Career Advice

How to Break Into Tech Even if You Aren’t a Born-and-Bred Techie

It’s no secret that the tech sector offers record-level employment opportunities. However, far too many job seekers circumvent the opportunity to jump into this red-hot field. To wit, a recent survey found that 86 percent of businesses have trouble finding tech talent. Plus, by 2020, only 400,000 qualified degreed applicants are expected to be available to fill more than a million technical positions. That’s a pretty big gap.

Contributing to that disconnect are myths about the attainability of tech jobs. From an outside perspective, it can appear that working in tech requires a résumé that includes building a computer by hand in your garage at 13. But that simply is not the case. To effectively do most tech jobs, candidates don’t even necessarily have to possess a degree in computer science. They just need be open-minded, eager learners.

While a tech career is attainable for people from many different walks of life, it can be difficult to know where to start or to envision a coherent pathway to a job. Many individuals fall victim to the myth that any path to a tech role must be cumbersome, confusing, or expensive. Despite all the four-year degrees, bootcamps, and online learning options that promise education, there are other navigable ways to secure tech jobs, sometimes in as short as six months.

In other words, many people can dive into tech, including creatives and problem solvers looking for steadier employment and challenging projects. It’s not just for the Sheldons of the world.

What Working in Tech Is Really Like

The stereotypical image of coding is often pounding a keyboard eight hours a day, sipping Red Bull in a cubicle. But the reality is that life in tech can be far more diverse and exciting.

Tech roles usually involve problem-solving and reducing complex ideas and processes into efficient, bite-sized pieces. Solutions aren’t achieved by workers toiling away alone, but by teams socializing and working through action plans. Certainly, work is accomplished solo, but tech departments aren’t vacuums.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see how so many different people could be great fits for a tech role. For example, artists and musicians make great coders. After all, they understand firsthand how to take a concept and bring it into reality. What’s more, tech jobs are often flexible. As developers move up to higher-level jobs, many remote tech roles are available, appealing to specific personality types and lifestyles (like working parents).

Tech Jobs for People From Any Background

You can begin a journey to explore the tech world even if you’ve never written a single line of code. Just follow a few steps to gain traction and information.

1. Do some reading and listening.

The fastest way to get tech-educated is by learning about the industry from those working in it from day to day. You’ll understand the roles available and skills needed. Don’t have friends or colleagues in tech? Turn to respected tech publications like newsletters, trade journals, or websites.

2. Head out to tech meetups.

Most jobs are attained by networking; tech is no exception. Integrate yourself into your city’s tech community by uncovering meetups like Meteor Camp’s Meteor NY. At each gathering, tech professionals gather to collaborate and network on subjects relevant to their jobs, giving you firsthand information about what individuals in these roles experience. Through these types of get-togethers, you’ll expand your hands-on knowledge and your personal and professional circles.

3. Seek out a mentor.

As with any journey, it helps to have a guide. Mentors can be enormous boons to people trying to break into the tech field. Non-judgmental, available mentors provide everything from tighter feedback loops to insider tips. While it might take a little upfront work to find a mentor, when you have one in place, you can lean on his or her expertise and background as your North Star.

4. Find tools online.

This field is amazing because of all the free, self-paced resources available online (seriously, you could learn a programming language in your free time and at no cost to you). Codecademy and HackerRank are just two places online that offer free resources, advice, tutorials, and more. Platforms like these allow you to get started without any commitments. You’ll be able to learn at your preferred pace, as well as make friends through discussion boards.

5. Make your mark.

Once you have a foundation of knowledge, the best way to start marketing yourself is to simply jump in and make your own project. Coding your own website or app from scratch, for example, has never been easier. You can get started immediately and build an online presence just for fun and exploration. Not only will you get skills and exposure, but you will eventually also wind up with a solid sample of work for your portfolio.

Tech is by no means an unattainable possibility — even without a formal education, it is possible to bootstrap your way to a fulfilling career. And according to the numbers, plenty of opportunities await you.

Haley Shoaf is the education operations director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization preparing individuals for and matching them with opportunities in the technology industry. As one of the winners of the 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, LaunchCode has been recognized for expanding “the tech workforce by providing free coding education to disadvantaged job seekers.” Prior to LaunchCode, Haley was a Venture for America fellow in St. Louis.

 

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