A key step on the road to your future tech career is deciding which job role is best for you. The purpose of this guide is to help you learn how you can confidently make that decision. It’s been specifically designed for people who are looking to change careers without making large sacrifices to their income or dropping down the career ladder.
We’ll be exploring:
- How to assess your current situation and goals
- How to choose the right career path
- Why you probably want a non-technical role
- The benefits of making a horizontal career move
- How to make use of your existing career capital
- And more.
Let’s get started.
Pick a path, then focus on it
Why is it important to choose a career path this early in the process? Because picking a specific career path allows you to put your full, focused attention on it. This focused approach prevents you from getting distracted and spending your limited time learning about topics that won’t help you move towards your career goals. Knowing a small amount about a wide range of unrelated tech subjects is less useful than building up specialized knowledge for your chosen role.
Take a moment to think about this from the perspective of a future recruiter you could be interviewing with. What will they be looking to look for in a candidate? Would they prefer to hire someone who lacks direction and says “I’ll take any job available”, or someone who has shown they have taken the initiative to focus their learning around a specific, focused career goal?
You want to put yourself in the best position for future success, and you will do that by picking, then following, a path.
But how exactly do you do that?
Choosing your Path
Deciding on a future tech career is a personal decision, based on your interests, skills, experience, education, and life goals. You can help the process by taking some time to go through self-evaluation and goal setting exercises, which will help map out your preferences. You can then refer to this information when it’s time to make your decision.
Here are some self-evaluation questions to ask yourself:
- What are my strengths and weaknesses?
- Do you have strict attention to detail? Can you work independently for extended periods of time or do you need direction?
- What skills do I already possess?
- Are you a whiz at manipulating data in Excel or Tableau? Great working with clients or managing projects?
- What relevant experience do I have?
- How can your professional experience be useful in a tech career? For example, if you have experience dealing with clients then this could help in customer success roles, or if you’ve worked as a strategy consultant you’d be well suited for corporate strategy roles
- What is my educational background?
- Do you have a degree or other education that could be relevant to any tech roles? Example: a degree in finance will be helpful if you want to work in corporate development
- What are my key personality traits?
- Are you an outgoing people-person or do you prefer to work solo? Do you like working with data? Are you organized and detail-oriented? Do you enjoy leading or working within a team?
- Can I leverage any existing networks?
- Do you have any connections (in “real life” or on places like LinkedIn or Twitter) who could potentially help you with your career change?
Remember – the self evaluation process is designed to give you a picture of your current situation to help with the career choice process. But your current situation doesn’t have to determine your future. With time and effort you can build up skills in any areas that are currently lacking.
Your career goals
After looking at your current situation it’s time to define the goals that you hope to achieve from changing careers to tech.
What are your goals for:
- The job
- Are you happy to continue in a relatively similar role to what you’re doing now (for eg. from consulting to corporate strategy), or are you looking to change over to a completely new field (from consulting to UX design)?
- Work environment
- Would you rather work at a high-growth early-stage startup or a more established company? High-growth often comes with an expectation of longer working hours. And some roles may only be available in larger companies (BizDev, CorpDev, BizOps etc). If you have trouble answering this question then check out my guide that outlines startup company stages.
- Would you prefer to work in a smaller company with less financial resources but more career flexibility/freedom, or an established company with well-defined career paths and market-leading salaries?
- Would you prefer a career where the day-to-day work is more social or solitary?
- Specialist or Generalist
- Would you prefer to have a well-defined role, or be a generalist who gets to “do a bit of everything”?
- Do you have firm requirements for how much you’ll need to earn? Can you afford to take a lower paying role to gain experience? Are you interested in maximizing your income or taking the gamble of a lower salary with more equity/stock options?
- Work/Life balance
- Are you happy to travel for work? Do you thrive in high speed, high stress environments? Is it important for you to be home every evening to have dinner with your family?
- Career progression
- Do you need a well mapped structure of career progression? Are you aiming to reach management/Director/VP/Executive level positions within a certain timeframe?
- Prestige / status
- Is it important for you to work for a “brand” – a company that people have heard of? Do you want to work in a “cool” role?
- Motivation to learn
- Are you keen to continually work to increase your knowledge? Would you prefer a role that requires less ongoing training and self-directed education?
If you find you have career goals that don’t quite match up with your current situation then that’s fine. It just means that there are areas you’ll need to work on to build up the necessary knowledge and/or experience.
Making your decision
After completing self assessments of your current situation and goals you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking to achieve with your new career.
The next step is to look into the various roles that are available at startups and tech companies. As you go through them, ask yourself whether each role:
- Sparks an interest in you
- Is realistically achievable (if you hate mathematics and don’t have a STEM degree then data science probably isn’t going to be the field for you)
- Lines up with your personal career goals
We have topics that cover popular tech roles in detail, explaining the type of work they do, the personalities they are suited to and so on, so I won’t go through them all again here.
If you are interested in non-technical roles then make sure to explore the less well-known options. Most of you probably know that technology companies have engineering, marketing and customer support positions, but there are also roles across departments like operations (ops), business development (BizDev), corporate strategy (CorpStrat), corporate development (CorpDev) and Business Operations (BizOps). Many of these roles are highly compensated, and particularly well-suited to people with previous experience in sectors like law, consulting or finance.
