Transferring to tech

Tech needs you, so show how your experience fits. By Kelly Robinson, Frontend Lead, Express VPN

A recent report found that the number of UK tech job vacancies has reached a ten-year high. Within this, software development continues to be the leading in-demand job role in the sector, with over 400,000 job openings available in the first half of 2022 alone.

Software is now critical to our economy. Directly or indirectly, software touches everything we do for work or leisure. So, it is unsurprising that there is a huge demand for talent. However, according to data from Stack Overflow’s 2022 developer survey, 92% of UK developers identify as male, and WeAreTechWomen’s research highlights that women make up just 21% of the UK’s tech workforce overall.

With so many vacancies, and so few women in this sector, as an industry, we are missing out on a significant pool of talent, and women are missing out on thousands of amazing jobs.

Bridging this gap requires us to make an objective but confident assessment of the diverse skills we have gained, then promote the value of these when applying for tech jobs. Irrespective of what stage you are at in your career, you will have gained transferable skills that you can bring to the tech table.

Smart recruiters no longer rigidly stick to a checklist of exact job requirements. The modern hiring process is one where a creative approach to framing one’s expertise and transferable skills can readily secure you an interview. So, drop any mental filters that have been blocking you from applying to jobs because you did not tick every box on the job requirements.

What I learned I took to tech

I took an indirect path to the web development career that I love.I started my journey with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience at Harvard, with a thesis on the effects of meditation on the brain. Studying neuroscience helped me learn to learn, something that has proven to be incredibly valuable at each stage of my career. The subject of neuroscience also helped me understand UX/UI best practices because I know how the brain responds to certain experiences.

Most of my neuroscience classmates wanted to become doctors or researchers, but I took a different path and moved into teaching maths. After graduation, I joined the Teach For America program - and while that eventually led me to understand that teaching was not for me, it did help me develop a valuable toolbox of people management and mentoring skills.

I took that experience to an Educational Technology firm where I started as a content manager. It was here that I was inspired to teach myself graphic design, then UX (User Experience), and finally coding; learning these in my spare time on Udemy, via books and video tutorials. These were my first demonstrable tech skills.

Since then, I worked at a couple of design agencies in both the US and Hong Kong, before joining the ExpressVPN team. Agency life not only gave me opportunities to expand my UX and front-end development skills, it also helped to build my understanding in team and culture building, areas now seen as critical to managing tech teams.

Today, my role at ExpressVPN is focused on leading our front-end development team. I don’t do as much hands-on coding as I used to, instead I’m focused on helping my team problem solve, improving processes, and managing people.

Like me, many of my teammates do not have traditional tech backgrounds, so I am open to interviewing candidates with diverse experiences.When I’m hiring, I look for strong coding skills as a bare minimum, but I also want to see if a candidate is able to defend their decisions, challenge business assumptions, and demonstrate the ability to learn quickly. These are examples of transferable skills that can be learned through non-technical roles.

Learning new skills

The key to my transition to tech was dedicating time to learning and practising new technical skills. Highlighting transferable experience plus the ability and willingness to learn even basic tech skills makes your CV stand out.

Learning tech skills may sound daunting, there are so many languages and specialist niches. But while researching typical skill sets for your target roles, and working towards gaining them is useful, the good news is that core technology knowledge is a platform for you that can open a lot of doors. For example, learning a programming language such as Java, Python, or even CSS will equip you with a base of thinking approaches that make learning another programming language easier – so direct knowledge of a particular language is not an insurmountable barrier.

From online learning platforms like Future Learn, to specialist sites like codecademy, and the technology giants like Amazon there is a wealth of free training available that can help you develop coding expertise. Focus on a select number of languages, frameworks, and/or libraries and build multiple projects with them. Once you learn the foundations, you can easily apply the same principles to learn other languages and frameworks.

In addition, understanding the fundamentals of security and privacy is vital – all tech organizations need to have this front and center of thinking. At ExpressVPN, we recently launched a free Udemy course The Essential Guide to Online Privacy & Security, which is a great starting point.

Lastly, remember to always keep learning as the web development space is constantly evolving. It’s important to bring in fresh approaches from other areas, perhaps from your original career or other sectors. This helps constantly challenge assumptions and keeps your practice fresh.

Tips for transferring your skills to a career in tech

· Find a community (Via Slack, Meet-ups, Reddit, etc). Growing your network will bring fresh knowledge and connect you to project and job opportunities

· Learn how to learn so you can continually add skills

· Learn to think critically and prepare evidence so you can defend your decisions - always know the why

· Find a mentor. A mentor’s experience can save you from needing to learn things the hard way

· What is your personal brand? Think about what you want to be known for

· Focus on a tech stack and build knowledge in depth

· Set check-in points to confirm direction and progress and ask for help, don’t struggle alone

· Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio. Create more than you consume - the best way to learn is to work on actual projects (even “fake” ones are useful)

· Start telling people you are the role you would like to be (e.g. “I am a UI designer”, “I am an SEO specialist”, “I am a frontend developer”). You will be surprised by how freelance work and/or job opportunities will start to come in

You can transfer to tech

If you are reading this you are clearly interested in tech careers. That interest is the first step to getting into tech. The next step is to start layering on the basic skills and apply for roles where you can use what you already know, while you deepen your tech-specific knowledge.

Tech recruitment can be slow, but with demand high and the value of diverse thinking proven to deliver results, applying for a role without ticking every box is fine – you are not wasting your time, or the recruiters. Always highlight the value you can bring from what you already do and the learning you have done, and doors will open.

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