With the world of technology and startups exploding across the country and many other industries either being automated or rendered obsolete, many workers are deciding to make the leap into technology after years or even decades spent working in a more traditional, analog environment.
From the hubs in New York City and the Bay Area to the increasingly tech-friendly confines of Salt Lake City, San Antonio and Durham, N.C., the tech field’s growth has created a demand for more coders, product ninjas and growth hackers in more places than ever before.
However, successfully making that switch and adapting to the tech lifestyle is not always easy. In fact, much has been written about whether the change can be made at all.
Fortunately, there have been and continue to be many successful crossover stories. This guide, a mix of practical advice and some more philosophical guidance, is for those brave ones who plow through the doubt and insecurity to dive headfirst into the tech industry.
Evaluate your existing strengths
Take some time to figure out which soft and hard skills you possess, whether you come by them naturally or have acquired them during your previous career. Try to determine how those may translate to the tech industry.
Do you have a penchant for multitasking? That might work well in the fast-paced world of startups, in which most employees wear multiple hats. Or how about an uncanny ability to see the bigger picture in things? Project management may be the role for you. When you figure out what you’re good at, you’ll figure out which skills you need to hone and which you need to learn from scratch.
While career assessments abound – led by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, of course — a couple of the more modern incarnations do a slightly better job. Pymetrics uses neuroscience games to determine your greatest strengths, and Good&Co is an app that helps you not only find your best career fit, but also matches you to companies and jobs.
Extra tip: If you’re researching ways your strengths could transfer to tech and get discouraged by the lack of connections, don’t dismay. The best thing about the constantly evolving tech sector is that with a little education, continued immersion and willingness to get your hands dirty, chances are there will be something out there for you.
Invest in academic validation
Those skills you need to hone can best be done through the cottage industry of continuing tech education that sprang up when demand surged.
Schools like General Assembly and Full Stack Academy are dedicated to rewiring adults for work in technology, typically through short and intensive classes. Tech transplants investing in these types of programs and classes have two major advantages: the tech transplant fills in the gaps in knowledge with the practical, hands-on acquiring of hard skills, and also has a line on the resume that will stand out to many tech and startup founders.
Extra tip: While you’re doing the program, try to make something, like a marketing plan if you’re studying growth hacking, an app interface if you’re an aspiring engineer. This will help potential hiring managers trust that you can do more than talk about technology in theory, but also have the practical chops to get it done.
Immerse on your own time
Technology is an industry that thrives on trends, many of which seem to change on a dime.
If you’re planning on getting a job, you’ll need to first verse yourself in those trends to the point you can spout facts about growth charts and programming technologies on command. This doesn’t mean to get a tech jargon dictionary and memorize terms, but instead get an understanding of the industry – where it was, where it is, where it might be going – that’s more than skin-deep.
Even if your specialty is iOS, make sure you know enough about Android to be dangerous. Bookmark places like this website, Techcrunch, The Verge and Wired for daily news, and learn from the masters with books like Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One” and Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.”
Tech companies love to see passion, with many hiring managers I work with often preferring it to more technical ability when deciding whom to hire.
Extra tip: Literally wear your tech passion on your sleeve (or wrist) with an Apple Watch, Fitbit or other form of wearable tech. Hiring managers respond well to those who practice what they preach, and you are preaching a serious love affair with tech.
Acquire experience wherever possible
Calling all 35-year-old interns! This is the part most wannabe technologists would prefer to avoid, but the fact is that changing careers is a risk, and part of that risk is accepting lower pay or responsibility than you may be accustomed to.
Most of the crossover workers interviewed for this article took underpaid internships at startups to start with, in order to get much-needed on-the-job experience.
The tech industry itself is rife with risk, and those who are risk-averse – whether in regards to taking a low-paying position or, eventually, launching one’s own startup – should not apply. The good news is that the industry also promotes talent like no other, and with a strong network and an upstart mentality, the opportunities should soon flow.
Extra tip: Looking for an internship? Many tech field experts recommend going to VC funds and asking whether any of their vested companies are looking for help. That way you can hit multiple companies at once, and come with a reference from an investor. New job matching apps like Switch, which matches candidates directly with hiring managers, work with many startups who may be looking to inject someone new into their team.
Gird for a culture shock
Particularly if you’re moving from a larger company or corporation, the majority of tech companies (read: startups and mid-size companies, aka not Facebook or Google) represent a serious departure in terms of managerial style and employee expectations.
Employees are expected to work harder and longer hours, though they may not be as hard-and-fast as the 9-to-5s you’re used to.
The pace can often be frenetic, and you will most likely have a slew of different responsibilities. One tech transplant told me that the industry ascribes much more to a top-down management philosophy, which means the founder or CEO can imbue every aspect of the company with not only his or her process and priorities, but also all the tics and eccentricities.
The good news? Many tech companies offer comparably generous vacation packages, along with relaxed work-from-home policies and, generally, more autonomy for the individual employee. Glassdoor even introduced a tool last year that showed which tech companies offer the best benefits.
Extra tip: Much like you evaluated your strengths before starting your tech exploration, evaluate which parts of the culture mean the most to you before searching and applying for jobs. Come equipped with them to the interview; the right technology companies will appreciate this kind of honesty.
But don’t buy into stereotypes
Despite my trotting out a few stereotypes just above, I must advise against assuming that the tech world is all billion-dollar valuations and bi-coastal living. In fact, there are just as many if not more rote, menial tasks to be completed than at an analog company.
None of the startups I know host ping pong tournaments or feature free beer in the fridge, but they are full of hard-working, focused employees all fighting toward the same goal. What I’m saying is, make sure you are jumping into the tech world for the right reasons, because the perks do not make up for a lack of passion, and a hiring manager will almost definitely be able to see through a phony facade.
Extra tip: It helps to imagine the tech industry as similar, benefits-wise, to your current or former career. That way you’ll switch because you’re excited about the industry’s challenges and potential, and the perks will feel more like, you know, perks.
In closing, everyone comes to a second career in tech differently. These high-level recommendations are meant to be flexible, so feel free to adapt them to your particular situation. Whether you are entering the tech field or still mulling it over, make these suggestions your own and I promise your new career in tech will soon come into view.