July 23, 2017

tips for breaking into tech

I get asked a lot about breaking into tech from the outside.  It’s really a personal journey and there is no single blueprint that applies to everyone, but there are some things that I regularly mention.

Focus on your goals
Breaking into tech is means to some other end. A more fulfilling career? Work/life balance? Financial security? Keeping that in mind will help motivate you through the ups and downs of a transition.

Know why you and tech are meant to be
Is breaking into tech the best way for you to reach your goals? Why? Make a list. Not sure if tech is right for you? Schedule informational interviews and do some research. Ask yourself and others tough questions.

Look for your niche
Tech is a big, big world that encompasses a variety of sectors. Already know your place? Super. No? Explore. Again with the informational interviews.

Flaunt your transferable skills
If you had a substantial career elsewhere do not hide it. Use it to help you stand apart. Identify skills, contacts, and expertise that could be valuable to the right employer or client base.

Tell your story
Develop an elevator speech that tells people where you were, why you decided to change paths, what you’re excited about now and your goal. How well you know – or don’t know – JavaScript or the number of repos you have on GitHub will be incidental to the people who want to help you grow.

Ignore the haters 
They will pop up in unexpected places. You do not need them.

Be a good neighbor
Share what you learn. Don’t hoard information. Mentor. Teach. Volunteer. Amplify under-represented voices. Be one of the helpers that people look to when things are tough.

Collect mentors
You can have more than one and they don’t have to be formal relationships.  Temporary or situational mentors can be extremely valuable.

Never stop learning
In tech this practically goes without saying because there is always something new to learn, but don’t wait for it to come along. Actively pursue learning opportunities through classes, side projects, hackathons, etc.

Do not wait until your or it are perfect  
You’ve heard that the perfect is the enemy of the good and that done is better than perfect and both often apply in tech. So your project isn’t perfect? Launch it anyway. So you don’t have all of the qualifications for the job? Apply anyway.

Dare to prepare 
Just because done is better than perfect doesn’t mean it’s okay to be unprepared for the interview or shortchange QA. Strive for excellence, to improve over where you were yesterday.

Do you
You do not need to look like everyone else. Presenting your authentic self sends affirming messages to others like you, so just being yourself can not only be good for you but also good for others. By being yourself you will tell someone that they’re not alone. That’s not really advice for breaking into tech, just life advice. But in tech you may feel that looking or acting a certain way will make it easier to get a job or fit in at a meet up. Be yourself anyway.