Advice for Career Switchers
I made the move into the tech industry in my 30s. For now, I have found my place in it. Making it as a career switcher is not easy, especially as there are technical skills you need to gain. I wrote this post after doing some reflection and taking part in Alan’s Analysts Assemble Series. I hope this post can help other career switchers and those supporting them do it.
You are not starting from zero
If you are considering a career change, you are not throwing away everything you have done so far and starting again. Nor are you competing with 20-somethings who have been coding since they were toddlers. You bring a unique point of view and experience that makes you stand out. Not hold you back.
This was a big challenge for me to get my head around on my switch from Supply Chain Analytics. I wasn’t in competition with new graduates, as I had years of experience already. Dealing with stakeholders, holding meetings, managing deadlines, and in my case using Excel to get my work done.
Adding coding to the experience I had developed so far in my career is an additional skill, not a starting point.
Explore your career options
There are hundreds of different roles in the tech industry and no checklist of what you ‘must’ learn. In the same way that your career journey so far is unique to you, so is the journey to make the switch to a career in tech. This is the time to test out what makes you happy and explore your options. None of this is wasted time.
When I was going through this process I went down plenty of avenues to discover what I liked and didn’t like. Starting with watching the videos from Harvard’s CS50. Just watching the videos introduced me to different computer science concepts. I am not planning on becoming a computer scientist anytime soon but I appreciate what the concepts are.
Don’t be afraid to fail
Having a series of unfinished projects is not a failure. Starting a project, setting aside time to work on it and taking on the challenges that come with it, is a win. It may not feel like it at the time but even if you don’t cross the finish line, the learnings happen before then. You learn valuable skills taking the time to spot bugs, understand the issue and solve problems along the way.
Be part of the community
The advice I hear a lot for career switchers is to talk to people in the role you are interested in. To go to informational interviews and learn with others. Easy to say, but harder to track down these people if you are not part of the ‘who’s who’ in your local community. Meetups are a safe and friendly environment to chat with people them about what they are working on.
My first Meetup was R Ladies London. At the time I was exploring junior Data Science roles. The organisers and attendees were great to chat to after the coding workshops at our monthly events. I got to find out what Data Scientists work on in their day to day work and what I would need to learn about next to join them. While Data Science was not for me either I only found that out by chatting one-on-one in a friendly environment.
Get comfortable, being uncomfortable
This is a shift in thinking that will help you from feeling overwhelmed. In the IT and tech industry, things are always changing. The hot new library or language may not be hot for long. It is not important to learn everything about everything, as you are setting yourself up to fail. What’s important is to learn how to learn so you can get to grips with what’s new when things change.
My strategy when I was first learning about the tech industry, was to find all the tutorials, videos and blog posts on the topic I was attempting to learn and try and work through the list. Not only did this quickly feel like ‘work’ and a box-ticking exercise I wasn’t getting anywhere.
My new way to keep in the loop is to take a few hours each weekend to focus on a topic that interests me and enjoy it. Trying to take on everything is the quickest way to lose enthusiasm.
Teach others what you know
Teaching someone else what you have been learning about reinforces that knowledge. It forces you to break concepts down into chunks and take questions from who you are explaining it to.
It doesn’t have to be delivering a workshop or standing up in front of hundreds of people, just chatting to your friend about what you learnt this week is beneficial.
Blogging has been a great way for me to lock in what I have been learning about and find out where the gaps are in my knowledge. The post I wrote last year on SQL Indexes highlighted that I needed to do more reading and that I had only scratched the surface of the topic. The post ended up taking a lot longer than I had expected. But as a result, I have a much better understanding of why they are important.
There is no rule that says you should switch straight into a technical role right away. So don’t put pressure on yourself to do so.
Good things take time and you may take multiple steps to get to where you’re going. Maybe being a technical administrator is a good stepping stone into a developer role. Maybe working in a non-technical team in a software development company is a way to transition. Taking small steps towards a bigger goal is a way to keep up your enthusiasm.
My journey started off in the marketing department in a junior technical role. I then moved into a much more technical team in a support role with room to grow and progress. I’ve taken on bigger projects and more technical work with the support of my team around me. I’ve got to where I am by taking a staggered approach, keeping the end in mind, and learning how important soft skills are as well.
This has been the story of my tech journey so far. I’m looking forward to what comes next and hearing other career switchers stories.
Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels