How to Break into Tech...Or Find New Role in the Biz
Raise your hand if you know at least one person trying to “get into tech”!
For the 99% of O’Daily readers that already work in tech, you can either:
Forward this article to that friend, family member, or distant LinkedIn connection who asked you how to break into tech without a tech background… then get back to your tech job with renewed appreciation for work satisfaction and free snacks.
Read on for strategies that also apply to “breaking into” a new role, industry, department, or favorite startup.
After you’ve read the rules of finding your startup dream job, check out these 4 strategies + 1 bonus tip (from a career transition expert) for getting into tech!
1. Warm Intro (& How I Got My First Tech Job)
Find a friend at a tech company!
Most companies give referral bonuses so don’t feel bad about reaching out.
Going through a real human means you’ll at least get your resume looked at with fresh eyes and the benefit of the doubt.
At some places, any referral from a current employee automatically gets a phone interview.
Many startups will take a bet on a smart, positive generalist (as does Amazon and Google) especially for roles like customer success, support, or sales.
But you WILL need someone to vouch for you since your resume will look similar to 100s of others so find that person who can refer you!
Here’s my story:
Three years out of college, recently back in my hometown of Atlanta, doing a job search, I ran into a high school friend at a party.
Bradley Wagner (19 years as VP Engineering at Hannon Hill!) heard about my job hunt and mentioned they were hiring at Hannon Hill and other incubating companies (ahem, Pardot).
I sent my resume over the next day...
as a liberal arts Spanish major with 2 years experience in non-profit fundraising. 😂😂😂😂
With an internal referral, I got a call from Jamie-in-HR which converted to an in-person interview.
I regurgitated enough tech talk (learned through lots of Googling) they were willing to take a chance on me.
Fast forward a few technical challenges, lots of learning, and a very lucky rocketship ride later…I’m Tech4Life, baby!!
With new technology, no “experts” exist yet! Current “AI experts” only have 1-2 years under their belt. Don’t be intimidated by not knowing a new tech product. High growth, innovative companies value learning, thinking, and problem solving more than product expertise.
2. Start Doing Tech NOW!
Same advice that I give folks who want a promotion:
Start doing the job you want today. Build the skills and track record. A promotion (or tech role!) becomes a no-brainer.
Here’s how to do a tech job today (even if you don’t have one):
Lead a software or tech tool implementation for your current company
Become a power user of your company’s tech tools
Bonus points: Train co-workers to be power users too!
Get really good at freely available tech like social platforms, ChatGPT, wi-fi enabled house gadgets
Offer to help a solopreneur build a website, edit video, or other tech task; learn as you go!
Apprentice with the owner of a small tech-related business or barter your expertise for training on theirs
Explore TalentStacker and get Salesforce Admin certified
Figure out ways to make your current job better with tech (even if you’re the only one using it)
Why it works:
You gain confidence in your own tech (and learning) skills
You may find a more technical role within your current company
You are building your tech-stories-to-talk-about-in-an-interview repository
You learn the lingo
All of which…can be used in your resume and tech job search!
In addition to any tech projects, make sure you highlight relevant and transferrable skills on your resume! Don’t assume a hiring manager or recruiter will connect the dots.
Customer service, project management, event planning, training others…all of these are relevant to tech companies.
Remember — if you can use Snapchat/Facebook/Instagram/Tiktok, you can use a CRM. 😂
3. Look For Tech Companies In Your Current Space
Working at a restaurant? Look for restaurant tech companies.
Working in fashion? Look at ecommerce or fashtech companies.
Working at a law firm? There’s tons of legal startups.
(How to find tech companies? Check out Tips 1, 2, 4 from 7 Ways To Find Your Startup Dream Job.)
You may not have tech experience but you have industry experience — which can be extremely valuable, especially at early stage startups who know tech but not the industry.
Don’t love the industry? That’s okay!
Step 1: Get a tech job in your current industry.
Step 2: Now that you have tech experience…get a tech job in another industry.
Much easier to change one thing at a time than both at once.
What kind of role should I look for?
Align with your current skill set but when in doubt, customer success is a great starting place!
With industry expertise, you know the customer, pain points, and lingo.
You don’t have to be super duper techie. Just more techie than the customer! (Plus there will be help articles and training resources.)
Not excited about customer support forever? It’s a great training ground and jumping off point for sales, engineering, product, and marketing roles.
Love to sell? Great at writing and social media? Marketing or sales is another good “generalist” area, especially with industry expertise.
If you find an aligned company with no open roles…reach out anyway! Companies may hire opportunistically or may have a job coming open soon.
4. Hang Around Tech
Don’t know anyone in tech? Or maybe you *think* you want to do something in tech but need more data?
Check out these events, groups, and suggestions for getting connected in the Atlanta Tech scene.
Not from The A? I’ll bet someone has a similar list for your city. (Share in comments if you know of one!👇)
Alternatively, find some local tech folks on LinkedIn and see what events they’re going to or ask them for suggestions.
Being a helpful, kind, regular participant is noticed and appreciated.
Thank the event hosts, post on social, and before long…trust is built and people assume you’re already in tech!
Easy to get intros or start conversations from there!
No time to network?
Or find something like Pitch and Run where you do a thing you were going to do anyway (exercise) while networking.
BONUS: Wicked vs Kind Environments
I asked Margaret Weniger, who has spoken to 100s of women about career transitions, for her advice. She shared this insightful perspective on identifying where you thrive!
Psychologist Robin Hogarth was the first to articulate two types of learning environments, wicked and kind.
Patterns repeat again and again.
Feedback is rapid and accurate.
A learner can improve simply by engaging in the environment.
Chess is a great example or a mature tech company with an established playbook.
Narrow specialization is highly valuable in kind environments.
The rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete.
May or may not be repetitive patterns that can help inform decisions.
Feedback is often delayed, inaccurate, or both.
More likely found at early stage companies and startups.
Breadth of experience is valuable in wicked environments.
When you think about breaking into tech, consider if you want a wicked or kind environment!
Startups are “wicked” where you are often tasked with a project or problem with minimal resources or guidance. Asking questions, running rapid tests, and a bias for action are highly valuable skills.
Late stage and larger tech companies will be “kinder” with more guidance, predictability, and repeatability.
Let this not be confused with the humans and the culture, which can be kind (or wicked 😈) at any size company!
What’s your best advice for breaking into tech? If you crossed the chasm to a tech job, what is your story??