Tech jobs: Get your ass in the door

Getting a job in tech when you aren’t a developer or computer science graduate takes the strongest parts of yourself.

If you have passion, curiosity and determination, you can get a job in tech. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something. You may not have the technical skills today, but you’ve got something else of value: interest.

I really do!I have a passion for communication and the technology that powers it. I began learning about infrastructure by asking myself how the web works, from an address in a web browser to bytes on a computer disk and back to my monitor. Answer that question and you’re ahead of most people in the world. 15 years later, I spend more time thinking about how thousands of people can send information to thousands of other people instantaneously.

Maybe you love an app on your phone, or how youtube videos of cats display on your television. Be curious about technology around you, then go learn how it works. This is the easiest path toward developing technology skills because you are learning a skill while feeding your interests.

When I’m searching for a new job, I always have these questions and answers in mind: What am I passionate about? What kind of company do I want to work for? What experience do I have? Then I follow these steps:

  • Write down a list of your education, talents and experience. They don’t have to be technical. Technology companies need the everyday positions held in other companies. Think about how these skills can be utilized in any environment.
  • Develop a network of people smarter than you and get comfortable asking questions. Nobody expects you to come to a new community with all the answers. Learning about technology is a long journey without end, and nobody is going to fault you for taking some shortcuts by asking for help. When you are helped by your network, be gracious and kind. These are the people who will help you through the rest of your career in ways you can’t imagine now.
  • Find a company that excites you. I focus on companies where I’m already using their product, or where I find their branding in line with my own interest. Entry-level job seekers should focus on smaller companies, where culture and fit are as important to the success of the company as skills and experience.
  • Find a contact at the company. This is where your network comes in – through Linkedin, your social circle, a local user group, or even through the company’s “about” page. I’ve contacted a CEO directly when I found a small company I loved and it worked. I don’t recommend this with a large organization where the CEO is not directly involved in hiring decisions. Contacting a person directly may get you routed to an area you weren’t aware. That inside person may know of a job that best suits your skill.
  • Don’t focus on job titles. Job requirements lie. Job titles are made up. I’ve had more titles than I can count at this point in my career. Hiring managers put our ideal candidate in the requirements in the event that the person exists. Most of the time we mostly want dedicated employees. Apply for the job even if you don’t match all the job requirements. You never know where your experience or interest may fall right in line with a job, despite lack of skill.
  • Ignore the recruiters. Recruiters are much more strict about skills and experience. This is because they don’t know the job well enough to know where to be flexible. A recruiter may not see that being fluent in three languages + staying up all night gaming is the perfect fit for a gaming company looking to expand to Europe. Don’t be discouraged if you’re rejected by a recruiter – they’re not the people to impress when you’re new to the industry.
  • Write an interesting cover letter. If you’re funny, make your letter funny – appropriately. If you’re passionate about travel, speak to your ability to jump into new situations and thrive. Include the talents and experience you wrote above. Don’t copy/paste a form cover letter you’ve found online. When you allow the hiring manager to see the real you, you’ll both know when you’re the right fit for the job.
  • When interviewing, never say “I know this but I just can’t remember” even if it’s completely true. Take a breath. State the question back to the interviewer to make sure you understand what they’re asking. Walk them through how you would get to the right answer. It’s OK not to know the answer. We want to know how you’d get the answer when it happens at work. Keep the insecurity inside your head, and lead with confidence.
  • When you do get a job offer as an entry-level worker in tech, be flexible. The hours or commute may not be ideal, the pay not as awesome as you thought tech jobs would be. Research the company, market and pay for the type of work being done and don’t undervalue yourself. You’re just getting started, and the payoff potential is huge. If you’re passionate and focused on the prize, you will know when the trade-off is worth it.
  • Once inside the company, learn from peers in other departments. Volunteer for projects that are outside of your comfort zone. You may find you are particularly interested in an area you hadn’t considered before. You may find you don’t want to learn to program. That’s fine!

If you do want to program, there are plenty of resources online. I  like how to get a job as a developer in less than six months. Jeff has great, specific advice on a path to a developer job. Pick a language, learn it well enough to make something and you’ll be able to apply that skill to developer jobs, even if the specific language is not on the job requirements.

These are all ways I’ve been able to land jobs in tech. If you’re in tech and didn’t come through the traditional CS route, what’s worked for you?

5 responses to “Tech jobs: Get your ass in the door”

  1. Love this. The hardest part is actually getting the job 🙂 Thanks for the mention.

    1. Jeff – while I agree that getting a job can be difficult, many are stopped before they get to that point. I challenge the idea that getting the job is the hardest part to encourage more diversity in the applications we see. For a lot of women (that I meet, anyway) – the hardest part is 1) identifying what job to apply for 2) realizing they may be qualified and 3) taking the initiative to apply and then 4) selling themselves to the company. Google’s recent research supports the last part:

  2. An area in which non-CS types make fantastic contributions each and every day is front-end development. Very often, having a non-traditional background can actually be an asset; visual and liberal arts grads do exceptionally well. The best combine coding chops with a broad-based set of skills: design, content strategy, and branding are all integral to ui/ux work. There’s really no upper limit on how far a good front-end dev can stretch their dev skills, but the barriers to entry are considerably lower than in other CS fields. Salaries range from good to fantastic and it’s a great area for lifelong learners and autodidacts. As a hiring manager in the field, I can’t emphasize enough that candidates need a good portfolio, but smart, visually-creative folks can always find work in the field once they’ve put in the time with the books.

  3. Awesome post! I’m a college dropout that did a stint in Burger King and did my first professional programming (VB6) as a security guard before a got a “real” IT job. The stories of how people without a CS degree get to where they are are always quite interesting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: