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Breaking into tech

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about how they can get a job in technology. Some people are starting from knowing nothing and others have done some coding lessons or maybe an idea about what they want to do.

Many people I’ve talked to think working in technology is all about programming. While it helps for many different roles it’s not everything.

You will need to understand some technology or at least be curious enough to learn how things work and driven enough to not give up. I’ve been working in tech for more than 15 years and in all of my positions I can only remember a few weeks where I programmed more than 30 hours in a week. A majority of my time has been spent learning, planning, and coordinating with people.

I’ll admit when I got started in early 2000s things were very different, and being a white male my experience in technology is very different than others.

Despite our differences I hope these resources can help you get into tech.

Understand roles

Some of the people I’ve talked to decided they wanted to be a data scientist because they had a background in math or working with data so it seemed like a natural path. While that may be true, tech is very broad and different roles need different skills.

Before you decide on a position and make decisions about what is required try to find someone who has the job you want. No matter if they’re a frontend developer, engineering manager, or database administrator.

See if you can find someone who has the job you want and ask them what skills they needed to get their job, their work history, and what they’re learning.

LinkedIn can be a great resource for this. You may not get a reply from blind DMs but you can still read through people’s job history, see what they’re posting about, and find out who else they talk to.

There may also be variations on positions that you’re not yet aware of. A customer success employee at one company may be a technical account manager, solutions architect, or developer advocate somewhere else. A project manager may need to know how to program, or may need organization skills and how to communicate well.

Don’t make up your mind about what you want until you know a bit more about what you’re interested in and what it takes to work in the position.

Programming

So you’ve decided you want to learn programming but not sure where to start.

There are lots of great resources that exist free online for learning how to program.

My advice is usually to start with javascript or python.

Javascript because it probably has the most available jobs and can be used for frontend, backend, or mobile development. Python is great in data, scientific, and backend roles. Both languages have hurdles to learn, but you don’t need deep computer hardware knowledge to solve real problems with them.

In either case, if you start with one language and work on it for a little while and it doesn’t start to make sense it’s OK to try a different language. You may have more success by simply switching and trying something new.

I’ve personally done courses from codecademy—I especially like their “sorting quiz“—udemy, and frontend masters. All are great options to get started.

I can’t possibly list all of the resources available online but here’s some resources from other people who learned how to code and what they used.

How I learned to code from Brianna McCullough

Once you have an idea about what you want to do and what you want to learn my next advice is to find a community.

Community

For me community accelerated my career more than anything else I learned or did. I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree. I’ve written a book, and I’ve learned multiple programming languages.

But the thing that helped my career early on more than anything was volunteering to help with a podcast for the Linux Mint community. That volunteer work would help me get my next 2 jobs which in turn would help me get my next 3 jobs.

I usually recommend people join two communities. A local community so you can learn about what companies hire technology talent in your area and a global community to push you more.

The local community is a great place for you to meet people face-to-face. It doesn’t have to be in the technology you want to learn, but it will still be a good resource for connecting with people and help you get some low-risk feedback on things you’re learning and building.

Use the local community to customize your skills to your region or market. Technology can be very unique depending on what market you work in (e.g. banking, marketing) and where you work (e.g. India, Nigeria, UK).

The local market should give you a great advantage to understand what people do at companies nearby, what tools they use, and what projects they’ve completed.

Find a global community that is focused on the area you’re learning. It can be on twitter, Stack Overflow, or forums and chat rooms.

The global community will help you learn what’s next. It will open your eyes to things you didn’t know you didn’t know and will push you to learn things you probably won’t understand. This community will give you a big advantage to learn ahead of your local community and help in job interviews.

You don’t need to be as active in both communities, but spend some time answering questions, give feedback, and show off what you’ve learned. It will accelerate your learning and opportunities more than you know.

Applying for jobs

Once you have some understanding of what you want to do, you learn some skills to do the job, and you build some relationships within your community you have everything you need to apply for jobs. It’s OK if this process takes you 6 months or a few years. Everyone is different and it’s never too late or too early to start.

I usually recommend you apply for jobs from your network. Find opportunities that are not on big job sites and you can talk directly with a hiring manager or someone on the team. This will give you a big advantage instead of applying to dozens or hundreds of jobs on a job board.

When you are preparing for an interview it’s good to remember that the job description you applied for reflects the skills and projects the role has done in the past year. The interview process will be looking for skills they need for the next year.

This is where being involved with communities can help a lot. Your local community can help you understand what the company has been working on and who their competition is, and the global community will help you know what skills and tools are needed for their next big projects.

There is a lot of opportunity and variety in a career in tech so I hope these resources and advice can help you on your journey.