I successfully transitioned into tech with no degree or extensive network. And after spending the past 5 years meeting over a hundred people who made a similar journey, I've distilled down the common actions I observed people follow to successfully break into tech.
If I were to start all over again and break into tech, this is the advice that I would give myself.
1. Figure out your "why" for going into tech
As essential as this might be, people skip this step and go directly to figuring out what coding language they need to learn or what certifications to get.
Getting into tech is challenging. It takes a lot of time and energy. And if you are going to spend all that effort, you should at least know why you are putting yourself through it.
In my personal experience, I've asked myself, "why am I doing this?" more times than I can count. Like when I was prepping for my tech interviews, spending 100s of hours studying data structures and algorithms for an interview just to get rejected. Knowing why I wanted to do this has helped me keep pushing forward.
So why are you doing this?
Is it because you want to be an entrepreneur and build the next Facebook?
Is it because of the monetary compensation you get in tech? If so, why do you need the money? Lifestyle etc
Whatever that why is, write it down and keep it front and center.
2. Find a role that fits your goals
When people think of the tech industry, the first thing that comes to mind for positions is a technical role like Software or Network Engineering. But many roles, like Customer Success Managers, UI/UX Designers, or Product Marketing Managers, don't require you to write code.
You can also get a first-hand account of these positions by reaching out to someone working in that role through LinkedIn and asking for a virtual coffee chat.
Also, be prepared if your ideal tech role might not be the first role you get into. Product Management, for example, is notorious for being challenging for landing your first job. Not impossible but quite challenging. Oftentimes, people would take an adjacent role from product management, like a business analyst or program management role, before getting into product management.
Another approach is also building on your existing skills and experience. Take an inventory of your existing skills and experiences and see if there is a corresponding tech role. For example, if you have a background in sales, consider making tech sales your first role. Maybe consider that unless you don't want to do sales anymore.
Finding the right role in tech for you can sometimes be similar to the Goldilocks story, except you don't get to eat some porridge or try out different beds.
3. Acquire the skills and experience you need
There are 5 common paths that I observed people take to get skills and experience
- Going to College Degree
- Being Self Taught
- Attending a Tech Bootcamp
- Participating in Non-Profit Tech Transition Programs
- Getting into a Technical Apprenticeship
This is the most significant time and money investment. Some programs offer an accelerated program for those with bachelor degrees, like Oregon State Universities Computer Science (Postbacc) Bachelor's Degree .
A key benefit to going for your college degree is the number of internships available for you as well as the alumni network that you will be part of.
People usually have to be extra disciplined and motivated to succeed on this route. While you can learn at your own pace, it can quickly become overwhelming when choosing what you should learn.
Getting help can also be challenging. It can take longer to get unblocked when you get stuck on something. Compared to just asking a Teaching Assistant or your instructor.
Tech boot camps have been popping up everywhere and are a popular option for people. They teach things from software development to product management.
Not all tech boot camps are equal and experiences vary, so please research them by checking out sites like Course Report or SwitchUp, as well as talking to graduates that got jobs after the course and those that didn't.
Businesses have been investing increasingly in getting diverse talent into the tech industry. Companies like Microsoft, AWS, and IBM offer tech apprenticeships, which vary in requirements. Many provide paid education and on-the-job training for individuals participating.
Check out my comprehensive list of apprenticeships, transition programs, and self-taught resources below.
4. Join a community and/or find a mentor
The journey doesn't have to be lonely; join a community or find a mentor. Try to do it with others. Supporting each other during this journey is vital to each other's success.
I'm confident that there is a community out there like you, and someone might have a similar background within these communities.
I'm personally part of various communities like those focused on military veterans community (Operation Code, MSSA, etc.) As well as Mentor Mesh, where people from all different backgrounds join doing the same thing you are trying to do.
There are also groups within sites like Linkedin, Facebook, or Reddit.
Even if you are just starting out, your previous experiences and perspective will be valuable to the community.
5. Build your network and online presence
The biggest hurdle in getting your first job in tech is getting a call from recruiters and getting an interview. You can get all the training and build all the projects you want, but you need to get that interview to get a job.
I get it. Putting yourself out there is uncomfortable; trust me, I feel it even to this day. But you have to so that people can find you.
So start building your online presence before you check all the boxes on the skills.
Attend virtual meetups or join Twitter spaces and LinkedIn audio events.
Check out in-person events if you are comfortable. Before the pandemic, I frequented a lot of tech meetups. I met many recruiters and other folks in the industry, plus lots of food and beer.
Breaking into tech is challenging but rewarding, so stick with it!
If you are more of the doer type and need actions to do right now, then try any of these:
- Write down your why for transitioning to tech
- Jot down your existing skills and experiences
- Create a LinkedIn and start engaging with other users
- Learn about 3 tech roles
- Talk to some on LinkedIn that works in tech and ask them about their journey
- Research a training program (you can find some here)
- Join a tech community
I would love to hear other tips/guides you have for people breaking into tech, so hit me up on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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