After researching the roles you should be able to come up with a shortlist of those that interest you. Take some time to study each of these roles in even more detail. Look on Youtube and see if you can find any “day in the life” type videos – can you see yourself doing the work for the next few years? Check communities like Reddit or Twitter to see if people are discussing any consistent issues or complaints with the role that you may not have considered. Take note of anything useful you find.
Keep narrowing down your shortlist, and when you’re ready, choose the path you intend to embark on.
Further advice about tech job roles
As I’ve already said, it’s important to spend time learning about the different career options that are available. You want to make an informed decision on where you’ll be focusing your attention so you can avoid spending months (or even years) of your life headed in the wrong direction.
There are a couple of additional points to keep in mind.
You don’t have to be technical to work in tech
If you read the news you’d be forgiven for thinking that tech consists solely of software developers and data scientists – people working in technical roles. They are responsible for building the software products and creating the algorithms that we use every day, and their positions are generally very well-paid, so they get a lot of attention.
But if you’re considering moving to a career in tech then it’s important you realize there are other options available, because technical roles are not for everyone.
You want to enjoy your new career, so you need to make sure you are temperamentally suited to the work. I can use myself as an example here – I can write some code and enjoy programming when I’m choosing to do it, but I would struggle to stay motivated if I had to do it all day, every day.
I wouldn’t have the intrinsic motivation I’d need to keep learning and leveling up my skills, especially when you compare me to someone who has a real love of the programming craft.
Many technical roles come with stringent educational requirements which makes it harder and more expensive to break into the industry. It’s possible to find positions in marketing or tech sales without specialized education in those fields, but it will be much harder in software development. You’d have to consider attending a coding boot camp or some other kind of specialized education provider to prove you have the knowledge needed for the job. For roles like data scientist you’ll probably need to go even further, combining role-specific education with a high-level degree in a subject like mathematics or statistics.
I’m not saying any of this to try and convince you not to go after a technical role if that’s what you genuinely want. The world needs more programmers and data scientists! You just need to make sure that the role you chose is the role you really want to do.
Make use of your hard-earned experience
The alternative is to make a horizontal move across industries. Make use of your hard-earned career capital – your transferable skills, experience and education, to get into a role that is interesting, pays well, is intellectually stimulating, and fulfills your needs across the other important areas of life, like work/life balance and social status. In many cases these roles will be quite closely related to your current work.
An example – say you’re a consultant at McKinsey and keen to make the jump to tech. You’ll have a far smoother transition (and make more money) if you’re able to turn your strategy and data analysis skills into a role in the corporate strategy team, rather than attempting to become a UX designer. Now if you want to transition to becoming a UX designer then of course, that’s fine. But the path will be longer and you’ll have to adjust your expectations when it comes to the transition timeline, your initial earning potential and so on.
I hate my current role and want something new
That’s a tough position to be in, but also understandable. One of the main motivating factors for many professionals looking to change to tech is a desire to get far away from their current line of work.
If you want to move away from your current role then you have a couple of options:
- Start on the path to a completely new career now, accepting that you’ll likely have to make some sacrifices to your income and your place on the career ladder. Example: leaving corporate law to become a front-end developer.
- Start your tech career in a role that’s similar to what you’re currently doing, build up some industry experience, start networking and move to a new role a little further down the line. Example: going from corporate law to in-house counsel at a tech company, then shifting to product management in 18 months time.
Some people may be unable to take a lower salary as they need to pay for mortgages, private school fees etc. And some of you may be unwilling to keep working in a role you hate. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice you’ll need to make.
Choosing the right tech career: Examples
Now that we’ve outlined the process of choosing the right tech career, let’s go through a couple of examples.
Example 1: Alison (Finance to Corporate Development)
Alison is 25 and working in finance as a junior analyst. She’s comfortable working with data and in her spare time she loves to keep up with the latest startup funding and acquisition news. After going through this guide and completing a self-assessment she decides she wants to work in corporate development, as she finds the roles interesting and believes she will be able to leverage her existing skills and experience from her time in finance.
Alison has learned that the nature of CorpDev work means most roles are found in larger tech companies rather than early-stage startups, so she knows she’ll need to target her future job search accordingly. As Alison is already fairly tech-savvy, she’s decided to focus her attention on learning more about the intricacies of the software world and will prove her knowledge to future potential employers by creating a blog that explores the outcomes of previous startups acquisitions within the social media market.
Example 2: Simon (Consulting to Program Management to…?)
Simon is 40 and works as a consultant. He spends most of his days managing projects for clients and would love to try something new, but he needs to maintain his current income level to cover his mortgage and the cost of preschool for his young children. After going through this guide and doing some research into tech roles he decides he’s going to start by becoming a program manager at an established tech company. The role makes good use of his project management experience and the salaries are high enough to cover his living expenses. He decides he will look for a position at a B2B SaaS company, and starts researching this sector to put himself in a stronger position when it’s time to make the move.
Simon knows that program management isn’t his long term goal, but once he gets his first tech job he’ll be able to start building up his industry experience, networking and eventually look to move to a role that he finds more interesting.
Take some time to go through the self-evaluation and goal assessments so you can get a baseline of your current situation and preferences.
Start researching the job roles that are available in tech. You may also find it helpful to look through my guide to technology companies and startups so you have a better idea of how tech companies operate.
Create a shortlist of any roles that piques your interest. Look deeply into each role and decide which one you want to move forward with. Once you’ve made the decision, put your full focus and attention on that role.
If you have any questions about job roles or how to choose a career, feel free to contact me for advice.