7 answers

What's an atypical route to get into the tech industry?

Asked San Ramon, California

Recently, a couple of professionals came to my school to talk about their careers. A lot of them got there through atypical career paths that weren't even associated with their fields. #tech

7 answers

Casey’s Answer

There are many ways to get into the tech industry, and i think it's exciting you are exploring it!

Personally, I got into tech by by my interest in music! I volunteered for a local radio station while I was in college, working on a degree that had _nothing_ to do with computer science. I met some friends there who introduced me to a small startup company that was trying to develop software to make, among other things, interactive music videos. I was able to join the company after I graduated, but as their office manager doing things like buying toilet paper and booking people flights. When I had spare time, I talked with the engineers there who were already there and tried to learn what they were doing. After 9 months of helping out with that, they realized that I learned enough to help them out so asked me to transfer to their engineering group!

My personal experience makes me believe there are a couple of things that really help with an atypical route into tech:

  • Be a self starter. Don't wait for someone to come and teach you, take the initiative and try to learn on your own using whatever resources you have!
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. You'll be surprised at how nice people can be and there are many people out there willing to mentor individuals willing to go into the field.
  • It's ok to start at the bottom. Your first job most likely isn't going to be something glamorous, and that's totally fine! If you find an opportunity to join a group of people that work in the technology field in almost any role, it will give you an unparalleled chance to learn. There are many people at my current company that have transitioned from customer support, marketing, and sales roles into engineers!

John’s Answer

Updated Portland, Oregon

Anirudh, good question! I took what I thought was a non-traditional route to get in to the tech industry, but as I meet more and more of my peers, many of them start out in technical support or in IT and move in to software engineering, much like I did. It is a good place to learn, there are many people willing to help out and there are enough resources available online that you can study as you can, vs. spending 4 years in college. Not that I am suggesting you not attend college if it is an option. Please do. It will make the entry much easier. But if that route is not available, getting your foot in the door and working your way up is the next best way. There are many online resources to dive in to which ever discipline you want to explore, but for free options, there are many, including some good ones on youtube. Paid options include linuxacademy.com and https://www.oreilly.com/online-learning/try-now.html.

Rachel’s Answer

Updated Portland, Oregon

I studied to become an actuary, but after college, I decided I didn't want to go that route. I worked at Target, worked at a bar, then worked as a bank teller. But I made sure to meet lots of people in my community, and some of my friends were working toward jobs in tech. I kept up with them when they started at tech companies, and they helped me find a spot. During that big interview, I pulled from all my prior experience: learning new systems at Target, time management skills I learned while working at the bar, and my experience in walking customers through using online banking while I was a teller.

I wouldn't recommend to anyone that they do the same jobs I did to get into the tech industry, but I would recommend building lots of relationships (not using people, building real relationships) and looking at different ways the skills you already have can be used in your next role!

Lindsay’s Answer

Updated Portland, Oregon

I think we will all find as we move forward in the tech industry that most people arrived in tech via an atypical path. I certainly did, too!

Very few industries DO NOT have a technical component to them. Buying an airline ticket used to be done over the phone and/or via travel agent. Times are VERY different and the entire world is now digital! SO, my point is: it is becoming increasingly important to bring more diverse skills to the tech industry. :)

Lindsay recommends the following next steps:

  • Find where your current skills overlap in the tech industry and spin your resume to highlight your diverse skills background.

Sarah’s Answer

Hi, Anirudh! Understanding how to get into the tech industry is a great topic. One question would be, why do you want to know an atypical route?

One atypical route could be illustrated by my friend Gwen. She studied library science and wanted to be a librarian. In school, a teacher told her about an internship with the FBI. She thought, I want to be a librarian! I don't know any thing about the FBI, why would they want me? But she applied anyway and found out they wanted an archivist to help organize historical files. She got the internship and was eventually hired full-time. She ended up as a database analyst organizing historical FBI data. She pivoted into the tech industry and now loves her job! Hope that is helpful.

Sarah recommends the following next steps:

  • Explain why you want an atypical route
  • consider internships outside your expected narrow career path

Jason’s Answer

Updated Milwaukie, Oregon

Hi Anirudh!

I entered the technology field through an atypical route—having nothing but personal interest and experience in technology, I applied those interests on my resume to get a job in Tech Support at a small market research company. The role was just stuff like browser support, helping people download or upload files to the research platform.

The benefit to it being a small company, was that at any larger company, that work might have been siloed off. But I was able to mess with a ton of stuff that I had no professional qualification to be messing with, and it helped me learn by doing. Stuff like making small code changes with the developers, or helping with the network in the office. Once you can get that foot in the door, and lean on your new friends in the company, you can really start to build some great knowledge.

Personally, I took that knowledge to a Tech Support job at New Relic, and it helped me understand how to support a more technically-focused product. From there, I was able to further my knowledge and actually contribute some small amount of code to the core New Relic product. After a couple of years in Tech Support, I made the jump to a Site Reliability Engineer position in the company, and that's where I have been for the past four years.

I'm also sitting at a table right now with my coworker Simone, who works in our Product Operations department, and she has this advice for another route: While you're in school, I took a variety of subjects, and that knowledge gave be a basis in different industries. It's also helpful to remember that not everyone in the tech sector has to be an engineer! There are Sales, Marketing, Business Operations opportunities, and more!

Coming into one of those roles and getting some overlap with another role in the company can help you see if you're interested in a different aspect, and make the jump!

Priya’s Answer

Updated Hillsboro, Oregon

There are typically two routes to get into the industry:

  1. Get a college degree, land internship(s) in a good company and that company will hire you depending on your performance and their ability to hire.
  2. There are many skilled engineers in the industry who are self-taught. They followed their passion and dropped out from college/school and built technologies/software. College degrees are not an absolute must to get to tech industry.

If you have passion for getting into the tech industry, go for it!! You absolutely can succeed if you have the will!