Can You Shuffle Into Tech?
While a total career reboot can be costly, finding a side entrance into the tech world is an option.
The truth is inescapable: technology jobs are hot and only getting hotter.
The latest evidence comes from LinkedIn’s Emerging Jobs Report, an annual look at the jobs poised to see the most growth. The 2020 list is almost entirely dominated by tech, led by artificial-intelligence positions and rounded out by cybersecurity experts, robotics specialists, technical engineers, and developers.
As exciting as all of this, these are scary times for people whose jobs aren’t in tech or even tech adjacent. It’s estimated that more than 1.4 million Americans, and as many as 375 million workers worldwide, will need to switch their occupations because technology will make what they’re doing now obsolete.
The obvious solution of going back to school to get a more relevant education isn’t always a wise option: households that have at least one graduate degree carry over half of the student loan debt in the United States, making it a costly endeavor. And while some companies have taken it upon themselves to reskill their employees for a more tech-centric world, it’s not happening at a large enough scale.
While a 100% career change may not be possible, finding a side way into the tech can be done. Here’s how.
Pursue a nontech role at a tech company.
Focus less on changing your job and more on changing companies. Tech firms still need basic operational functions like HR, marketing, customer service, sales, and operations. The key to finding the best career-building opportunities is to pay close attention not only to the large firms (i.e., Facebook, Google) but to the up-and-comers. Say you’re in investor relations, for example—you may want to look at the start-up site AngelList to see which firms are nearing an IPO; they’re likely to need guidance as they prepare for their public debut. Remember: You don’t want to focus on what you can’t do. Instead, show hiring managers how your experience outside of tech benefits the firm. “You can bring a unique perspective,” says Sean Carney, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.
Get yourself into technology circles.
An estimated 70% of hires come through networking. Start immersing yourself in your local community of tech-heads and you’ll better your chances of getting an introduction that can lead to a job in the sector. Pick the right kind of community for your needs—organizations like Brunchwork, which host events featuring a wide variety of tech leaders as speakers, might appeal to you if you’re not sure what type of tech job you might want; but as you learn more, you could extract more value from communities with more specialized interests like blockchain technology or product management.
Learn the lingo.
“People want to hire people that know what they’re talking about,” says Timothy Thomas, a career coach and advisor who specializes in helping people break into the tech sector. If you don’t have a basic grasp of terms within the field, then you’ll have trouble proving your value to anyone who might hire you. In the tech world, Twitter is a big learning tool—start following venture capitalists and tech reporters to understand the themes and trends that are big right now. Read books or insights from important industry leaders to see the verbiage they use. Listen to podcasts in order to get comfortable hearing the way people speak about goings-on in the tech space. And make sure you adjust your resume to skew more heavily toward language the tech sector cares about.
Pitch yourself as a problem solver.
According to the American Management Association, seven in 10 executives say critical thinking and problem-solving are the most important skills needed to grow their organization. “If you’re looking for innovators while building an innovative organization, then you’re looking for diverse experience and diverse skill sets,” says Carney. That’s true for the tech world as well. But you need to pitch your problem-solving expertise in a way that technology firms recognize. Showing that you’ve solved important, large problems before or that you’ve worked well within ambiguity will help translate your skills to a fast-growing start-up that might need on-the-fly thinking and adjustments.