3 Tips for Building a Tech Career With No Prior Experience (Yep, It’s Possible!)
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know their UX from their UI, but is intrigued by the whole concept of tech, don’t just stand there looking longingly at the developers from across the office. (In fact, please don’t. You’re probably creeping them out.)
Instead, if the field’s even remotely interesting to you, look for ways to dip your toe in the water. The good news? Technology permeates almost everything these days, so it’s easier than ever to get experience—even if your background doesn’t have anything to do with computer science.
Take it from Shay Phillips, Assistant Vice President of Technology and Service Management for AT&T Partner Exchange, who started her career in an AT&T call center before transitioning into tech. Here’s her advice for building your skill set and gaining experience, all from the comfort of your current job.
1. Be Proactive and Ready to Learn
Her first summer at AT&T, the company went through a system conversion, which required migrating millions of accounts to a different platform, and Shay quickly understood how powerful technology could be. “When I started out, I knew that I wanted to help people,” Phillips says. “Technology is a way to solve problems and give customers great experiences.”
She took it upon herself to learn how various systems worked and joined a team responsible for streamlining orders. From there, she was quickly tapped to take on a leadership role.
The lesson? Even if tech isn’t currently part of your job, starting to learn about it can take you to unexpected places.
Depending on your learning style, there are all kinds of places to start. You could take a free online coding class or listen to some tech podcasts. You could ask your manager to attend company-sponsored trainings.
Or, better yet, ask a few people in technical positions to let you shadow them for the day, so you can learn what you might like (and not like) about their role, and what skills you might want to develop further.
2. Partner With Tech on All Kinds of Problems—and Solutions
In her new leadership role, Shay noticed a growing amount of work was backlogged.
So she stepped up and created a tool to manage the problem. Working with a technical developer, she explained what the tool needed to do and was able to work with the tech team to make it happen.
“I’m not an engineer. But I have an ability to look at problems from a unique perspective and communicate what the customers need with the person who’s writing the code. Someone who can do that is just as important as person who actually builds it,” Shay says.
So if you’re interested in tech, but don’t necessarily have the skills needed to jump right in, start by working with developers on a cross-functional team to solve a company problem, as a way to familiarize yourself with what they do.
Once you do, you can even be the person who explains to other departments or customers why tech is valuable or how it solved an office pain point.
“Even if you go out and build the best technology, if people don’t know how it can help them or make their lives easier, then they won’t use it,” she says.
3. Prepare to Feel Awkward
Shay says that if you want to break into tech, you have to step out of your comfort zone. Ask as many questions as you can, write down things you don’t understand to research later, and don’t be afraid to take on projects that might be a bit beyond your skill set.
Yes, you’re going to feel weird at first. Yes, you might feel stupid.
And yes, you are going to learn a lot.
Shay says she was able to push herself with the help of Cathy Coughlin, former AT&T Global Marketing Chief, who gave her the confidence to succeed in roles that make her uncomfortable. “She said, you don’t need to know all the answers. You just need to ask great questions.”
It’s a relationship that inspired her to become a role model herself, encouraging women to leverage opportunities and take advantage of company initiatives to break through and carve their own paths, whether in or out of tech.
“We really have to stop being our own worst critic,” she advises. “We are so hard on ourselves. Stop apologizing. Stop overthinking it. Be confident and know that you can do whatever you set out to do.”
Including, as it turns out, building the tech career of your dreams.