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How to Break into the Tech Job Market with a Non-Technical Background

As a former social sciences student, I did not realize the technical job opportunities available to non-software developers until after college.  It took meeting someone code-459070_1280with a similar background who was working in an information management role for a large tech firm to see how the potential aligned with my own professional goals.  Tech jobs are in high demand, pay well, and can offer significant professional growth over a relatively short period of time.  Outlined below are viable tech positions and tips for starting out and advancing in the field.

In a software development environment, people regularly move up and out of roles, and there are tons of specialized job titles.

These three positions are attainable early on in a career depending on experience and how you market yourself:

  • Business Analyst- analyzes and documents business requirements for a project and assesses technology capabilities for new implementations.
  • Systems Analyst- uses analysis and conceptual designs to resolve business problems using technology.
  • Project Manager- works with clients and teams to plan, facilitate, prioritize, and complete a project as designed.

Despite plenty of available openings, it is somewhat challenging for those with non-technical backgrounds to get that first, good tech job.  But the good news is that once you’re in – you’re in.

Start by restructuring your resume to play up the relevant skills that you may already have.

  • Communication and collaboration with teams, clients, vendors, etc.
  • Research, analysis, and data management.  Have you ever performed formal research and analysis or worked with a database?
  • Documentation and training experience such as writing professional materials, creating user guides, or presenting complex information.
  • Workflow management and process improvement.
  • General technical experience such as coding or advanced experience with software applications.  Expert level Excel skills are a plus.

Until you gain practical experience in the field, a little extra preparation can pay off in your job hunt.

Devote time to self-study to supplement your existing skills.

  • SQL is a valuable skill that is reasonably easy to learn on your own.  Use a site like w3schools.com or take an inexpensive online community college class.  Some businesses or recruiters may ask you to take an assessment prior to being considered for a job.
  • Learn about team collaboration tools like SharePoint, customer relationship management (CRM) platforms like Salesforce, and application lifecycle management products like Team Foundation Server.  The organization that you are applying to may use different products, but at least you will understand how they are used in a technical environment.
  • Also research release management and application lifecycle methodologies like Agile (Scrum), RUP, and Waterfall.

In addition to fine tuning your skills, it helps to have a knowledgeable advocate on your side to assist with job searching.

Connect with a good technical recruiter.

There are many benefits to working with a technical recruiter.  Some hiring managers will call their technical recruiting account manager first about job openings so it is good establish yourself as a candidate.  Identify a legitimate technical recruiting company with proven success, and make an appointment to meet in person.  Most UVA graduates present well face to face so take advantage of that regardless of your experience.  Talk about your current skills and target position.  There may be a contract job that you can work for a few months to get to you the next, more advanced position.  A recruiter may be able to negotiate a full time opportunity upon hire and if not, many contractors are ultimately hired full time.  Even after you have a job, stay in touch with your recruiter by meeting occasionally for coffee or scheduling a quick phone call to check in.  This is a good time to talk about how your job is going, available opportunities, and what is next.   By working with technical recruiters, you may never have to look for a job on your own again.

Once you secure a tech job, there is a lot of flexibility for growth compared to other more bureaucratic fields.

Use your first tech position strategically.

Volunteer to work on valuable, diverse projects and try to avoid repetitive support work if possible.  Some companies may offer tuition assistance or stipends for certifications and training classes to build your skills.  Since mobility is the norm in a tech company, listen out for opportunities to advance your role or transition to other positions internally.  If you work hard, it is very doable to achieve a significant raise, change in level, or other promotion after your first two years or less either internally or with another company.  Never feel afraid to ask questions, even if it seems like everyone else in the room knows the answer.  Being the new kid gives you the flexibility to ask questions and by doing so, you will take more to your next experience.

Brooke Laughlin (CLAS ’08) is a Systems Analyst with a focus on applications development.  She enjoys hanging out with her boyfriend and their two dogs, good movies, vacations, and warm weather.

 

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