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?

What we talk about when we talk about tech jobs.

I stopped reading main stream news articles about the lack of women in technology. I care deeply about the gender gap in tech, but I don’t need to read the article to know what they’ll report. Lots of women go to college, not enough get computer science degrees, even fewer get jobs and stick with programming or development after they graduate.  I’m a woman in tech, and none of that is my story. Let’s talk more about all of us without a CS degree. Let’s talk about the jobs that aren’t programming or development.

Working in tech puts you in a position for high-salary, great benefits and access to further opportunity.  I want more women to do it.  However, the stereotypical tech employee, as depicted in main stream television and film, is a young male developer with a CS degree. (Ok, sometimes you get the male dev who dropped out – Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs – but how many of us can honestly relate to them?)  Tech jobs aren’t limited to developers, CS degrees or men. The media isn’t addressing the large number folks like myself that don’t get paid to develop, yet still reap the benefits of a job in technology.

There’s a huge demand for application development, and for that reason I’m thankful for efforts to teach programming and computer science to girls. The stronger the demand for application development, the more opportunity exists for these surrounding roles in tech. In addition to developers, tech companies need:

  • Design (Web, Graphic Designers, UX engineers)
  • Infrastructure (Data centers, Networks, Systems)
  • Database Administrators (DBAs)
  • Testing (Quality Assurance)
  • Project and Product Management
  • People to answer and resolve your questions and issues (Customer Service and Support, Community Management)
  • Documentation (Technical Writers)
  • Data analysis (Business Analyst, Data Scientists)
  • Sales and Marketing to ensure longevity or the application
  • HR
  • IT (Helpdesk)
  • Administrative assistance, office management…
  • The list goes on….believe me

This is the story that needs to be told. We need more examples of technology jobs and more diverse role models for women who have not yet stepped in to this industry.  Women need to know where to aim before taking the leap in to the mostly unknown. My ego wants you to understand how much impact I have on technology empowering free-speech around the world, without being a developer. I want to tell you what I do so I can encourage you to do this, too. I’d like for you to know that the doors are still open to you.

Technology is created and supported by folks from all sorts of backgrounds. I encourage anyone to consider working in tech regardless of experience, talents or background. The more broadly we talk about all tech jobs, the better chance we have of recruiting a more diverse group. Technology companies will benefit from this diversity. We will better meet the needs of our users when we are made up by those we serve.

This Sunday I’ll be discussing this topic along with other women on the panel “Tech jobs you never knew you wanted”. Come say hi to us at GeekGirlCon!

I am a Diversity Candidate

I am a Hispanic woman without a college education. I lived in poverty, as defined by the US Census Bureau, until I was 19 years old. Regardless of where I’m at today, my income or the opportunities I’m now awarded, I will always be a Diversity Candidate.

I will spare you (today!) the stories about getting in this industry despite my background. Today, I’m responding to Bindu Reddy’s TechCrunch post I Don’t Want To Be A Diversity Candidate. While many parts created an immediate gut reaction (and not in the “you go girl!” way), rather than picking it apart I will focus on this sentence:

  “I am not really sure we should worry about the lack of women in tech any more than worrying about why there are not more female truck drivers or more male nurses.”

You know why there should be more women in Tech? Because tech jobs are awesome. Because women deserve the benefits and privileges that being in Tech are awarded. Because for some lucky reason right now is the best time to be in this industry, and getting in now may mean you have that privilege for the rest of your career.

I pushed myself in to this industry, and as a result I live a life of privilege that I only dreamed while growing up as a “Diversity Candidate.”  These are some of the benefits I’ve enjoyed over the last 14 years:

  • Flexibile work hours
  • Telecommuting
  • Unlimited/unaccounted vacation days
  • Tech gadgets – phones, laptops, web cams
  • Snacks/drinks/Catered meals. Never-ending caffeine
  • Massages, gym membership, yoga, meditation and other health focused activities
  • Opportunity to meet and talk with the very best in their fields
  • Relocation to awesome cities (Seattle, San Francisco)
  • Continuous work through 2 market crashes
  • Networking opportunities – getting connected with other passionate techies in up and coming fields
  • I am passionate about the products I support
  • Having a baby does not mean choosing a career or a child

These benefits treat me humanely, allow me to keep a healthy work/life balance and care for my family, but they are the exception in our country. Until the “woman dominated” fields afford the same luxuries as the male dominated field of Tech, we should be worried. These are our mothers, sisters and daughters – why would we be OK accepting anything less than the most awesome for them and us?

I encourage anyone – women, men, educated or not – to find a way in to this career. This is not about whether or not you’re good at math or you have a CS degree, or whether you received a scholarship, money or opportunity due to your race, sex or class. Tech needs all kinds. I’ve never (to my knowledge) been hired or educated due to a quota. I have had, throughout my career, particular people who have reached out to give me a hand where I otherwise may have been lost or missed an opportunity. For those people, I’m extremely grateful.  I encourage you to be aware of and take any opportunities given. You, your family and Tech will benefit in the end.