The Guardian Digital Development team kindly put on a really engaging networking event for people aspiring towards a career in tech. It dealt with some recurring issues facing those who want to break into the tech industry, or are planning to make an important career change, including the value of coding bootcamps, the role of business analysts in tech companies, and challenges for diversity.
What do we mean by getting a job in tech?
When we talk about getting a job in tech, we tend to mean aiming to work in the industry that makes the technology and tech-based services.
The companies grouped under this umbrella are generally private sector and profit-oriented, producing products and services for consumers rather than B2B (business to business). This industry is characterised by startups (some now having evolved into giants like Facebook and Google) and larger corporate tech companies, such as IBM.
The tech industry is rapidly evolving. It’s a millennial industry, attracting very young people. I’ll admit that at most tech events I can rarely spot anyone with grey hair or wearing formal clothes.
Why the event was held
“Employing computer science grads is easier than finding the hidden gem,” Chris, Forward Partners
This panel was held due to the ongoing skills shortage in the tech industry. Companies are struggling to find ‘top talent’ (ie qualified professionals) for their roles.
Part of the problem is recruiters who inadvertently pitch job roles to applicants using incorrect language, alienating prospective candidates and also misrepresenting roles.
A bigger part of the problem is the lack of women and people from different ethnic backgrounds currently working in the tech industry. Many people simply don’t know how to get a job in tech, and are also put off by the lack of diversity.
So a challenge is to attract more people into the tech industry by showing them how to make the transition from a non-technical background to their first technical role.
There are some millennials who have missed out on a computer science education at primary and secondary level, despite the boom of the tech industry during the 1990s and 2000s.
The national curriculum now includes mandatory computer science lessons for all pupils aged 5-14, but there are many who fell through the gaps by an accident of birth.
What is the problem?
If you’re like me, you’ll have even graduated university with virtually no knowledge of the tech industry. I only found out how cool it was after a digital communications role – where I terrifyingly learned on the job – led me to learn how to design websites. This was my confidence-builder that helped me step into this exciting world as a freelance tech blogger.
But many are not like me, in that you’ll have left school or graduated university, are trying to decide on a career path, but still feel hideously underqualified for many industries that are hiring because the necessary skills just weren’t taught in schools. Trying to bridge this gap can be incredibly daunting.
A huge issue I discovered was the lack of diversity in tech, despite so many women (and men) expressing interest in this industry, and the events I attend are always packed to the roof.
What we can do about it
“Lack of diversity impacts attracting talent, your company culture, and your ability to understand your users,” Jessie, Twitter
Some of the main takeaways from this event were that perseverance, enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn are the most important qualities to have if you want a career in tech. It sounds cheesy because it’s true – the industry is not for the faint-of-heart.
And don’t worry – you haven’t totally missed out if you didn’t study some form of engineering at university.
How to get a job in tech
- Get a Github account to develop the habit of collaboration and continuous self-teaching
- Go to hackathons where you can learn how to solve problems in groups using tech
- Volunteer with organisations like Women Hack for Non Profits to gain valuable skills and help people
- Many initiatives are springing up to help lower the barrier to access, like scholarships at coding bootcamps Maker’s Academy in London and Northcoders in Manchester
- Ask questions – especially if you feel you haven’t done well in an interview
- Learn about psychology if you want to go into UX
- Gather a breadth of knowledge of many topics if you want to work for startups
- If you can’t find the right tech community for you, create your own
- If you go for a bootcamp, make sure you do your research and opt for a high-quality one
You don’t need a computer science degree to get a job as a developer or work in the tech industry – just a healthy interest in tech, and a portfolio of projects you have undertaken yourself.
“You don’t have to accept the software community – create your own,” Rob, Guardian Digital Development
The importance of learning
“Be able to pick up and learn quickly, and have the enthusiasm to ask questions,” Paul, 7digital
It sounds like a lot but you have to love coding if you want to be a developer. Even though it’s well paid (the average web developer salary is £24,868) it’s not a career for those just looking to make a quick buck.
Other non-developer options are information architect, UX designer and digital marketer. Check out this list of tech roles from Skillscrush for more inspiration.
It’s all come full circle in my eyes. Fellow coder Anne Byrne, whom I met on a Ruby programming course with Code First: Girls earlier this year, now works at the Guardian as a developer, having come from a previous non-technical role at Amazon, and also was one of the event organisers.
This just shows the value that learning to code has for your career, whether you want to be a developer or not.