official at a British software company quoted in the Guardian.
The tech sector provides more opportunities for creativity, technical excellence, and other skills, and it is likely to employ more creative people than any other sector in the near future. Technology is disrupting every sector, changing or enhancing them. But there is a shortage of the right people. No wonder then that salaries for great candidates are going up.
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